Shut Up and Take My Money!

Fry: "Shut up and take my money!"

We’ve got into the habit of asking industry people about money.

One distributor gave this response to our query about why beers from a particular brewery were so expensive (paraphrased):

Everyone, including me, is begging them for a few bottles here, a keg there, so they’ve got absolutely no incentive to offer discounts.

We’ve found that the best way to turn down a job is to quote a ludicrous fee, but sometimes people say ‘Yes!’ anyway.

Your choices as a consumer seem to be (a) drink something less trendy; (b) buy direct; or (c) grit your teeth and pay up.

25 thoughts on “Shut Up and Take My Money!”

      1. Is it? I am quite unimpressed by trendy beer these days, the need to understand the brewer’s intention, to get the analogy or experiment. The failure rate is extraordinarily high and the price does not reflect that for the reasons you state. There are so many better and more reasonably priced options out there in ciders and wines and, yes, from breweries with more integrity.

        1. “breweries with more integrity.”

          Isn’t that a judgement about the brewer’s intention? (Or motives, or personality.)

          For clarity, we’re talking here about quite normal beers (pale ales, IPAs) that just happen to be really good examples of those styles.

          1. I do judge motive when the price is jacked and the beer. Of course I do. I am a consumer with a huge amount of information. Having ears in the “closed” sessions of conferences, I am well aware of divisions in the US craft scene over the issue of value between those who manipulate and those who have a sense of shame. Manufactured scarcity is at the heart of the phenomenon.

  1. Hence the reason I mainly stick to stuff like Adnams or Oakham. Its not as trendy, but it tastes 90% as good for half the price.

  2. I can’t justify spending more than 8-10€ (and only on VERY special occasions) for a bottle of beer, any beer. I’m not saying that beers that cost more aren’t worth the price by default. They might be, but when I can get some truly extraordinary beers for considerably less, why bother?

    1. Yes, I think we’re in about the same place, but we do sometimes think, “Gosh, if that beer was cheaper, we’d love to try it.” Only our stinginess saves us.

  3. I wonder how many breweries are able to afford a price premium based on lots of different people buying occasional beers just to try them, and whether that is a sustainable business model.

    1. I’d guess
      a) probably quite a few and
      b) probably not very – as the number of crafty micros with nice labels increases, it’s probably going to be increasingly hard to stay afloat without actually being good enough that people who try one of your beers like it enough to actively seek out more.

      Another interesting group of people is the punters who quite like their Imperial Porters and US IPAs, but aren’t too bothered about paying a premium to try the latest and greatest experiment from the hottest young guns in Bermondsey. Because it seems like they’re increasingly being served by the more progressive traditional brewers (eg Adnams) and the less full-on craft brewers (eg Thornbridge) and no longer having to grit their teeth and accept that if you want something that tastes of grapefruit then the only option is paying extra to enable breweries to prioritize variety and experimentation over economies of scale and consistency. Which could have interesting consequences for the latter…

      1. Yes, you’ve basically described me. My dream is that one day I will be able to walk into any pub in this country, confident in the knowledge that for a reasonable price, I will be able to buy a beer that tastes of grapefruit.

    2. Possibly, although I guess it then becomes important that the overall reputation of the brewery is good so that people will take a punt on unknown beers.

      There’s a well-established model in ‘real ale’ where breweries produce endless slight variations and even blends to service the obsessively completist ‘ticker’ market.

  4. Alan — selling everything you can brew on your current kit with your current staff isn’t manufactured scarcity.

    Or is your suggestion that breweries in that situation have some sort of moral obligation to invest in expansion?

    1. A strategic decision to maintain limited capacity in the knowledge/expectation that other competitors will then do the same is a well-known micro-economic phenomenon.

      Its not “immoral” per se, but its certainly not good for the consumer since it maintains inefficiently high price margins.

      It would be interesting to know how much the lack of expansion in a number of now reasonably well established UK craft breweries is down to this.

      Brewdog have taken a far more aggressive, vertically expansive route of course.

      1. I don’t see that being a problem for the consumer, as we can always choose.

        Now, if you are a consumer who chooses the novelty of the week, or something along those lines, then you can’t really complain about prices or value because it is you who are supporting and encouraging that business model.

      2. There’s a kind of barrier in business expansion that if you go beyond it means that you have to look at operating on a much more professional and “businesslike” manner. A lot of micro-brewers, not unreasonably, basically see it as either a hobby business or something that gives one or two people a reasonable income and simply don’t want to take that step.

        1. Simon Webster at Thornbridge (already a pretty big and slick brewing operation) expressed reluctance to expand further when we interviewed him last year, and used an interesting turn of phrase: “It would be easy to just turn it into a Jaipur factory…”

          1. That’s a real shame, I would love to see a Thornbridge pump become as common a sight as a Carlsberg font. Perhaps this opinion is what differentiates someone like myself from a true crafterati?

            Not Jaipur though, too strong for a session beer. Kipling?

  5. Making 27 beers at Max production, many cycling or one timers, and selling each at top price regardless of intrinsic quality is manufactured scarcity and a hall mark of the last few years. There is an age old duty in both brewing and capitalism to maximize return and it is being honoured in a very robust manner. At least you have a CAMRA to offset the avarice with a voice for consumers. And it is effective as the lower price for cask proves.

    1. I like the first sentence, as it chimes with a post I’m currently working on.

      Bars aren’t innocent in all this. There’s a bar I visit regularly for non-beer-related social reasons where the prices just take the p*ss – £5 for a ‘white IPA’ which I’d seen in another bar at £4 (which itself isn’t cheap), and £3.80 for a dark mild which I’d previously seen in Spoons (where it was actually knocked down to £1.69 – ‘manager’s special’). Bottles at £5 and up, too. Never seems full, either.

    2. I’m unconvinced by this – producing stuff inefficiently by doing large numbers of beers in small quantities drives up the cost of production, so the fact that they then charge more for it doesn’t really benefit the brewer very much. As sharp practices go, that’s not particularly effective.

      Isn’t it more likely that they’re producing lots of different beers because they like producing lots of different beers, and because there are enough people around who are willing to support that even if it costs a bit more?

      1. Why do you believe that this is in play at all?

        “…producing stuff inefficiently by doing large numbers of beers in small quantities drives up the cost of production,…”

        The practice is to produce stuff efficiently by doing large numbers of beers in small quantities which vary substantively only a little (adding one ingredient or technique) so as to raise the cost of production a little while selling two products (base beer + tweeked beer) each for a higher amount than just selling the twice base beer.

  6. I’m in the (a) camp in the pub. When you can go to Wetherspoons and get thoroughly decent beers for about £2, it makes paying £4+ seem ridiculous. Even at the Euston Tap, for example, I’d tend to stick to the decently priced Cask selection (<£3.50), on the whole.

    That said, there's a time and place for a 'special' beer. Even so, (c) doesn't happen to me very often. I wonder how much of it is 'keeping up with the Joneses' though, and whether it's a price point sustainable for the brewer, in the long term.

    As far as (b) goes, I do get mail order in to enjoy at home. As well as picking up offers in Waitrose, Sainsburys and Tesco. And if I'm hosting an event (like my annual summer barbecue) I do buy in direct from my local breweries.

  7. The topic seems to be normal ish beers (not rare, foreign, high abv weird stuff) venue seems to make more difference than actual brewery pricing. My local working men’s club/ student gig venue (sort of place that sells tetley smooth for 1.85) will happily do something like a 6% kernal or even sierra Nevada [importer is local ] for around 4.30 a pint. Beers that could easily be over 6 quid elsewhere. Price rarely affects what I’m drinking but will affect how much. Happy to try an interesting third at almost any price. For cask ale under say 7 % , sure I can find an example cheaper than spoons with little effort finding higher quality and /5% + beers under 2.90 takes real effort . Bar I’d most often drink in prices by abv with v small number hitting a 2nd premium set of bands (about 50p extra, I can live with that) but cask rarely passes 4 quid mark (that would be premium quality and 6.5% + ) – knock 50p off I might have second pint! Beers that hit that point are certainly not ones you’d ever find in spoons. all basically a difference I can live with. Keg and bottle markets seem different with much wider difference in prices.

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