Is beer a luxury, or a right?

This post over at Appellation Beer made us think again about beer’s status in the world.

A lot of people see it as a basic right in life. They get annoyed when it’s taxed and/or the price goes up.

Unfortunately, it’s a heavily processed product. Yes, beer is a processed food. And like all processed food, it is very energy intensive. Think about the energy used in growing barley; malting the barley; mashing the barley; throwing most of it away and boiling the remaining liquid; chilling the remaining liquid; moving, storing and distributing the the finished product, sometimes to the opposite side of the world.

And then, nature takes a funny turn for a year or two, malt and hops go up in price, and we suddenly find that what once we drank as a cheap alternative to clean water has become an expensive luxury.

So, beer really ought to be expensive, and we probably ought to consume it more thoughtfully.

What options do the brewers and distributors have for keeping the price down? Reducing the quality, for one. Or squeezing the people in the supply chain, as in this depressing tale from Tyson.

Personally, we’d rather pay a fiver for our pint than damage the planet, or people’s livelihoods. Is that what it’s going to come to?

For a lot more on related topics, from a more learned writer than us, see Chris O’Brien’s Beer Activist blog.


9 replies on “Is beer a luxury, or a right?”

There is another side to the gloomy picture you paint. Apart from heating the water, brewing isn’t so bad as say steel making or many other things for that matter. The waste is fed to cattle (spent grains), yeast for Marmite etc. Heat excahne provides the cooling, used water washes the casks etc etc. I could go on but I won’t.

The reasons you might have to pay up to a fiver a pint are little to do with “saving the planet” whatever THAT’S supposed to mean! If you think even if beer gets to a bluey a pint you’ll be giving the publican a better living, then again I fear you are sadly mistaken.

Beer doesn’t “ought to be expensive”. It it mostly water. The ingredients are a small part of the total cost.

You are right though about the daftness of sending tastealike lagers round the world, not that stopping doing so would save the planet either.

I’m not with you on this one!

PS The links may have helped me, but they don’t work for me at least

Sorry about the links. Word Press freaked out. Have fixed them now, hopefully.

Still not remotely convinced. I hate any elitist response to such an egalitarian thing as beer and wishing beer to be more expensive sounds like just that.

Perhaps it’s not clear what we’re saying.

We don’t “wish beer was more expensive” – who does? But if the prices of all your raw materials go up, you’ve got a choice of;

(a) reducing quality
(b) screwing the middleman,
(c) paying a bit more

Personally, we’d pay a bit more.

Like life yopu have to separate those that do the screwing from those that get screwed! I’m afraid in most cases it is the middleman that does the screwing, He is usually the pub company in the UK. The screwees are the publicans and the public. Another screwer is the Government. Where beer is concerned robber barons abound.

It is a lot more complex than you say really. Cost of making the beer is a small part of the end price. There is nothing in the raw material price that heads us in the way you suggest.

I’m with Tandleman on this one. I’m only talking about real ale here, not mass prodeuced multi national world bland. It’s a fact that raw ingredients are a very, very small, part of the cost of beer. Even with transport costs etc, the main reason why beer is expensive is the government and, as Tandleman says, the middleman taking his cut.

Producing real ale is not energy consuming. Having been to hop farms and many breweries, it’s plain that it is actually the opposite. It’s a very cost effective process. Again Tandleman is correct that labelling beer as expensive is just elitist Please don’t fall into that trap!

Some confusion with my middlemen – I should have said “screwing the publicans”.

If the pubcos are creaming off the cash (and I’m not arguing with received wisdom that that is their entire purpose of being) – why are they all issuing profit warnings?

It must be paying all those accountants at breweries if it’s not the raw materials 🙂

No – as I said it is more complex than that. Every pub co owned pub is mortgaged or securitised to the hilt. That’s how they bought them in the first place. In other words since the Beer Orders we have gone from debt free brewery owned pubs (in the main) to pubs which have been used to gain cash for the companies that own them. Who pays? The publican and the public. Who profits? Brewery shareholders years ago and the whiz kids that set all this up then pissed off as soon as they can, selling on more debt! Just look at some of the history

Rant over! It is very complicated. Pub Groups are a pet hate of mine.

Profit warnings are merely announcements that profits are likley to be less than predicted. Not the same thing as saying we are broke. Sooner or later they all end up issuing them simply because of how they operate. What my Economics teacher called “the ladder of expectation.” Basically they operate successful business models, but diversify to continue to try and meet a pre set level of profit. Eventually the ladder runs out-ie they come a cropper and have to back pedal.

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