Beer history

Geeky bubble, overpriced beer

Sign advertising real ale in London, 2007.

People sometimes criticise ‘craft beer’ for being a bubble or niche; for being the preserve of a small group of geeks, obsessed with obscure, strong beers; paying outrageous prices for them in trendy, specialist outlets; and not interested in ‘normal’ drinking in their local. Now, why does that sound familiar?

…the Fox in Hermitage… [boasts] a battery of beer pumps that would keep a CAMRA-man boring away for hours… Three brews from Courages, Lowenbrau lager on draught, Worthington, Morlands and even John Smith’s Yorkshire bitter at 36p a pint. That’s just a sample and I’d not even heard of some of the bottled varieties… The pints in the White Horse — a less pretentious and more typical village pub — are from Morlands. Better kept in my opinion than at beerarama down the road, and only 29p for bitter in the public, as against 34p in the saloon in the Fox.

The Daily Express, 6 August 1978.

The Goose and Firkin found a ready market, predominantly young, affluent and mobile with most customers coming from outside the area. The Campaign for Real Ale called the pub ‘too crowded, too noisy and too expensive’. Prices were certainly aimed at the top end of the market, with beers such as Mind Bender and Knee Trembler made at much stronger levels than most national brands.

The Financial Times, 24 February, 1982.

Only 33 per cent of those questioned had heard of CAMRA… and 70 per cent said they would not go out of their way to find a pint of ‘real ale.’

NOP Market Research: The British Pub 1977, as reported in the FT, 29 July 1977.

The Campaign for Real Ale… achieved considerable publicity and was largely responsible for forcing the brewers to re-think their marketing strategies. However, of the 78 per cent of beer sales classified as draught, only about 14 per cent is accounted for by ‘real ale’. This share is likely to be maintained but it is not expected to expand greatly.

The Financial Times, 21 March 1979.

In the Shires Bar opposite Platform Six at London’s St Pancras Station, yesterday, groups of earnest young men sipped their pints with the assurance of wine tasters… There were nods of approval for the full bodied Sam Smith Old Brewery Bitter, and murmurs of delight at the nutty flavour of the Ruddles County beer… In one corner sat four young men sipping foaming pints. They were members of CAMRA… and prove their dedication by travelling three nights a week from Fulham in South West London — four miles away. One of them, 22-year-old accountant Michael Morris, said: ‘This place beats any of our local pubs.’

The Daily Express, 03 April 1978.

The real ale champs launched a bitter attack on greedy pub landlords yesterday — and ended up over a barrel themselves… The Campaign for Real Ale slammed pubs that cashed in on the craze then admitted that its own London pub charged at least 10p too much for an extra-strong brew.. the beer that caught CAMRA’s experts on the hop was the 70p-a-pint Theakston’s Old Peculier served up at the Nag’s Head in Hampstead… But landlord Steve Ellis was quick to scotch claims that he was profiteering… “We have to buy Old Peculier through an agency and it costs us a lot,” he said… [Roger] Protz said several pubs in Central London had been barred from the guide for cashing in on the real ale revival… One Whitehall pub charged 51p for a pint of Ruddles County and another in the West End sold Fuller’s London Pride for 44p. Both beers cost up to 9p less elsewhere, said Mr Protz.

The Daily Mirror, 18 April 1979.