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Bell’s End - How Ignorance can lead to Mudslinging
A lengthy debate/argument/heated exchange unrolled on the CAMRA Facebook page last night when somebody cheekily posted an image of Port Street Beer House’s keg price list without mentioning that these were not the cask prices, but the keg prices. Of course, the audience being CAMRA, the mouthy ignorant people who make up the minority of our membership soon showed up to mouth off over the top of the reasonable voices in the debate, and a troll or two joined in. The debate around whether you drink cask or keg is not what I’m after here at all, but I do want to take a stab at explaining why keg is more expensive, and why this isn’t brewers or bars ripping you off, as people often assume when they consider Wetherspoon’s cask prices to be a fair indicator of a product’s true value.
- Wetherspoons are not a true indicator of value. Nobody makes a fair profit off a pint sold at Wetherspoons except Wetherspoons - they buy in bulk from breweries at a massively reduced rate so that the former can sell cheap and still profit, and the latter can shift stock (albeit making less profit than if they had sold the same volume at a normal rate).
- Wetherspoons are not an accurate indicator of an item’s value (except in regards to their food, which is cheaply made and cheaply sold). You know the food you buy alongside your massively subsidised pint? It cost pence to make in huge quantities in a factory. They sell this factory cut-out food at affordable prices because it costs next to nothing to produce, distribute, and serve. Their profit is generated by both food and drink, which is something a pub without a food service cannot do. Let alone a pub that does not have an army of pubs all serving the same meals produced with the cheapest ingredients in a factory. This means they have to charge a little more for beer to pay rent, business rates, wages, bills, VAT, tax, and suppliers. They serve mass-produced cheap food alongside beer bought at an aggressively negotiated price point, making profit through volume. They’re essentially Walmart, only in the on-trade.
- Those ‘expensive kegs’ are only as expensive as their postage and packaging. So Founder’s All Day IPA is £6 a pint in Port Street? That isn’t the best price I’ve seen for it, we do it at a bit less, but we get a nice discount from their importer and do food, so our costs and need to profit entirely off drinks are reduced in that regard. Do you know why it’s £6 a pint? A lot of it is because it came from America. Have you ever posted 30 litres of liquid under refrigeration to the other side of the water? No? Neither have I. I imagine it’s expensive. Then remember that the brewery got paid, made a profit, sent it via an exporter, who made a profit, who had it shipped across the ocean, via a company who made a profit, to a distributor who made a profit, to a bar that then has to make a profit and pay VAT. £1.20 of that pint is VAT. The rest has to pay for everything else.
- Even the keg beers from the UK have expensive packaging. Keykegs work out around the £30 mark if I’m not mistaken. Why is this important? Because they are single-use. They get destroyed/recycled after use. It’s wasteful, I’m not entirely happy about that, but it is the case. So the brewery has to cover that cost when they sell the beer. Imagine a hypothetical beer called High Pour, brewed by a nationally renowned craft brewer that produces both cask and keykeg beer. A cask of that, which holds approx. 40l, costs £120 to buy in directly from the brewery (the cheapest you can manage if you’re not a chain with epic buying power). That’s £3 a litre, so approx £1.50 a metric pint (not British, I know, but easier maths this way). The bar will sell that around £3.50 a pint to pay VAT, the beer, the staff, and the bills, then take home a small profit for their trouble. Did you know that the same beer in keg, with which the bar is ‘ripping you off’ also cost the pub £120 to buy in? If so it should be the same price at the pumps, you might say. You’re wrong. A keykeg contains 30 litres of beer, making it 3/4 the size of a cask. Suddenly that £1.50 a pint pre-profit/VAT/costs is £4 a litre/£2 a metric pint. Why is it the same price for a container 25% smaller? Because the brewery is charging £30 extra on top of the beer to pay for a disposable keg. 25% of the cost of a UK craft keg beer is often the container it is stored in. It’s only breweries big enough/with the ability to manage and consistently retrieve a stainless keg population on top of their cask, that can actually sell their keg beer affordably.
So let’s look at this objectively, not ideologically as is often the issue with certain quarters of CAMRA’s membership. In that £6 pint of beer you are paying for:
- £1.20 in VAT
- Beer duty, which will probably be around the 50p mark
- 50p per pint because the container is disposable
- Any import taxes (I’m not sure what these are regarding beer)
- The beer cost the bar 25% more due to its smaller container
- The staff’s wages at over £6.31 an hour, and if the bar value their staff they’ll be on slightly more (and for what bar staff put up with and do, they should be paid more, trust me).
- The heating, lighting, music license, upkeep, decoration, and furnishings of the pub
- Business rates for operating within their chosen city. In Manchester, which is Port St.’s location, this is NOT cheap.
- Rent for the pub
- The distribution of the beer, in this case from Michigan to Manchester, UK - around 3500 miles - with every company involved in that massive distribution system making a fair profit.
- The farmers who grew the barley and hops used to make the beer, who are paying for their farm, machinery, and making a small profit on which to live.
- The brewers, who have to pay for a brewery, a premises, the ingredients, the staff, and everything else that goes in to making the beer.
- Fuel for every stage of the journey, and the refrigeration of the container throughout every stage including in the bar’s cellar.
Suddenly, £6 looks pretty darn reasonable, especially considering you are buying from an independent business that deals in goods from independent producers, surely? They can’t be as cheap as a chain selling mass-produced and bulk-bought goods, it’s apples and oranges. One is essentially a real ale supermarket (but let us not forget Wetherspoon’s shift HUGE quantities of shit lager too at a massive profit), the other is a specialist that pays their suppliers a fair price, instead of pushing for ever lower prices for nobody’s benefit but their own.
If you are part of CAMRA, support the campaign’s goal of protecting our pubs, and value your local, you should not be drinking in Wetherspoons. They devalue the beers they sell, they take business away from local, community, and independent pubs that generate more revenue within the local economy, and their entire business model depends upon paying nobody but themselves a fair price. Whether you are home or away, if their’s a local pub you’ve heard good things about, go there instead of opting for Wetherspoons. Unsure whether there are any good pubs locally? Perhaps you’ve heard of the campaign’s Good Beer Guide?
And remember, if you’re unsure if the beer is worth the price, ask for a taster! There’s only one pub I’ve been to that refused a taster on the beers it served, so I don’t risk drinking their expensive beers unless I know it’s something I believe is worth their asking price. If you don’t want to spend £6 on a pint, you can drink a half without your masculinity being undermined! I KNOW! I hardly ever drink pints these days, and I still identify as male - you can, and probably should, separate your gender identity from your food and drink portion sizes, trust me.