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.