Beer that’s proud to be cheap

Moles VFM beer pump clip.

A while ago, we wrote a post suggesting that ‘craft’ brewers should take on the challenge of making a beer with the intention of knocking it out cheap. Moles of Wiltshire, founded in 1981 at the height of the ‘real ale craze’, have done just that, with a seasonal brew called VFM — value for money.

We came across it in the Crown, one of few Bridgwater pubs with a bit of life, and a commitment to ‘real ale’. ‘It’s brewed to be sold at about £2.20 a pint,’ said the landlord, ‘for February.’ (Their brochure actually suggests an even lower price-per-pint: £1.99.) He certainly seemed grateful for a product which gave him half a chance to compete with Wetherspoons, and the ability to keep up his real ale offer through the post-Christmas doldrums.

It wasn’t a great beer, but it wasn’t bad, either, at least by the standards of a town where Butcombe Bitter and Wadworth 6X are considered adventurous, niche products. In good nick and served cool, just how we like it, we were happy to drink more than one. It wasn’t especially weak (3.8%) and was about as obviously hoppy as many other beers of the same style. Its made, they say, with First Gold hops and Maris Otter malt, rather than floor-sweepings and bag-ends. So how did they achieve the target price point? Damned if we know. (We’ve emailed them to ask and will update this post if we get a reply.)

Keith Reynolds from Moles says: ‘We significantly lower our margin in order to provide a good price to the retailer so it can be passed onto the consumer, at a particularly slow time of the year in the trade, to generate sales.’

It has certainly helped us clarify our thinking on something: beer brewed to be cheap isn’t a bad thing; but cheap beer marketed as a premium product, at a premium price, is a con. VFM doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is.

7 thoughts on “Beer that’s proud to be cheap”

  1. I want my beer to be as nice as possible for as cheap as possible. I couldn’t really give a monkeys about “exclusivity” and “premium product” or even (dare I say it) “craft”. I’m willing to support small local breweries, but not at the cost of paying through the nose for some ‘orrible dreck. I’m also willing to pay a little bit extra for something a little bit nicer if I think the costs of making it are simply unavoidable: eg extra hops required, more expensive New World hops. But ultimately if the beer is too expensive everyone will try it once, say “mmm that’s nice” and then go back to drinking something more affordable.

    Any brewer that has the technical skill (and economies of scale) to produce great beer at reasonable prices will sell shed loads of the stuff. Thats why I’m pleased about Brewdog’s massive new brewery – I don’t care if it makes them less “craft”, if it means their excellent beer will remain comfortably affordable then its a good thing, surely. TBH I wouldn’t care if it was made in Carling style quantities on a massive industrial scale – if it tastes good it tastes good.

  2. Interesting that significantly lowering margin leads directly to lower retail price. We are often told in the North American market that such things are impossible and to ask is a make of “not getting it” but then again we have brewers now putting high quality beer in cans at up to even 7% for around $2.50 Canadian for 500 ml. That’s 1.60 UK. Having bought craft brewery stocks for my retirement fund in the past and having access to the annual shareholders’ report it was pretty clear that after tax profit of 50% on a keg was possible and even normal for big craft.

  3. By the way B&B, those London pub walk throughs are making your page really slow to load and difficult to navigate, it keeps jumping around.

  4. I’m sure that there are a number of brewers offering deals working out around 50 quid, particularly at a slow time. If that saving is passed onto the drinker, then it’s hard to argue with. That said, I’m sure that there are other brewers who might consider this a bit aggressive. Still, that’s business.

    It’s worth pointing out that the landlord you quote, charging 2.20, is shooting for a GP of 63% which I would call “healthy”. As was pointed out when you first opened this can-o-worms, it’s largely the retail mark-up that determines the price of a pint. Most (small) brewers don’t operate on anything like the margin that the publican expects to get. This is why you shouldn’t open a brewery (in the UK) unless you have outlet(s), or very deep pockets. D’Oh.

  5. It’s good that they’ve made it a reasonable strength, rather than the feeble 3.2% (or even, God help us, 2.8%) which is often the lot of “economy” beers.

    I think a lot of publicans are very unimaginative on prices and tend to regard a set gross margin as Holy Writ. You can sell one or two beers cheap and still make a reasonable profit on them; you don’t need to bring everything down to the same level.

  6. Here in Ireland I have very little sympathy for landlords – most of whom are owners – who bemoan the slack period between New Year’s Eve and St Patrick’s Day while doing nothing to help their cause.

    Few of them can be arsed to do food; they look at you as if you’re from another planet when you ask if they have wi-fi and many think a 24-hour TV Racing Channel turned up full volume for the benefit of a couple of unemployed scrotes hanging on the bar constitutues customer service.

    A few enterprising ones do organise a pub quiz, throw out a few baskets of chicken wings on a Friday tea-time and run the odd outing during this time to show they actually care whether punters come through the door or not instead of spending their time whingeing behind the bar about the smoking ban and youngsters not coming into pubs and spending on a round of drinks what they could buy a slab of lager for and stay at home in comfort.

    Fuck them and fuck every pub landlord who expect reward without effort.The sooner their pub closes down the better.

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