Saturday, 3 March 2012

Good Beer, A Valuable Thing?

Value is a tricky thing. The opening of a brand new, and relatively expensive bar in Nottingham has drawn attention to this via that medium-for-the-indignant; Twitter.

"£3.50 for a half pint?! WTF? This won't be my usual place, I guarantee!! [closely followed by, my emphasis] Gone to a real pub - picked up copy of Nottm Drinker. Article about @BrewDogNotts. Quotes from them are so pretentious!"*

c/o BrewDog Notts Twitter feed
It was only the opinion of one Camra member, and shouldn't be held up as representative of the group, but the first tweet was re-tweeted by Nottingham branch, and as far as I am concerned that represents a certain level of agreement if not outright approval of the sentiment. It's a statement that assumes all beer is equal, hardly what you'd expect to be endorsed by Camra. From the 'draft' list they put up on Twitter yesterday I'm struggling to see which one it was that was £3.50 for a half, but I'm guessing it may have been an imported beer and so not on this particular board. So why did I put the pic up? Well, it shows the paradox (pun intended). The Paradox Jura is an equivalent price of £3.50/pint for a 5% beer, but I would defy anyone to find a beer that is that complex for that kind of price. Or, drawing away from mucking around with the alcohol equivalents, how good a wine are you going to get for £3.50 in a pub? You'd be lucky to get a glass of the wine world's equivalent of Budweiser - well made, but hardly exciting.

Not for £3.50 you aren't...
I'm not a member of Camra, and from an outsider's perspective it seems there is a lot of emphasis placed on the price of a pint. Membership discounts, discounts in discount pubs, all that kind of stuff. It's all wrapped up in championing the rights of the consumer. All well and good. But is cheap beer really that good for us as beer drinkers? Campaigning for cheap beer surely plays into the hands of those who make lots of the stuff doesn't it? Those whose volume of sales makes up for lack of profit per pint. I'm not talking about allowing ourselves to be ripped off at will, or paying way over the odds, but maybe it's worth thinking about it before having a rant about prices. A pint doesn't have an intrinsic worth. In a capital based economy and society, it's worth what people are prepared to pay for it - as are most things. Once again I find myself on the side of good beer rather than cheap beer. Can I afford to drink Paradox Jura, or even any of the other great beers on that list,  all the time? No, but I'm glad it's there, and on the rare occasions I get to go out and challenge my palate it's great to think there is something different around, something that does just that. If it means that I don't get to drink as much when I'm out, then that's fine.

The competitive nature of the system has an somewhat unfortunate side-effect of encouraging lowest common denominator products. So much of 'business management' is about profit through marketing and driving costs down rather than producing something that has its own merits. Every little doesn't really help.

How can you buck this trend? Ironically enough there are brewers that have designed their beers specifically to win Camra awards, and then shoved their prices right up. I'd like to think, however, that there are people who just want to brew the best beer they can, and hope to turn a profit at the other end - almost like a horse drawing a cart, or is that too revolutionary a concept. Still, maybe there's an upside of all of this? Maybe there'll be more Hardknott beers and the like to go round for those of us who like beer as a treat? And if any of this makes me sound like a beer snob, then maybe I am. You'll certainly not see me at the bar in Wetherspoons asking for my Camra discount.

*Link to Nottingham drinker is here if you want to judge the merits of that second tweet for yourself.


  1. "You'll certainly not see me at the bar in a Wetherspoon pub asking for my Camra discount." definitely a snobbish statement, there are plenty of decent spoons and lots of great beer sold in them.

    i agree that better beer costs more to make and is a higher added value product but i'll always aim to save money any way i can

    1. Best stay away from BrewDog bars then, they ain't cheap.

      Wetherspoons? I've been in enough to put me off going in any others. It's the downside of a pub brand spec, sorry if you're a fan, but if I want to save money I can do that by not spending it on beer.

      Sounds like I'm a beer snob. Guess someone's got to be ;) Cheers for commenting as ever Steve.

  2. i get shareholder discount ;) I've been in 3 of the 5 and will be in aberdeen next month.
    There are some bad spoons pubs, but when there are so many branches there are bound to be some dodgy ones. See my thoughts on wetherspoon post from last june for more of my thoughts
    Beer snob perhaps but at least your reviews don't come across as pretentious.

  3. I guess I'm a slightly lower class of beer snob as I use my local Wetherspoons. They keep their beer in excellent condition and support local breweries producing great beers that aren't getting mainstream exposure. Brentwood Brewery's Resolution IPA & Boston Brown Ale, and Crouch Vale's Astra come to mind as recent beers that would stand shoulder to shoulder with anything coming over from the US or found in a Brewdog establishment. I am lucky enough to be able to get to Brewdog Camden, Tap East, Craft Beer Co, Euston Tap, etc. and I frequently visit them as their choice is wonderful, but don't ignore your local Wetherspoons because the beer is cheaper, you could be missing out on some real crackers. I am a beer snob but only in so far as I like good beer. Just because you pay less it doesn't make it inferior, and vice versa. I understand that your article is about perception and I agree with you to a large extent but remember that cheaper beer enables us to spend the evening in a pub without spending a fortune. Find a pub that keeps it's beer well and support it. By all means visit local 'boutique beer bars' but to get better beer in more places we need education and integration not isolation.

  4. Maybe I was a little flippant with my Wetherspoons comment, so I'll try and qualify the statement.

    I've tended to drink in pubs that I know/trust in Nottingham in recent years, often run by people I used to work with. The perception when I was running a pub (rightly or wrongly) was that WS bought in short-dated stock so they could get a discount and got it out quick without much, if any, care for condition. The one in the town centre is such a haven for people who want to drink solidly, all day, to get hammered on the cheap, that it's practically created a no-go area surrounding it - even working next door, which I was recently, was unpleasant.

    I'm sure you guys are right in that many have improved. Unfortunately the only one I've been in in years is one in Cardiff which stank like they hadn't bothered mopping the vomit off the floor from when the rugby had been on the night before. I didn't try the beer, I was too scared, it was all I could do to stay there long enough to drink my coffee!

    I will endeavour to try a beer in a Wetherspoons if I'm in another town and get one recommended. My wife's also been to a very clean one in Sherwood (North Nottingham) with her baby group, including prams and all the paraphenalia, quite recently. She and her friends were made very welcome, although the food was disappointing (no beer report.)

    I'll let you know if I get converted.

  5. Rons post (at barclay perkins) this morning is an example of what I'm talking about.