Depends, how much did it cost?

Last week, this Tweet got us thinking:


Well, in a way, the answer is yes, but bear with us.

How do you reduce the price of beer when you’ve got a price point to reach? You reduce the cost of production, storage and distribution by

  • producing in greater volumes
  • using fewer and/or cheaper ingredients (e.g. hops)
  • conditioning/lagering for shorter times (see Tandleman on this here)
  • brewing your beer to be acceptable to the widest possible market.

It’s still possible to brew a good beer within those parameters and, in fact, we’ve had the odd pint of Sam Smith’s Old Brewery Bitter which rivals Harvey’s Sussex Best for complexity and zing. On the whole, however, the more corners are cut, the more industrialised the process, the less likely the beer is to excite anyone. Everyone got that likely, right?

While it would be wrong to answer the question “Is this a craft beer?” with “Depends, how much did it cost?”, it wouldn’t be reckless to bet that a pint that costs £1.30 will be a bit boring. It might still be satisfying, it might not be nasty, but it probably won’t be exciting.

Note: we’re not making the case for super-expensive beer; our beer of the year for 2011 costs £2.60 a pint. And the Sam Smith’s beer pictured above is anything but cheap…

43 thoughts on “Depends, how much did it cost?”

  1. German beers seem to be priced as a staple food like bread, regardless of the size of the brewery and quality of the beer. And I date to claim the best beers fom Bamberg and Düsseldorf are craft beers.
    BrewDog Zeitgeist cost about a pound per bottle in Swedish shops. Are their biggest sellers industrial or craft? Or both?

  2. I’ve had plenty of expensive beers that are boring too so not sure if price is a good measurement. Perhaps knowing the story behind the beer helps you determine whether it’s craft of not?

  3. Brewbie — well, exactly — betting that a beer will be exciting because it’s expensive would be pretty dumb, too. Deus isn’t very exciting at all, for example.

    Knut — what’s the going rate for an Alt in Duesseldorf these days? They’re not *dirt* cheap. There must be dirt cheap German beers, just can’t think quite which ones they are. Maybe that “Greifenwalder Pils” we get in Aldi or Lidl? (As someone will point out, a big chunk of the price of a pint/bottle in the UK is tax; less so in Germany?)

  4. So some Sam Smiths beers are craft ‘cos they cost a few bob, and some ain’t ‘cos they are a cheap pint? So it’s the beer, not the brewer? A bottle of Coors can be craft if its pricey, with a high ABV, stinks and makes you wince when you drink it?

    But beer isn’t priced at cost +. There is no indication that a pint of Sam Smiths Old Brewery (price £1.60) cost any less to make than a £3+ pint. I’ve seen the same beer brand in Spoons sell for £1.85 that cost £3.50 in the pub next door.

    All beer is made of commodity ingredients. The ingredient cost is likely to be one of the less significant parts of the cost base. Hardknott Dave may even know this if he let an evil accountant do some costings at his business. Heating, premises, wages & tax are likely more significant contributors to cost than ingredients. How do you cost the artistry of the brewer?

    Stuart Howe of Sharps has always struck me as a pretty knowledgeable brewer with a creative streak. I’d call his work “craft”. Brewdog wouldn’t as he works for the big evil Coors.

    Can you cost the creativity of the brewer in the process?

    So, at the end of the day, it all comes down to what price is asked for the product?

  5. CZ/CL — no, the exact opposite of what you’ve just said — and that “cos” in your first sentence that’s wrong. We reckon there’s probably a broad correlation, but it’s not cause and effect.

    Or, to put that another way, “one way to make it cheap is not to make it craft” — cheap ingredients, corner-cutting production, banged out the door at the earliest opportunity, on massive discount to the broadest range of retailers.

    At the end of the day, it all comes down to the product, but the price *might* help you guess at the quality of the product before you taste it. (Hence the big likely in the middle of our post.)

  6. CZ/CL — but, PS, yes, some breweries probably are asking us to pay a surcharge for their rustic inefficiency/creativity/wackiness…

  7. Ah, so a beer is “likely” to be craft on any number of clues, price being one.

    So any beer might or might not be craft on the basis of a guessing game if the drinker figures out all the subtle clues?

    Why not accept that craft beer is bollocks. That is has a meaning in the American market that does not translate to the UK and anyone calling beer “craft” in the UK is just a pretentious knob?

  8. Make a persuasive argument, rather than willfully misreading what we’re saying and then calling us knobs, and we *might* accept that craft beer is bollocks.

    The fact is, craft beer has meaning to *us* and we’re comfortable dealing with its vague definition and complexities.

  9. Price, per se, isn’t a sure fire assurance of quality, obviously. There is indeed some rubbish that costs the earth and some fine examples that are at very reasonable prices.

    But, there is always going to be a correlation between quality and price.

  10. Dave — if we divorce this from beer, that’s kind of a universal truth, unless someone is deliberately distorting the market by selling at a loss, or the brand has such added value that, say, the same crappy t-shirt goes for twice as much with a logo on the breast.

  11. Dave’s “correlation between quality and price” is (I’d guess) in part an example of “common cause”. At the same time, slapping the “craft” label on a beer might let us ask more for it in some markets.

    Cookie’s position on craft beer – “is bollocks”, is a perfectly honest personal conviction. For all I know he feels the same way about craft pottery or craft furniture. A teapot’s a teapot after all, and any chair will keep your arse of the floor. Some people (not better people, not worse) are happy to chose stuff that’s the product of craft rather than mass production. They believe crafted stuff to be more desirable, more valuable. That’s their personal conviction.

    Craft is a perfectly good English word (and concept) that’s been going for years. It’s our fault if we’ve never come across it except in the context of pongy US beer or knitted tea-cosies. There’s always been more to it than that.

    1. I admire Dave’s beers and would agree with a description of “high quality” to describe them. He makes decent grog.

      I have long thought that Dave has a position on price based on wishing to earn the most for his product. Desiring a niche for his product to sit within that commands a higher price than the wider market.

      Not in and of its self wrong, but´clearly based on self interest.

      As is my desire to not pay an arm and a leg to pissed up with my mates.

  12. If you feel I’ve called you a knob and feel insulted you have my unreserved apologies. It was meant more widely than your good selves.

    But “craft”, like any adjective requires a meaning or it is meaningless. A describing word needs a meaning to describe. It appears to have a meaning in the US. It means small brewery (by the standards of Coors) making any beer that is not macro lager. Or that’s what I understand. If I Google “craft beer” looking for a definition I get this

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microbrewery

    Now every attempt to define this in a UK context appears to fall over largely because the term is used in a pejorative sense to mean “good”, and defining it on the same terms as the US excludes beers that are considered good. Widening the definition then includes beers that are considered “bad”.

    So then the weak argument is made that it doesn’t need a definition because it means something to “us” (sorry is that “us” and in just you or some club of people, or sect, clan or gang?).

    I’m tempted to think that it isn’t that people cannot define craft beer, but that they won’t. That if they define it, it will appear to be a hopelessly snobbish notion of pricey beer made for beer geeks and specifically not made for wide appeal.

    Without a definition, it requires beer experts to tell us what is craft and what isn’t. With a definition it is clear what is and isn’t.

    If you use the term “Quality” beer, that can be challenged. Someone can say Carling is brewed to a quality standard. “Craft” beer? It means what you want it to mean, so it means nothing.

    But okay, to you it means something desirable. I can give it the meaning “beer for knobs”

    1. I’d suggest that Brewdog’s ‘position’ (this week, at least), proposes an ‘Other’, the thing that isn’t craft. Of course, your point about context seems to be the big obstruction to working out some kind of definition.

      Personally, I’m starting to think ‘craft’ is dead. Better dead than cred…

      1. If Brewdogs position is the one expressed in the comments on Melissa Cole’s blog and indeed you accept them as “craft” brewers (‘cos they say they are) then that position is a credible point to look at craft brewing & beer.

        From that position, how is craft beer anything other than “beer for knobs” ?

        I mean, other than the omission “also made by knobs”

        1. We accept them as craft brewers because, having drunk it, we think some of their beer is excellent. What they say about it is neither here nor there. I don’t think we can take what they say as a measure of the whole industry, or any segment thereof.

        2. Could Brewdog be beer’s equivalent to Carlos Tevez? Skill and talent is not under question, they just act like a couple of twats sometimes.

          1. funnily enough I had been thinking Mario Ballotelli. I was also wondering which brewers have a football equivalent. Who are the Fergusons, Wengers, Dario Gradi’s . Who can you match with other managers.

  13. CZ/CL — any definition we could give could be easily broken by an
    “A-ha! What about X beer!” That’s also true of (you’ll have heard this
    one before) art, literature, punk, rock’n’roll, fashion and about a million other meaningful, widely used words that people bicker over.

    I mean us as in me and Boak. Our definition might not be the same as other people’s (the nearest we’ve got to crystallising it is here).

    We don’t need to convince other people that it’s OK for us to use a word we like and find meaning in! If we wanted *you* to use it (which we don’t care about one way or the other), then we’d need a strong argument. We haven’t got one. Use it, don’t use it, your call.

    I really think the logical conclusion of your argument is that, anyone aspiring to anything other than the plainest, cheapest most functional version of anything, is being a snob, an elitist and now, it seems, a knob. Doesn’t that sound bonkers to you?

    1. You are certainly free to use any word you choose and give it any meaning you choose.

      However language as form of communication, does require commonly accepted meanings and definitions.

      My argument is that unless is is clear what you are aspiring to and why it is unclear as to whether it is snobbish or not.

      I can take craft beer to mean what many others think it means and for some it does appear to have a clear snob value. It is beer drank by the discerning, for the taste, unlike that nasty stuff the working classes get drunk on.

      So as we are all free to give it what meaning we like, my own personal definition of craft beer remains “beer for knobs”

      1. This bit about the working classes is not something I’ve ever heard from anyone who uses the term “craft beer” sincerely — something that the criticis of the term read into it, which is fair enough.

        Over the next few years, it’ll get used enough in context that the OED will wade in and we’ll have some sort of official definition. Hopefully, it won’t be “beer for knobs”, or “nice keg beer”, but we’ll see.

  14. I admire Jon K’s definition, and it is example of why many prefer not to have a definition.

    A craft teapot is the work of a craftsman and might be said to be unique. Can you have 2 identical craft teapots? Can you have 100, or 1000 identical craft teapots? You are using it more or less to mean “not mass produced”. So the craft brewer isn’t craft when a million identical barrels of identical beer span the country.

    In terms of the people that might buy the craft teapot. Certainly some will have a love of craft teapots. They will obtain a joy from it I will fail to comprehend. Also there will be people you will wish to obtain a craft teapot because it says something about them. People who will want it just to show off. Anything expensive obtains exclusivity and attracts those who believe such exclusivity says something about them. Maybe craft teapots are a poor example, but do work in the area of craft furniture. Some may buy it because of a love of the craftsman’s work. Some will buy it because only the prols go to IKEA.

    1. Interesting point. Bigger brewers will tell you the goal is consistency. John Keeling said it some years back, and he’s right. But some drinkers will hold ‘craft’ breweries over the coals somewhat over inconsistencies in some of their beers. Tandleman will often mention the differences in his pint of Jaipur, for instance. Which way round do we as drinkers want it?

  15. Why not ditch the term ‘craft’ altogether and call it all ale and just differentiate it by whether it’s on cask or keg.

    Instead of using the craft umbrella to cover all of these great new breweries, let the likes of Magic Rock, Kernel et al be defined by the brewery themselves and become known in their own right?

    Maybe it just can’t be defined so lets not waste anymore time on it. I’m sorry but i’m feeling a bit nihilistic this morning and this craft debate does feel as though it’s more about beer elitism than anything else.

    1. Funny thing is, we didn’t use the term craft beer in the post, except in quoting EDIT:*and paraphrasing* CarpeZytha/Cooking Lager… we’re getting nervous to, because every time we do, the conversation gets horrifically derailed and people get narky with us.

      We wanted this to be about quality/cost, really. Ho hum.

      1. I just decided to rant off on a tangent didn’t I!

        I’ve got a battered little Toyota. It’s as reliable and more economical than my boss’s BMW. However it doesn’t do 140 and it’s a bit of a bone rattler on the motorway.

        Sometimes it’s not a case of quality costing more. Sometimes you just can’t have it all. At any price.

          1. Second-guessing people’s motives is a bit unfair, though.

            How can you tell whether someone really likes a posh car or just thinks of it as a status symbol? If they drive the car, enthuse about its briliance, and as long as they avoid saying “Look at my bloody expensive car, you losers!”, don’t you have to take them at face value?

            Once met a bloke who boasted that his yacht’s deck represented 20,000 Swedish man-hours. (We hadn’t asked.) Didn’t need to second guess *him*.

  16. And some people go to IKEA because they’re not remotely interested in furniture and would rather spend their money on really expensive beer.

    It’s quite possible to be very discerning/snobby in one area of your life and not others. Witness people without two pennies to rub together who will spare no expense on their particular passion, e.g. fishing, cars, knitting.

    And anyway, *real* prols go to Argos. You and your fancy IKEA furniture…

  17. In answer to your first question, Maxwell, I would like a term I can use to differentiate Carling from Moravka; one I can use to distinguish Bombardier from Oakham Citra. I think Carling and Bombardier have something in common, and likewise Oakham Citra and Moravka: something that crosses their dispense differences.

    1. Surely that’s just a quality thing though. Carling and Bombardier being shite, Citra and Moravka being good.

      The one thing that would cross that gap would be a world standard award system. Beer isn’t the local product it used to be and brewers need to bottle and ship overseas if they’re going to prosper so there needs to be a globally recognised way of certifying beer quality and not just type.

      1. Sorry, Maxwell, “quality” doesn’t work. Carling is no doubt made with near-faultless quality control: it’s exactly the beer the brewer, and seemingly the British beer drinker, wants it to be. Conversely, there are plenty of small breweries — who have more in common with Oakham than Wells & Young — who wouldn’t know quality if it came round and cleaned all the diacetyl out of their awful beers. “Quality” does not do the job I send “craft” to do. It says nothing of the brewing process.

        1. Maybe I’ve used the wrong word in ‘quality’ then. It was to suggest more of a complexity of flavour. Beers that you can pull apart and pick out the ingredients that made it. A word that separates a gold medal winner from someone who doesn’t even get to enter the competition. Something that applies to real ale, ‘craft’ beer whether from here or the US, Belgium, Czech Rep. Germany or anywhere.

    2. What you are looking for would appear to be a term for a beer with a stronger flavour profile.

      Something quite different from Jon K/Stringer’s “mass production” or even Dave Bailey’s “price”

      Can I recommend the adjective “pongy”?

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