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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