Thursday, 22 February 2018

The Few, not the Many

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.


Cooking Lager said...

All products have price ranges to appeal to most pockets.

But why pretend that someone on £7.83 an hour (from April, I googled that) is going to value craft beer more than an hour in a grim warehouse when there's housing, food, kids & all sorts of gubbins that has actual importance? For some, good value for a fun evening is what a fiver gets you in the bargain booze between the bus stop and home.

It is possible to enjoy prosperity without guilt. Be happy you can afford nice things and think you deserve it. You can do all that without condescending people with tougher lives and fewer choices to drink less but better and deluding yourself that a middle class beer hobby is a moral crusade.

Not saying you do, Tand. Talking about them others. Them beardies and crafties.

Curmudgeon said...

As I said on my own blog, it would be good if craft beer could accept that it was just another niche middle-class enthusiasm and stop pretending it's some kind of moral crusade.

matt said...

There are may problems with the craft-beer scene, not least of which is the cost. The moral crusade aspect doesn't bother me so much, because I've had 30 years of real-ale drinkers thinking their choice in beers was morally superior to mine, rather than a matter of taste.

py said...

The UK craft beer movement has always been about trying to improve both the quality and variety of beer available in both the off-trade and the on-trade - and the acid test of that is whether you can now get a good choice of good beer in different styles in both supermarkets and "normal" local pubs.

and to a large extent, I think we can say the movement has succeeded. I can now get a bottle of Saison from Tesco for £1.50 to drink with my pizza and chips in front of the telly, and my local pub no longer offers just lager and three types of inaccessible, poorly made, virtually identical brown bitters - there's a keg IPA font at the same price as the peroni, and a far better choice of cask ale, as well.

Remember - the craft beer movement is not about keg vs cask vs bottle, its about quality, its about choice, and its about making these things available for everyone, at every price point.

Tandleman said...

Not so sure about your last point py.
Matt. Not morally superior. At its best superir in other ways.

Cooking Lager said...

Yeh but if crafties have a morally sanctimonious element to their world view, they got that off the CAMRAs. They didn't invent it themselves.

Phil said...

Sorry I missed the debate - not least because the debate on the day I was there (on sexism) was sadly lacking in free beer. Mind you, at last year's I got absolutely trollied on the free stuff (with some assistance from the stuff I'd already paid for), to the point where I remember the beginning of the debate but not the end. Belated apologies to Robbie, who I hope to meet again some day when I'm not completely mashed.

Price? Free is probably *too* cheap.

Tandleman said...

Ah. I wasn't chairing the sexism debate but I thought free beer at a debate on beer prices was a delicious irony.

kevin webster said...

Kill 'em all - Let god sort 'em out.