In my post yesterday about Meantime's Old Brewery in Greenwich a few people picked up on the expense of my pint. I think it was £5.20 for a 5.2% beer - North Friesian Pilsener. Pretty expensive really. Cookie asked me what is my limit in paying for a pint and I remarked that this was getting near it, though of course in this case I was making allowances for time, circumstance and place. Greenwich is expensive, I bet the premises and overheads are expensive and Meantime believe in beer being expensive. Brewer and owner Alistair Hook has made that clear many times.
In my local, a pint of Lees Bitter (4%) is £2.60. Nearby in the Ship, an imported Czech lager, Bohemia Regent (5%) is £3.50 a pint.. I can still get a pint in Wetherspoons using its Wednesday offer (up to 4.5%) at £1.95, or pay a whacking £2.15 at other times. You could well argue that to charge top dollar for beers made in the back of the pub is a bit cheeky, as many of the usual overheads have been removed. Another example might be The Marble Arch in Manchester, which isn't backwards in coming forwards price wise either, for its beers brewed yards away.
Now London is seen as a special case, where somehow we must pay more. The £4 pint of ordinary cask is common, usually for beer of pretty dubious quality. The quality may be better in, say, Manchester, but gougy prices in the Northern Quarter aren't exactly unknown there either. Converserly, Sheffield, one of the best places to drink beer in the UK is remarkably cheap on the whole. Clearly property prices and other economic factors have a lot to do with differences, as are pricing policies which set out to attract certain customer demographics. But on the other hand, you could argue that where beer is concerned, the beer revolution that many speak of is causing a class divide in beer, with exotics for moneyed and dross for the rest, with large numbers in between choosing to drink at home. Even classier beers are drunk at home more than in the pub and why not - some of the prices seem simply ridiculous.
At a time when beer sales in the last quarter fell by another 5.8% in pubs and in the same week we see that according a Mintel survey observes, “While the price of beer has been frozen this year, over
two thirds (67%) of monthly out of home drinkers already think that
drinking out of home is now too expensive, providing the impetus to
switch to cheaper in-home drinking". So it seems that even of those of us that actually still drink in pubs, only a third are not seriously thinking of drinking more at home as opposed to going out to the pub. This, if not changed, can only lead to an inevitable further decline in pub numbers, more brewery closures - see Dave Bailey on this too- consolidation and market decline.
Of course you can take the view that this is just the market performing as the market should and that is a valid view. As a pub man though it pains me to see the polarisation of the market between the haves and the have nots, to the detriment of all pub users.
When I remarked about "save up and go" to Meantime, I meant it. For many it isn't just the expensive Meantime that has to be saved for, but their ordinary local pub. Too often there is no option price wise for many other than to feel that the pub is just not affordable any more for what it offers them. That's bad enough, but when us old codgers die off and the current generation of free spenders have to knuckle down to kids and mortgages, you can't help but think there are plenty of bubbles yet to burst and expensive craft beer might well be one of them, joining other segments that are currently suffering diminishing returns.For one reason or another it seems that inexorably we are losing that most British of habits, going to the pub. Price is clearly if Mintel is to be believed, a huge part of that change of habit.
It's a gloomy picture. I reckon I'll go to the pub tonight while I
still can and while I still have some company that can afford to do so too.
While the long term picture is gloomy, in the short term, it will likely be still OK enough for me until I'm brown bread or gaga. But still not a good thing overall.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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