Earlier this week, Keith Flett suggests a solution to the vexing problem of the sometimes worryingly high price of some craft beer: as we read it, he is asking craft brewers to challenge themselves on price and brew at least one ‘people’s pint’.
As has been established, we’re weird: we’re already beer zealots — extremists, if you like — and prioritise buying good beer above many other luxuries in our lives. So, to us, there aren’t many beers which don’t seem affordable; we don’t need convincing that there is a connection between price and quality; and we’re certainly not arguing for craft brewers and bars to cut costs across the board. Generally, we admire their tendency to brew for flavour and worry about price later.
The fact is, though, that for some people, price is an issue through necessity rather than choice. Can anything be done to make sure they aren’t excluded from craft beer? Just one beer? Or do we simply have to accept a ‘them and us’ culture?
Here are some ideas off the top of our heads, in brainstorm mode.
1. The Sainsbury’s Basics model
Sainsbury’s supermarket has a range of economy products in simple packaging, just as all the others do, but their clever gimmick is transparency. They say things like “Basics Cucumber — just as green, watery and likely to give you indigestion, but slightly bent” or “Basics Onions — not uniform sizes, but just as likely to make you cry”. This could also work for beer, e.g. “A simple recipe with only pale malt to let the hops shine through”.
2. Inspired by Macrobrewers
Several breweries in different parts of the country could work together to brew the same beer for their respective markets, saving on distribution costs, but sharing the costs of sales, branding and publicity. As a bonus, the savvy punter gets to enjoy the regional variations.
3. Learning from History
Big brewers have always focused on hitting fixed price points. Look at Ron Pattinson and Kristen England’s 1909 Style Guide and one thing that leaps out is how much sugar, corn, rice, Soylent Green and other adjuncts were used in beers before World War I. Kristen has made and tasted all of those beers and, for the most part, enjoyed them. Once again, if made with care, marketed transparently, and presented as a history lesson, adjunct-laden beers could still be craft beer.
4. Play Ball with the Government
The Government wants brewers to make weaker beers and is giving tax breaks to those who do so. The threshold is 2.8%, which sounds disastrously low, until you consider the success of Brodie’s Citra (which is universally admired) at 3.1%. We like weaker beers because we can drink more of them in a session, and the success of GK IPA suggests that many ‘normal’ punters do, to. (Many brewers are already taking this challenge, of course.)
5. Loss leaders
Sam Smith’s pubs draw people in with the offer of cheap beer but make money from people ‘upgrading’, hence the massive difference between the price of a pint of Old Brewery and a pint of Pure Brewed Lager. Given that most craft beer customers don’t choose on price, would offering one beer at or near cost be such a problem, if it meant drawing in new custom and expanding the market? Which leads us to…
6. A Tax on Beer Zealots
A few ludicrously, deliberately over-priced, over-packaged limited editions beers at the other end of the range could subsidise a ‘people’s pint’ — a kind of tax on craft beer zealots, which many would gladly accept if it meant (a) that they got an interesting beer for their money and (b) it helped to spread the word.
Any more, better ideas?
Note: It goes without saying that our ideas above are poorly thought through, that we’ve missed the point, that they won’t work, etc..