Pricing - and valuing - a pint of beer

30. August 2011 08:53

Well. I see that the average price of pint in the pub has broken the £3 barrier. For a moment there I thought the Doctor had come and whisked me back a few years in his phone box. In the unlikely event of me having grandchildren I’d be sitting them at my knee and telling them about the good old days when beer was £3 a pint.

Yet that’s the latest stat from the British Beer & Pub Association. Of course, beer up north, and in places like Wales, is a lot cheaper than where I live in the South East. Though I’ve been to the north recently and I’m still sceptical it could cancel out some of the prices you find in London and Brighton.

I’m currently paying £3.60, £3.70, £3.80 a pint without flinching. Well, I’m flinching but I’m not passing out with an attack of the vapours. And that’s for ale. The better sort of lagers are somewhere in excess of £4.

I’m not against beer being properly priced. I’m on record arguing that a craft product like cask beer is frequently priced too low in pubs. At least in relation to mainstream draught lagers. So I can’t complain.

But as the BBPA points out, a lot of the increase is accounted for by VAT and the tax escalator. Not the cost of the finest malted barley, whole hops and skills and equipment that ensure the kind of quality at the bar you’d pay that much money for.

Which means it’s the poor old pub that’s getting squeezed. In particular the pubs that must be charging well under £3 to bring the average down.

Meanwhile, rising alcohol tax seems be having little impact on the prices charged by supermarkets, widening the gap between on-trade and off-trade even more.

It’s the devaluing of drink, rather than the dangers of cheap alcohol, that’s the issue for me. And that devaluation is being compounded further, at least when it comes to beer, by the behaviour of our biggest supermarket chain Tesco.

Beer writer Mark Dredge has been highlighting atrocitites in the way Tesco is marketing beers on shelf. It displays a total illiteracy in beer you’d never find in the wine aisle. And there’s a fair amount of literacy illiteracy too.

I’m not sure what’s gone wrong here. Tesco used to lead the way in bringing interesting beers to market and educating shoppers. It’s won awards and stuff. Now it’s recklessly damaging beer.

There’s two things you can do about this. Read Dredge’s blog (www.pencilandspoon.com) and complain to Mr Tesco. And then, if you haven’t already, sign the official petition to cut hospitality VAT to 5%: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/1198

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About the author

Phil Mellows

Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist and writer specialising in the UK pub industry and alcohol policy. For more information, and the Politics of Drinking blog, go to www.philmellows.com
You can also follow Phil on Twitter at www.twitter.com/philmellows

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