Beer that’s proud to be cheap

Moles VFM beer pump clip.

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.

7 thoughts on “Beer that’s proud to be cheap”

  1. I want my beer to be as nice as pos­si­ble for as cheap as pos­si­ble. I could­n’t real­ly give a mon­keys about “exclu­siv­i­ty” and “pre­mi­um prod­uct” or even (dare I say it) “craft”. I’m will­ing to sup­port small local brew­eries, but not at the cost of pay­ing through the nose for some ‘orri­ble dreck. I’m also will­ing to pay a lit­tle bit extra for some­thing a lit­tle bit nicer if I think the costs of mak­ing it are sim­ply unavoid­able: eg extra hops required, more expen­sive New World hops. But ulti­mate­ly if the beer is too expen­sive every­one will try it once, say “mmm that’s nice” and then go back to drink­ing some­thing more afford­able.

    Any brew­er that has the tech­ni­cal skill (and economies of scale) to pro­duce great beer at rea­son­able prices will sell shed loads of the stuff. Thats why I’m pleased about Brew­dog’s mas­sive new brew­ery – I don’t care if it makes them less “craft”, if it means their excel­lent beer will remain com­fort­ably afford­able then its a good thing, sure­ly. TBH I would­n’t care if it was made in Car­ling style quan­ti­ties on a mas­sive indus­tri­al scale – if it tastes good it tastes good.

  2. Inter­est­ing that sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er­ing mar­gin leads direct­ly to low­er retail price. We are often told in the North Amer­i­can mar­ket that such things are impos­si­ble and to ask is a make of “not get­ting it” but then again we have brew­ers now putting high qual­i­ty beer in cans at up to even 7% for around $2.50 Cana­di­an for 500 ml. That’s 1.60 UK. Hav­ing bought craft brew­ery stocks for my retire­ment fund in the past and hav­ing access to the annu­al share­hold­ers’ report it was pret­ty clear that after tax prof­it of 50% on a keg was pos­si­ble and even nor­mal for big craft.

  3. By the way B&B, those Lon­don pub walk throughs are mak­ing your page real­ly slow to load and dif­fi­cult to nav­i­gate, it keeps jump­ing around.

  4. I’m sure that there are a num­ber of brew­ers offer­ing deals work­ing out around 50 quid, par­tic­u­lar­ly at a slow time. If that sav­ing is passed onto the drinker, then it’s hard to argue with. That said, I’m sure that there are oth­er brew­ers who might con­sid­er this a bit aggres­sive. Still, that’s busi­ness.

    It’s worth point­ing out that the land­lord you quote, charg­ing 2.20, is shoot­ing for a GP of 63% which I would call “healthy”. As was point­ed out when you first opened this can-o-worms, it’s large­ly the retail mark-up that deter­mines the price of a pint. Most (small) brew­ers don’t oper­ate on any­thing like the mar­gin that the pub­li­can expects to get. This is why you should­n’t open a brew­ery (in the UK) unless you have outlet(s), or very deep pock­ets. D’Oh.

  5. It’s good that they’ve made it a rea­son­able strength, rather than the fee­ble 3.2% (or even, God help us, 2.8%) which is often the lot of “econ­o­my” beers.

    I think a lot of pub­li­cans are very unimag­i­na­tive on prices and tend to regard a set gross mar­gin as Holy Writ. You can sell one or two beers cheap and still make a rea­son­able prof­it on them; you don’t need to bring every­thing down to the same lev­el.

  6. Here in Ire­land I have very lit­tle sym­pa­thy for land­lords – most of whom are own­ers – who bemoan the slack peri­od between New Year’s Eve and St Patrick­’s Day while doing noth­ing to help their cause.

    Few of them can be arsed to do food; they look at you as if you’re from anoth­er plan­et when you ask if they have wi-fi and many think a 24-hour TV Rac­ing Chan­nel turned up full vol­ume for the ben­e­fit of a cou­ple of unem­ployed scrotes hang­ing on the bar con­sti­tutues cus­tomer ser­vice.

    A few enter­pris­ing ones do organ­ise a pub quiz, throw out a few bas­kets of chick­en wings on a Fri­day tea-time and run the odd out­ing dur­ing this time to show they actu­al­ly care whether pun­ters come through the door or not instead of spend­ing their time whinge­ing behind the bar about the smok­ing ban and young­sters not com­ing into pubs and spend­ing on a round of drinks what they could buy a slab of lager for and stay at home in com­fort.

    Fuck them and fuck every pub land­lord who expect reward with­out effort.The soon­er their pub clos­es down the bet­ter.

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