Thursday, 5 July 2012

Can't Pay Won't Pay?

Boak and Bailey have poked me with a stick. In a friendly way. So I'm going to get something off my chest.

It's actually something I saw them comment on, maybe on twitter, about being priced out of craft beer. I never saw the context for the convo, but I'd been out for a few beers one Thursday afternoon and ended up (like I do) at Cask, and their comment resonated.

I know quite a lot of the interesting craft beer imports are coming in 'grey' e.g. via Scandinavia, and I assume these beers are picking up on-costs as they find their way from brewer to point of sale. But I'm wondering if the beers that are coming in are all at the ticker end of the scale, and attracting a Spooge Premium as a result.

The beer that's made me think this is from a small brewery in New England called Alchemist. They were a brewpub before Hurricane Irene devastated Vermont and left Alchemist with a brewery and no bar. However, they brew a huge IPA called Heady Topper, and this survived the storm.

Two weeks ago I was in the Jugged Hare, the Fullers pub on Vauxhall Bridge Road, trying some of their Wild River American hopped pale ale. The staff were a bit perplexed. What was this beer with the disconcerting aroma and bitterness they couldn't pin down? I just sipped happily.

All Rivered out for now, I popped over to Cask. The legendary fridges have been re-tooled with some rare bottles, including Drie Fonteinen's Armand De Belder's rare limited bottled series of lambics (at £55 a pop), and some lovely Alesmith bombers (if you haven't tried Speedway Stout, you've got a gap in your dark beer experience).

But these beers weren't what got me thinking. Like a lot of US brewers, Alchemist have been canning their beers. 16oz of IPA deliciousness. Canning technology today is challenging the Kevin sterotype in the same way as the New Keg, unfiltered and unpasteurised, is changing the idea of 'chemical fizz' and 'zombeer'. In the UK you'll find cans from Brooklyn, Maui and, soon I hear, Sixpoint from New York.

The staff at Cask told me they had some cases of Heady Topper. A beer my associates Stateside have tried and like. A chance to sample a beer I wouldn't expect to see in the UK.

But. Gawd help me, but I can't justify spending £13 for 16oz of beer. I can't. I've had my moments with beer, and even though as a carer I live on a fixed income nowadays, I can usually find beer tokens for the odd half of imported keg once or twice a month. But £13 for a tin of beer? No matter how I try to justify it, that £13 sits right between my eyes. I could forego three pints of UK cask beer and buy one. But it just seems... wrong. I'm not sure I'm priced out of craft beer - not with so many lovely UK beers doing the rounds in our better bars and pubs. But I don't think I could live with myself if I laid out £13 for a single tin of beer, no matter how good.

I did a bit of digging. That £13 can of beer can be got from the brewery for $3.75 (about £2.50) for a single can or $12 (under £8) for a 4-pack. The Dive Bar in Manhattan sells it for $9 (£5.80) a can. I know there'll be shipping and Gideon wants his share of the tax generated by an 8% beer. But I can't help thinking that the beer is here because Beer Advocate and HateBeer members rate it very highly, and the Scandinavian market has got it and are selling some on to the UK to defray costs. In a way, are UK drinkers being asked to pay that Spooge Premium on this type of beer? Or, like cutting edge consumer goods, does somebody have to pay the big bucks until the rest of the market catches up and the price drops? Will we see more mass market beers from the US and elsewhere, or are importers looking for the tickerific stuff which RB and BA like? I know Russian River are on some importers' radars, for instance. Today, at Craft, an empty Pliny The Elder bottle on top of a fridge elicited two punter requests for some.

I dunno. But I know I can wait until a trip back to NY to try Heady Topper. Unless I see you at Cask, and it's your round...


The Beer Nut said...

If it was £13 for the pint of Wild River this would be an issue. But I don't think you've any right as a customer to quibble about the price of Spooge Beer From Far Away. Only the right not to buy it.

Drink local or be fleeced: sounds perfectly fair to me.

Bailey said...

We were responding to a post by Dan Brown on his blog in which he said that he was beginning to feel "ever so slightly priced out of the craft beer revolution". It's not that we're complaining, just slightly sad that there are beers we'd like try but can't bring ourselves to buy at the asking price.

As Beer Nut points out, there's plenty of nice beer around at a very reasonable price. It's just that... Well, it's not the most 'revolutionary', sexy stuff.

Anonymous said...

How about £4.10 a pint of Wild River, i paid that last week in a Fuller's flagship in the City. Or £4.75 for a pint of Camden Pale in Tower Bridge. £4.10 last night in Farringdon for a Thornbridge Sequoia. The £4+ standard pint seems to have appeared very quickly this year and the 'Craft' venues have led the way. I'll pay up for some rare imports, but when a 4.5% pale ale that's travelled 10 miles is nearly a fiver a pint then something's up.

rapopoda said...

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Bailey said...

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Stan Hieronymus said...

This is likely off topic, but what troubles me is that there is likely an inverse relationship between the number of hands (and, of course, the price goes up on a finger-to-finger basis) it passes through and the quality of what's inside the can.

Sid Boggle said...

BN: I'm not really quibbling over the price, but I do think Stan's point is relevant. I've been prepared so spend silly money in the past, in this case I just can't bring myself to hand over the beer vouchers. Like you say, drinking local causes less heartburn, on the whole. But, hold on...

Anon: Adnams Ghost Ship (just a meh beer to my taste) was £4.10 at The Parcel Yard, while my Wild River was £3.85 in Victoria. On the other hand, Camden Unfiltered Hells was £3.60 at The Holborn Whippet yesterday. Sadly, London is now pressing up against that £4 pint for cask and beyond that for keg.

Bailey: don't encourage him ;-)