Tuesday, 22 July 2014

More Than a Bit Ouchy


I like the Soup Kitchen in Manchester. Not a pub, more of a genuine café-bar, it has five handpumps though invariably only three or four are on, some craft kegs, a few good bottles, a great atmosphere and service is always friendly and pleasant. You can perch on infeasibly high stools (beware of your legs going numb and the long drop back to terra firma) and watch the world go by both inside and out. OK I might up the average age by far too many years, but it's a firm favourite of mine and as long as you go during the day, there's a chance you won't be the oldest there.

On Saturday daytime, after very good pints in Pie and Ale, I visited with a mate.  It was my round and three beers were on.  We dismissed one on the grounds of not fancying it, one on the grounds of strength (7.4%), so we had the other, a Manchester brewery which is pretty new.  Squawk Pale Ale (3.9%) was purchased after we sampled it. OK, it was a bit warm, but we went for it.  I thought I'd misheard the barmaid when she chimed  "£8.20 please" but no, that's what it was.  I looked at the board.  Other beers were around the £3.50 mark.  I asked why so and was advised by the barmaid replied that it is very expensive to buy.  Hmm. My answer to that would be "Unless it is extra special, don't buy it then."

Now I know that beer can vary in price, but I reckon £4.10 for this beer, brewed not more than a couple of miles away, is taking the proverbial.  It even exceeds most beers in the Port St Beer House and they know how to charge. But who is doing it?  Not the pub they say,  who are (presumably) applying their standard mark up.  They blame the brewery and the price of the strong beer we turned down would seem to indicate this might be the case.  Arbor Breakfast Stout, all the way from Bristol and at 7.4%, a lot stronger, was exactly the same price. (No - they don't charge a standard price for beer.)  Nor was the beer, while absolutely fine, anything special to justify the price and certainly not as good as either the Outstanding Green Bullet or the First Chop DOC we'd enjoyed previously.

 Of course breweries will charge what the market will stand, as will pubs and good luck to them if they can do it, but for me, that was just too much, whoever is to blame.

We didn't get a duff pint at all on Saturday and most were absolutely top notch.  That at least was positive. Roosters The Italian Job confirms the steady rise back to excellence for this brewery.

29 comments:

Cooking Lager said...

it's craft, ain't you 'appy n'proud to support craft brewers or summat?

Rob said...

Ah, but this is beer made in a railway arch so it's got to be expensive.

Rob said...

Oh, and Roosters are very definitely on good form. Their High Tea, whilst I imagine not to everyone's taste (Jasmine tea IPA??), was my favourite new beer of 2013.

Richard Conroy said...

Any pub that gets into the act of having widely varying prices for regular and guest beers alike, should have a well displayed, and up to date price board, a menu/price list or a consistent and clear pricing policy.

It doesn't matter who is doing the mark up. Make the prices clear and allow joe public to make informed decisions.

py said...

So it cost ~20p more per pint than the other cask beers, and the pub added on the additional 40p on top of their standard markup, but you think its the brewery ripping you off.

RedNev said...

As my local (with up to 11 real ales on) charges £2.50 to £2.90 for sub-5% beers, someone is certainly ripping drinkers off. I can only assume that some people like being ripped off.

PY: the post says: "that was just too much, whoever is to blame." (my emphasis).

Tandleman said...

PY: As Nev says I didn't blame the brewery. I just said the pub blamed the brewery. I didn't say what I think, but gave some ideas why it might be so much and that there was some evidence it was the brewery (comparing it to the much stronger Arbor).

I don't mind you always getting it wrong though how you came to your conclusion is a mystery. Carry on.

steve lamond said...

that's where % markup doesn't work, the markup should surely aim to make the same amount per pint regardless of the purchase price. There's a good post that stan linked o this week which suggests bar owners should do a "sanity check" on the prices they plan to charge. charging the same for a 3.9% beer as one almost double that strength is ridiculous

Rob said...

Steve, that's what I've often thought. I can see the logic for higher strength beers to be proportionately more, as you drink less of it so they need to get the same amount of profit.

But for beers of comparable strength I would have thought a straight markup would be fairer. So you add 2 quid a pop onto beers upto 5%, 2.50 up to 6% etc.

If what the bar has said is correct, and they are just putting a % GP on to their purchase price, then it does seem very expensive. Normally micro breweries like this are at the cheaper end of the spectrum (at least until they become 'cool' and start doing more keg). If they are adding 60% GP then it works out around £100 for a 9G cask (I think...) whereas typical microbrewery casks are in the region £50-£70 at this strength.

Tandleman said...

Steve and Rob. I agree a sanity check needs to be applied, but we don't know how the price was arrived at do we? The bar said it cost more to buy. The rest is surmise.

When we buy beer for festivals, we apply a percentage then adjust up and down. OK. It means that some breweries are "subsidised" by others, but you want a good selection and sometimes you have to. A pub isn't that different in the sense that as long a you make the required profit, it doesn't really matter in the end.

Obviously that's not a hard and fast rule though. Sometimes you may have to make the customer take the hit if they want that particular product.

Anonymous said...

Am noticing this also in last few months, relatively low % cask hitting over £4 a pint, Manchester 'craft' pubs/bars. My theory is that breweries/bars are trying to blur the lines between the cost of cask and keg. I'm not noticing the same clear price difference of say a year or two ago. Over £4 for a 3.9% cask is a total piss take.

Tandleman said...

Anon: Not an aspect I'd considered, but it is an interesting theory.

DaveS said...

It's interesting that we still tend to think of value for money in terms of the ABV, isn't it? I mean, I do the same thing myself, but does it really make sense for me to be happy spending a bit more on a bottle of Imperial Porter just because it's 12% so it'll get me pished quicker than the 4.5% beer next to it? If I was that bothered, shouldn't I be buying Special Brew?

I suppose there's an argument that you tend to drink a stronger beer less quickly, so you're effectively paying less per minute...

DaveS said...

Otherwise, I agree with Richard Conroy's post - "make the prices clear and allow joe public to make informed decisions."

RedNev said...

There's no logic in charging more for stronger beer on the basis that you drink less of it. I'd have thought the profit margin would be determined by the unit of sale (i.e. a pint), not per booze up. Neither is considering the strength as part of value for money a reason for going onto Special Brew: why would flavour becomes irrelevant if you like strong beer? (I appreciate that was a rhetorical point, but even so it doesn't really make sense)

Payable duty is dependent on the strength, as we all should know. There is also the fact that you tend to need more ingredients to make a stronger beer, thus costs are higher.

Some people like paying more because it shows how discerning they are. If any profiteering is taking place, such people are willing victims.

My local was selling a nice beer from Phoenix on Monday for £2.50.

Dave said...

"for me, that was just too much"

"don't buy it then."

You appear not to heed your own advice here. In any industry, people only charge what other people are willing to pay, and apparently you were willing to pay that.

Moaning about it on the internet won't help.

Rob said...

I think strength and flavour both come into it. As far as the pub is concerned it absolutely makes sense to think about profit in terms of per minute spent in the pub.

In general, people will take longer to drink something stronger. Or conversely, they may order a half pint of the strong stuff rather than a pint of 4% bitter. If they only did a flat mark up it would make a big difference to their overall profits.

And just because you are drinking for the taste doesn't mean people don't consider the 'bang for buck' they're getting. You can think about both.

RedNev said...

"As far as the pub is concerned it absolutely makes sense to think about profit in terms of per minute spent in the pub."

It might make sense to you, but does it actually happen in real life? I seriously doubt it. If they have a greater profit margin on stronger beers, it's because they know people will be mug enough to pay it, not because of some abstruse calculation of minutes spent in the pub.

py said...

The direct costs of any beer are the wholesale price of the pint + say about 50p to offset the staff time required to pour the drink, collect the glasses, wash up, and occasionally change the barrel.

Anything you add on top of that is to cover your fixed costs and make a profit, so its a simple profit maximisation exercise.

Coming up with a different price point for similar drinks with near-identical demand curves suggests one thing: that the landlord doesn't know what the fuck he is doing.

DaveS said...

RedNev:

> There's no logic in charging more for stronger beer on the basis that you drink less of it. I'd have thought the profit margin would be determined by the unit of sale (i.e. a pint), not per booze up.

I'm not sure you're getting my point here - I'm talking from a punter's point of view about what I'm willing to pay, not a landlord's point of view of what they want to charge. A more expensive beer can be better value for money if I get more enjoyment out of it. And one reason that I might get more enjoyment out of, say, a strong Trappist beer than a session bitter is that I'll sip it slowly rather than knocking it back quickly and going for another.

> Neither is considering the strength as part of value for money a reason for going onto Special Brew: why would flavour becomes irrelevant if you like strong beer?

But is simply getting you drunk a bit faster really part of the appeal? Or is it that you associating alcoholic strength with bigger and more interesting beers?

Maybe it's splitting hairs, but I suspect that when I think "it's a bit pricey, but it is 7%" what I actually mean is "it's a bit pricey, but it's probably a fairly big and complex porter / IPA / dubbel / whatever rather than a light, easy-drinking bitter..." But it'd still make more sense to say "that seems like a lot for a standard bitter" rather than "that seems like a lot for a 4% beer."

Rob said...

"It might make sense to you, but does it actually happen in real life? I seriously doubt it. If they have a greater profit margin on stronger beers, it's because they know people will be mug enough to pay it, not because of some abstruse calculation of minutes spent in the pub."

It's not an abstruse calculation at all. A pub wants to make money and to do that they want people to drink as much as possible at as high a margin as they can get away with. They don't want people sitting nursing a half pint of 8% whatever if they are not getting decent profit from it.

Of course I'm not suggesting that they try and work it out exactly on a profit/minute basis, which would be impossible, but the basic concept applies.

In any case, outside of 'craft' beer places, the majority of pubs rarely have anything above 4.5%. Whether this is because they don't think there's a market for it, or they can't charge enough on it I don't know.

py said...

Maybe it's splitting hairs, but I suspect that when I think "it's a bit pricey, but it is 7%


Actually I would think: stronger beers take longer to ferment, taking up valuable tank space at the brewery, so are inevitably going to cost more to offset that.

Pubs are probably going to market them differently, if they've got any sense they'll sell them as half pints in posh glasses to maximise their revenue.


py said...

I don't think time comes into it: unless they're very busy and you're putting people off coming through the door, it doesn't cost the pub any more if you sit and nurse a pint for an hour than if you neck it and walk out.

Lord Egbert Nobacon said...

That horrible word craft is to blame.
As soon as it became fashionable to brew beer rather than being just a job every scam-merchant with access to a few hops got in on the act.
And beer bloggers helped stoke the bonfire of vanities, desperately trying to out-spunk each other with the latest of-the-wall concotion.
When I head out with a couple of chums for a few sherberts any round that costs more than a tenner gets raised eye-brows - and our last order before we head off somewhere else.
If everyone did that it would soon learn 'em.

Dimpled Mug said...

I popped in too see Oliver at Squawk recently to ask about the price of his beers, they seemed resonable and nothing at odds to comparable breweries.So I'll draw my own conclusions as to the pricing.

RedNev said...

You're just inventing your own explanations that you think are plausible but which rarely happen in the real world, if ever.

Curmudgeon said...

It has to be recognised that, even for the craft beer geek, to some extent the objective of drinking is intoxication, so, regardlesss of cost of production, a stronger beer will be "worth" more to the consumer as it contains more alcohol.

Obviously it will tend to cost more to produce and also suffer higher duty.

py said...

I try to avoid intoxication as much as possible, it would lead to me crashing my car on the way home.

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