The price of a pint

by Steve

Beer cans on bar

The latest edition of monthly beer blogging activity The Session asks bloggers to “capture ONE thing you think we will see MORE of with an explanation of the idea.” Here are my brief thoughts on a Beer Future.

The Session logoThe Consumer Price Index measures inflation in consumer prices in the UK. Over the years beer has been a mainstay in the theoretical basket of items for consideration. The Consumer Price Index added craft beer in 2015, continuing a trend for adding different beer categories to the basket.

In years gone by the answer to the question “What is the price of a pint?” would be fairly straightforward. There would obviously be variation according to region, and some beer has always been more “reassuringly expensive” than others. But broadly speaking you could make a good punt at the price of a pint.

In 2016 that is pretty difficult. There is Wetherspoons offering a very cheap pint, craft beer bars often offering a very expensive pint, and normal pubs offering something in-between.

The same could be said of off-sales. There are more specialist beer shops, but there are also more supermarkets offering a wider variety of beer. And there is generally a bit of a gap in the price between the two.

And then there is the type of beer. Cask beer is traditionally cheaper than keg, and now craft keg is generally more expensive than either. A slab of mass-produced canned lager is going to work out considerably cheaper than the same volume of imported craft cans.

So, I see we’re heading to a big change where it becomes the norm for there to be several price points for beer. You go into a bar or off-licence and see an incredibly wide range of prices for a glass or bottle of wine and you think nothing of it. I think the same will happen for beer.

It is clear that the market has opened up for beer as a premium product with a price to match. However, as bigger breweries sniff around craft beer, I think they will be offering a similar product at a lower price, albeit one still higher than “normal” beer. There is a new market, and new price point, for those people who don’t fancy a pint of Carling, or whatever is on cask, but are unlikely to want to shell out for a premium craft pint either.

And with craft beer entering mainstream stockists, be it high street pubs or supermarkets, I can see it becoming common for a drinker to be greeted with a wide array of options and prices.

The answer to “What is the price of a pint?” will be meaningless, as cask beer, standard keg, pseudo craft (for want of a better term for bigger brewers “doing” craft) and craft beer will be priced differently, and those prices will then shift again depending on where you are drinking.

While this is already happening, I can see it becoming pretty normal to walk into a pub and see a pint of one beer for £4 and another for £8, and a few others priced between those points. I can see a few unsuspecting drinkers coming unstuck. I can see a few pubs hurriedly putting up a clear price list once they’ve encountered a few disgruntled punters who weren’t expecting their pint to cost so much.

And while the market may well contract as and when the craft bubble bursts, I can see the residue of that being a change in culture when it comes to the price of a pint, as such a concept may well become impossible to clearly state and so will become redundant.

Achieving some sort of fairness when buying rounds will be a nightmare.

The inherent democracy of the price of a pint being, well, the price of a pint will be gone. We will have a lot more choice, but will also have a scenario where, financially at least, beer is less accessible than it has ever been. The idea of an upper limit of acceptable price for a pint has been breached, so now anything goes.

The best case scenario is you walk into a new pub and see a price list with something for everyone in terms of style and price. The worst case scenario is you are scared to walk into a new pub as it will be a lottery as to how much your pint will cost.

And we will have lost one of the great measures of not just inflation, but of time and memory. “Oh, I remember when a pint cost…”

Image from the US National Archives, via Flickr