QUICK ONE: Tinnies in the Pub

Stella Artois advertising c.2007.

Some might regard the sale of canned big brewery lager in pubs as a bad sign but there is a definite silver lining.

This year, we’ve been mak­ing a spe­cial effort to break rou­tine and go to pubs that, for one rea­son or anoth­er, we’ve ignored or avoid­ed in the past. (Which, by the way, has been great fun.) As part of that, on Fri­day, at a loose end between trains in St Austell, we went to the first pub we came across on exit­ing the sta­tion – The Queen’s Head Hotel.

Some con­text: St Austell is a work­ing town rather than a tourist des­ti­na­tion, dom­i­nat­ed by the brew­ery up the hill with its slick Hicks’ Bar, but odd­ly lack­ing a des­ti­na­tion pub at its cen­tre. We’ve tend­ed to end up in the over-large, over-bright White Hart on pre­vi­ous vis­its because we could at least see inside. Often qui­et in the evenings, the town is even more so in Novem­ber and ear­ly Decem­ber.

The Queen’s Head is an old build­ing with two entrances and, though lack­ing par­ti­tions, indi­cates the lin­ger­ing class divide with soft fur­ni­ture and car­pet­ing. All the action was around the bar and the pool table where reg­u­lars of var­i­ous ages, all male as far as we observed, were chat­ting and jok­ing with the young woman behind the bar.

There was cask ale on offer, and it was in decent con­di­tion, but we were sur­prised to see how many peo­ple were drink­ing pint cans of Stel­la Artois, straight from the tin. There is one obvi­ous rea­son for that choice: it was £2.60 a pop, where­as the going rate for a pint of draught lager is more like £4.

For beer folk, this might seem like bad news, even a bit depress­ing – what hope for brew­eries if peo­ple don’t want or can’t afford to drink the beer they pro­duce? And it does feel a bit like the pub has giv­en up – the equiv­a­lent of turn­ing up for work in your pyja­mas.

But here’s that sil­ver lin­ing we promised: does­n’t this say some­thing quite hope­ful about the insti­tu­tion of the pub?

Giv­en that you can buy Stel­la at the super­mar­ket for the equiv­a­lent of about £1.30 a pint – exact­ly the same prod­uct, served in the same way – why would you pay even as much as £2.60? The pub, even one that isn’t all that spe­cial, is adding val­ue.

Peo­ple have to go out once in a while to be with oth­er humans, and the pub is still the best place to do it.

19 thoughts on “QUICK ONE: Tinnies in the Pub”

  1. For me the ques­tion is why Stel­la cans were on sale; was the draught lager off, is it a tied house, etc?

  2. If peo­ple are drink­ing Stel­la straight from the can in a pub, what’s to stop them buy­ing it at half price in the super­mar­ket and smug­gling it in with them? It’s not as if any­one is going to say, let alone be able to prove, that they did­n’t buy it there.

    1. That’s true of all sort of pack­aged prod­ucts, e.g. bot­tled Bud­weis­er. Dis­tinc­tive look in this case, though – a tall pint rather than the super­mar­ket 440ml. Plus the cus­tomers and the man­age­ment seemed to be quite cliquey.

  3. Not sure if they still do it, but in the past I’ve seen cans of LCL Pils (for­mer­ly brewed by Fed­er­a­tion, now sup­pos­ed­ly by Thwait­es) on sale in some Robin­son’s pubs in Stock­port.

    Also some pubs sell­ing pint cans of Strong­bow.

  4. It’s usu­al­ly a sign that the pub is with­in a year of clo­sure, one last throw of the dice to try and com­pete on price whilst mak­ing enough mar­gin to keep the lights on.

    The trou­ble is that a) the “nice” cus­tomers tend not to want to drink in places that attract the can-drinkers so you kill the high­er-mar­gin trade and b)the can-drinkers’ mates (who pre­vi­ous­ly drank draught) get a taste for cans and then that’s when they ask them­selves why they are com­ing to the pub to drink the same prod­uct that they could buy from a super­mar­ket. So then they are less fre­quent vis­i­tors (if at all) and the pub shuts.

    The pull of the pub is strong – but not that strong.

  5. Agree with that. If a pub has to rely on canned Stel­la drinkers the writ­ing is on the wall.
    If the pub is a ten­an­cy then I would be amazed if Stel­la cans are on the buy­ing list. If a free house, bet­ter prod­ucts with a high­er poten­tial mar­gin are not hard to come by.

    1. Hmm. Bit wor­ried we’ve dobbed them into Enter­prise, now, but it was­n’t hid­den – fridge full of the stuff and cans being open­ly con­sumed.

      1. Almost cer­tain­ly bought out of tie – if they are doing it that open­ly they clear­ly don’t care. If they are tied, they would­n’t be able to do it at that price. If they are free it would seem a very odd choice of prod­uct and price mar­gin. My guess would be that a bill was due and they went to the cash and car­ry and filled the fridge and hoped they could sell it cheap before any­one noticed.…

        1. A quick check of Face­book sug­gests they’ve been adver­tis­ing Stel­la at £2.60 and San Miguel at £1.60 for some months but dis­pense isn’t spec­i­fied. Do hope we did­n’t get the wrong end of the stick. (But don’t think we did.)

      1. From my expe­ri­ence, I’d say that pubs sell­ing cans is suf­fi­cient­ly com­mon­place and above-board that it’s unlike­ly to be just some­thing done off-the-books by strug­gling ten­ants. And of course more and more pubs are now sell­ing “craft cans”, albeit not at bar­gain prices 😉

        If you poured a pint can of Stel­la into a brim-mea­sure pint glass it would under­line just how much drinkers of draught beer are short-changed on mea­sures.

        It’s also an inter­est­ing ques­tion why lager and cider are sold in pint cans, but not, to my knowl­edge, any ales, which you might have thought had more appeal to tra­di­tion­al­ists.

        1. The pint tin seems to gen­er­al­ly be used only for booze pop­u­lar enough to sell in a num­ber of sizes. Might under­mine the price pre­mi­um brew­ers get from the 500ml brown bot­tles as well.

          1. It’s not so much a price pre­mi­um – the small guys are strug­gling to con­tain costs on bot­tles as it is, bot­tling in small runs adds ~50% to the cost of cask, they’re mak­ing very, very lit­tle mon­ey on those 4‑for-£5 kind of deals you see. So going from 568ml to 500ml helps hit the retail­ers’ price point a lit­tle bit.

        2. It’s not the “can-iness” per se, it’s the com­bi­na­tion – obvi­ous­ly sell­ing 330ml of Beaver­town at £4.50 is a very dif­fer­ent game. The fact that it’s cans of Stel­la in par­tic­u­lar, the fact that it’s an all-male crowd on a Fri­day, that the atmos­phere is described as cliquey – I can think of half a dozen pubs local­ly that went down that route just before they shut the doors for good. There just isn’t enough mar­gin there to keep the lights on, at least not long-term.

          It’s a bit dif­fer­ent sell­ing cans of small­er lines like cider if you can’t jus­ti­fy buy­ing kegs, it’s when your main line is a can, that’s when the warn­ing lights come on.

          I have seen some micro­brew­eries doing 568ml bot­tles, can’t think of any off­hand – tends to be the small guys who bot­tle their own by hand, the big bot­tling lines are geared to 500ml. And of course Newky Brown is 550ml, and Mag­n­ers & Bul­mers are 568ml bot­tles. But you can cer­tain­ly get 568ml cans of Bud, Stel­la etc from super­mar­kets. It may be a bit hereti­cal, but I actu­al­ly quite like 440–500ml as a serv­ing, some­times a pint is just a wee bit more than I want, par­tic­u­lar­ly if it’s fizzy, but that’s a debate for anoth­er day!

          As an aside, my eye­brows raised at lager in St Austell being £4 on draught – in the NW that would be firm­ly pre­mi­um ter­ri­to­ry, the likes of Kro­nen­bourg or the more obscure Free­doms. Cook­ing lager would typ­i­cal­ly be £3.30, and around £3 in the kind of place that the Queen’s Head sounds like.

      2. Stel­la is brewed under licence in the UK while Urquell and Bud­var are both import­ed so they do have a pre­mi­um attached. The for­mer is ubiq­ui­tous – more or less pub and bar sells it – while the two Czech beers are still rel­a­tive­ly hard to find in pubs in any for­mat.

  6. It’s the two litre bot­tles of Tesco Val­ue cola bought for a quid and being sold as a mix­er that’s invari­ably gone flat that piss­es me off.They think because you’re hors­ing that and a load of Jack down some bird’s throat all night to get her pissed enough for a nosh that you won’t notice.It’s a bleed­in’ lib­er­ty.

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