Belgium Generalisations about beer culture

How Can Belgian Beer be so Cheap?

The price of Belgian beer gets tossed into arguments on pricing like a Trappist-made hand grenade: how can newer craft breweries charge so much for their product when a classic, ‘world class’ beer like Saison Dupont can be bought for £1.80 a bottle?

Even in bars with leatherbound beer lists, Trappist beers like Westmalle Triple can be bought for several pounds less than beers of equivalent strength from hipper breweries. We have, in fact, found ourselves choosing Belgian beer in British bars to save a couple of quid.

Are monks less ruthlessly capitalistic than some other producers, as Jeff ‘Beervana’ Alworth suggests here?

From reading Stan Hieronymus’s BLAM! our suspicion is that it’s actually to do with the efficiency of longstanding brewing operations. Kinks have been ironed out, fermenting/conditioning times optimised (without compromise), and quality control processes perfected. They are also not shy with the cane sugar (15%-20% of some brews’ fermentables) and hop extract.

But is there more to it? And will their prices eventually creep up?

Generalisations about beer culture opinion

Are We Being ‘Had’?

The price of beer — the subject that won’t go away — flared up again this week. Two sides of the argument were expressed eloquently by Phil (are we’re being swindled?) and Grace (don’t judge me for paying £4 a half), prompting the following thoughts.

On the one hand…
1. There’s nothing wrong with questioning the price of a product.
2. There’s nothing wrong with questioning who, if anyone, is bumping up the price and how.
3. There’s certainly nothing wrong with refusing to buy a product or service because you think it’s overpriced.

But, on the other…
4. How people choose to spend their money is their business.
5. Market economics apply to beer: if it’s actually overpriced, i.e. priced beyond what people are willing to pay, it won’t sell. (But Brewdog’s bars, the Euston Tap, and the Craft Beer Co., et al, do seem to be busy…)
6. In a bar or pub, your money doesn’t buy a volume of liquid: it buys staff training, ambience, glassware, music licenses… do you think those are good value?
7. In the specific case of Brewdog, your money is probably also paying for the rapid expansion of their bar chain across the UK. Some people might consider that a subsidy worth paying; others will feel horrified.

Yesterday, we had a strong urge to go for a ‘posh beer’, just like we occasionally want a ‘posh meal’. Those occasional posh  beers are part of a mixed diet of homebrew (practically free), supermarket beer (cheap) and cask ale in the pub (£2.60-3.40 a pint, generally). We were conscious of the price — £6.75 for a bottle of Great Divide Yeti, for example, did cause us to raise our eyebrows — but made an informed decision to indulge ourselves. The price was on prominent display, we were under no pressure, and there was a ‘cheap’ option — lager at £3 a pint.

We’re also conscious that the Hand Bar in Falmouth is out on a limb, selling this type of beer further west than anyone else, in a market otherwise dominated by Skinner’s, St Austell and Sharp’s. We don’t get the impression the owner of the bar is getting rich off this; we wonder if he’s even making a living.

So, in conclusion, we don’t think we were being had — we were choosing to take part in a transaction, with our eyes open.