It's been a funny few days. Earlier this week, I wrote a story for The Morning Advertiser about a pub in London charging more than £13 for a pint of Cloudwater Double IPA. The story was picked up by no less than seven national newspapers, got nearly double the views of any other story on our website for the month of August and brought out the absolute worst of beer twitter.
Amongst other things, I was called lazy, accused of stirring to generate headlines and attacked for reinforcing the stereotype that craft beer is a niche pursuit. I don't have particularly strong views about a pub charging in excess of £13 for a pint of Double IPA. It is a strong, expensive and rare beer, being sold in a pub in the centre of London, and if people are willing to pay those sums of money then fair play to them.
However, in the ensuing fall-out I was sent a picture of a London bar chain charging a similar price for a Cloudwater beer marked as a 4.2% Session IPA. Although this pricing was later claimed to have been a mistake (A fact I still have my suspicions about), some of the statements it generated about pricing made me question my own sanity at times.
One of the best things about beer, in my humble opinion, is that it can be so many different things to so many people. For some, it is a drink to be consumed in large quantities down the pub on a Friday night, whilst for others it is something to be savoured and appreciated for its complexity and depth of flavour. For most people, it is somewhere inbetween, and one of the greatest things about craft beer is that it caters to all of those tastes. Want to spend £15 on a bottle of mixed ferm saison? Go ahead. Want a pint of Neck Oil? Be my guest. I'm a great believer that beer is for everyone, and that everyone should have access to good quality beer.
A £4.50 third of Session IPA is not acceptable. End of.
I refuse to believe that this kind of beer, whilst it may be slightly more expensive than other comparable SIPA's to produce, costs this much to make or buy on the part of the pub. Clearly, this was a pricing mistake, but I still had people in my timeline yesterday trying to justify it with reference to ingredients costs and comparisons to wine. With respect to those individuals, I couldn't disagree more.
As a self-identifying socialist and a beer lover, there has always been something of a struggle in my mind between wanting brewers and independent bar owners to be paid what they deserve for the fantastic work they do, and wanting to see beer available at a price which is inclusive and affordable to the consumer. However, when we are having a serious discussion about whether or not £4.50 for a third of a beer that is meant to be drunk in pints (*read: SESSION IPA*) then I think the pendulum has quite clearly swung too far in favour of the brewers and pub owners. Beer priced at this level is prohibitively expensive, and excludes a huge amount of people from the market. Heck, I couldn't and wouldn't even pay that much myself, and I like beer a lot more than most people I know.
The argument "If people are willing to pay it then let them" absolutely does not stand up in this case. It's one thing to charge nearly £14 for a pint of a beer that won't be on the taps every week, and almost certainly won't be drunk in pints, but to defend charging that much for a beer of less than 5% ABV on that basis is madness. It sets a price precedent that will eventually filter across the market and exclude a great many people from the world of craft beer. We have already normalised the £5+ pint in London, lets not normalise the £10+ pint.
As someone who has worked in bars and whose dad owns a pub I know for a fact that beer does not cost anywhere near that much to buy, either direct or through a distributor. Someone is making a big fat chunk of profit on beer priced at this amount, and needs to be called out.
Before you engage with this post, and start telling me how wrong I am, take a step back and think about the issue being discussed here. Think about how you would justify spending £13 on a pint of 4.2% beer to someone outside of the craft beer bubble. Think about what you want the craft beer world to be; inclusive, welcoming and accessible, or some weird bullshit elite club where nobody can afford to drink more than two drinks in an evening but its okay because at least the brewers and pubs are being paid what they deserve.
I know which camp I'm in.