As we drive through the rain

Following the IndyManBeerCon, another defining characteristic of craft beer has been proposed:

we knew it was going to be pricey and so it proved, but something labelled “craft” is, allegedly, supposed to be pricey, so I felt you could roll with that punch

Apparently most cask beers at IMBC worked out at three tokens per pint, while the keg beers were (mostly?) six tokens per pint or more. With tokens available at 11 for £10, the cask was pretty reasonable but that keg was expensive stuff.

Does this matter?

I agree, pricing was high for some beers. I guess I just expected that though. Plus I’m willing to pay higher prices for the opportunity given: so many interesting, unique, and hard-to-find beers in one place on draught! Stunning!
– a commenter on Tyson’s post

Evidently not to some people. But I think it’s a road beer-lovers should be very wary of going down, or encouraging brewers to go down.

Look at it this way. The drinking-age (over-17) population of the UK is just under 50,000,000. Ten million of those are over 64, so presumably living on a pension. Some pensioners seem to do OK, but it’s not a wild generalisation to say that people in this group tend not to have money to burn.

That leaves 40 million – 80% of the total – of working and drinking age. 70% of those 40,000,000 are in fact working – the remainder are classed either as unemployed or as economically inactive (we can go into the difference between those another time if anyone’s intrigued).

Now, median annual earnings across the working population – the level that splits the working population in two, with as many people above the line as below it – are about £21,000. After that the income graph slopes upward quite slowly; the 75th centile, the point at which you leave three-quarters of the working population behind, is somewhere around £33,000.

So, out of 50 million people who either drink beer or could do so without breaking the law, ten million are on pensions; twelve million are of earning age but not actually earning, because they’re on benefits or being supported by somebody else; and fourteen million, half of the remainder, are in work but earning less than 21k. Anyone earning 33k or more is in the top 25% of the working population – which itself is not much more than half of the total drinking-age population.

I’m not suggesting here that people on low incomes can’t afford expensive beer – you could use very similar logic to say that they can’t afford beer full stop, and you could argue that if you can only afford one beer a week you might as well make it a good one. The point is that people on low incomes are much more likely to be put off by high prices – and people on low incomes are actually the large majority of the population. Saying “of course the prices are high, what would you expect” amounts to telling seven out of eight drinkers that they’re not wanted.



  1. pubcurmudgeon
    Posted 16 October, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Permalink | Reply

    On the other hand, although some beer enthusiasts would like matters to be different, cask is still usually the cheapest draught in the pub.

    As I said in the post that wound a lot of people up, for many of its champions, the fact that “craft” is exclusive is a core part of its appeal.

  2. Posted 16 October, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I think I probably got my figures wrong and have corrected my blog. Dear do either way.

    • Posted 16 October, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Good post. One could argue that it should have actually been cheaper rather than more expensive what with the brewers direct involvement. Kernel worked out at £6 for a pint, that in London recently, the batman apologised for it being £5.

  3. Posted 17 October, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink | Reply

    So, what would you like to see happen? Presumably something more constructive than just ‘craft beer should go away’?

    • Phil
      Posted 17 October, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink | Reply

      What I’d really like is an explanation for why those prices were – and typically are – so high. Take, say, Thornbridge’s cask operation – do they use much less expensive ingredients/processes/kit than the keg side (seems unlikely), are they a loss-making enterprise cross-subsidised by the keg side, or do they just take a much smaller profit margin, because the margin they can set is determined by what the market will bear?

      Essentially what I want to see happen is a lot fewer beer bloggers and suchlike opinion-formers (we wish) saying “it’s pricey but hey, it’s craft beer!” and a lot more saying “hmm, nice beer but does it have to cost quite this much?”.

  4. Posted 17 October, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink | Reply

    Oh, and…

    We recently spoke to a brewery who told us that a cask brewery can be set up for £25k; a passable keg brewery costs more like £250k, minimum. His view, IIRC, was that one-man-band cask operations, selling at rock bottom prices, drag down the overall cost of cask ale. Could that be a factor?

  5. pubcurmudgeon
    Posted 17 October, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink | Reply

    Isn’t the cost of disposable Keykegs a major factor in the higher price of “craft” keg?

    And bear in mind that “normal” keg tends to be dearer than cask of similar strength in the same pub anyway.

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