At the recent Manchester Beer and Cider Festival, I had the enviable (no I don't mean unenviable - it was great) task of chairing our annual Great Manchester Beer Debate. It attracted a fairly decent sized and very enthusiastic audience and together with our excellent panel resulted in a lively and interesting session. My dulcet tones, a fab top table and free beer along with beer talk? What's not to like? The subject, very loosely - though in the end it was maintained throughout without too many meanderings down side streets - was "The Price of Beer". Ironically the attraction of free beer to keep the buggers there and listening was a positive plus. Even those that argued for higher prices didn't mind that!
Our panel was Jo Whalley – Wigan Central's Bar Manager, Connor Murphy – Organiser, Manchester Beer Week, Brad Cummings – Tiny Rebel co-owner and now CAMRA NE candidate and Sue"the Brew" Hayward from Waen and Hopcraft Breweries. I'm not going to bore you with all the details, but our panellists had forthright views on the issue of price, but perhaps surprisingly, no real agreement. In particular the two brewers had quite divergent views on many aspects, which goes to show that perhaps there isn't really an exact and universally accepted conclusion to the question of price. Different businesses and owners take different approaches, both as sellers of beer and more surprisingly perhaps, when they are customers buying beer for themselves. The audience too was split with some accepting that price wasn't a great inhibitor and others saying it is. The conversation ranged across costs, poor brewing and too many breweries, great brewing costing more, price of ingredients, cask v keg, hard times, low wages and much and more. It was fascinating to chair and when we finished after around an hour and 20 minutes, there were still hands up trying to make further points.
I was prompted to recall this when I read a piece yesterday about the price of craft beer in the good old Morning Advertiser. You can read it here. The argument - and it isn't new or original - is that poorer members of the drinking public are being priced out of the craft beer revolution, especially in the push by some, for the £5 pint. (Of course many craft beers cost way beyond that.) I could of course regurgitate the usual facile guff that some brewers trot out about the high cost of producing top quality beer with the best ingredients. That is fine and dandy and even to some extent true. But the use of quality ingredients doesn't remotely tell the whole story of mark ups, location, staffing, size, efficiency, overheads, rental costs etc. etc. Price is a very complex business indeed. Comparative price even more so. There is no one answer.
It is fashionable among some to present craft as a bottom up movement of the people sticking it to the man - BrewDog comes to mind, though they aren't alone - but wouldn't it just be a lot more honest to say "Well, we make expensive beer for people with plenty of disposable income and if those who don't have that income want to drink our beer, it's too bad. They'll just have to do without - or maybe have the odd glass as a treat". After all makers of other high end goods generally don't make excuses for their prices, or portray the product as something for everyone. Why should brewers? Reflecting on price, I know that locally here in Greater Manchester, I can get excellent beer for (well) under £3.50 a pint even in Manchester City Centre. Equally I can pay a lot more, even for the same beer. There is though, price points to suit most pockets and for those that can't afford to drink in pubs, there is a huge choice of cheap beer to drink at home. The truth is that somewhere in the market, no matter where you live in the UK, there is beer at an affordable price for you. We should be glad about that.
Craft beer isn't beer for the people, it is beer for some people - people with a few bob - so shouldn't those making it and selling it should be honest enough to say so? After all, not so deep down, we all know that already.
I think the main conclusion of the beer debate was just that. There is beer for everyone, but not everyone can have some beers. Some beer will always be a treat. We should just accept that.
Prices around the country will obviously vary without changing my main point.
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 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
This blog mentions specifics; pubs and beer, good and bad. The opinions will be forthright, but you can always disagree, just don't be offended. Comments from those mentioned are particularly welcome and a right of reply is hereby offered.
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