The Beerage (or From Rags To Riches?)

   “I leave the home of a lifetime, like any son. I have hope and good intentions.                   And wandering into the daybreak, I learn as I go. To fall laughing into the water….”

(“From Rage To Riches” – The Blue Nile : clip “Andy McKenzie” on YouTube)

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What are you willing to pay for your pint? For your Schooner? Your bottle or can?

This shit is important. Especially in an age where the choice has never been so great. What I’m about to say, may be counter-intuitive to those with “market” sensibilities, but I’m going to say it. Because I truly believe it.

Beer is too cheap.

Given that I’ve not been struck down by an emissary from Bacchus, I’ll say it again. Yes, I believe that……

Beer is too cheap.

Why do I think that? Ask almost any micro brewer.

It kind of hit home when I phoned a brewer early last year to arrange the return of a cask from #ISBF2015. At the end of the chat, he told me that he wanted me to hear it from him, rather than from the grapevine. He was selling the brewery. Not because he was losing money, or owed a mountain of debt. Far from it. He was solvent. He also loved what he did, which was make great beers with passion.

But love wasn’t enough. There was a family. And bills to pay. And the old job that had been left behind paid far, far more.

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3 or so years ago, price was all to me. I’d go out into Manchester with £20, CAMRA Wetherspoon vouchers in my pocket and go home with plenty of change from 5 or 6 pints. And that includes the £4 bus fare.

Now? The CAMRA vouchers are in the bin.

I have nothing against ‘Spoons per se. But you have to ask yourself, how do supermarkets keep their prices cheap? And Wetherspoons IS like a draught beer supermarket. They keep their costs down. And, other than their “Zero Hours” contracted staff, what is their biggest outlay? Yup. Beer. And regularly, they want the beer so cheap from the suppliers that often, there is no profit (or very little) for the brewery.

And when you are working near regular 80 hour weeks for precious little reward……Why would you sell to ‘Spoons? Why would you want to get into brewing at all?

I’ve been asked a number of times, “Do you fancy getting into brewing yourself?” The answer remains the same. I have bills to pay and – as little as I do “earn” – I couldn’t afford the pay cut, as I remember a figure from a few years ago about the average Micro Brewer earning £20k.

£20k for 80 hour weeks? Sod that!

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In an era where there are over 70 breweries in the greater Manchester area – and more opening monthly (check here for the current picture) it seems – these people need to make money. For every Cloudwater and Vocation – with substantial backing, there are a number of breweries that take out substantial loans to realise their dream. And those don’t pay for themselves.

There are a number of ways that a brewery can increase their income (presuming that they can sell all that they make – of course)

  • Increase capacity (With – for many – the cost of funding via loans etc…)
  • Ownership of outlets (Tied Estate – Again, funding dependent)
  • Brewtaps/Events
  • Increase in the Progressive Beer Duty reduction (not whilst Moorhouses & Adnams draw breath though…..)

The first two of those involve significant additional expense and are simply not feasible for all.

Several local Manchester breweries regularly open their doors, from Wilson Potter in Middleton (for a couple of years now), through Black Jack, Beer Nouveau, Track/Squawk and do fairly well doing it. But it doesn’t solve everything. So we’re back at my original point.

The price of the beer in your glass.

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“Good people drink good beer.” as Hunter S Thompson said. And good beer costs good money to make.

I like big Stouts (and I cannot lie…..), I like US/Aus/NZ hopped Pale Ales and IPAs. The hops in these beers don’t come cheap, when you can get them. The more of these hoppy flavours that you want in that beer, the more expensive it is to produce.

Yes. If you want to, you can drink Sam Smiths Old Brewery Bitter at £1.80 or so a pint. If that’s your bag, fill your boots. I truly can’t stand the stuff. Never could.

As stated above, we have a phenomenal choice of brewers and beers in the Greater Manchester area (even if too many never see the bars of the city centre), but unless they can make enough money to make this worthwhile, this number must surely soon start to decline. Whilst I admire the optimism and financial bravery of the clutch of new breweries that have recently opened (and those that are soon to do so), I fear for their bank accounts.

Some will argue that the odd penny off beer duty will help. It won’t. It’s pissing in the wind.

We all enjoy choice on a bar. Many enjoy a full flavoured hoppy citrus or roasty pint. We love the fact that we have so many breweries to choose from.

It’s quite simple really (to this simpleton anyway). Breweries sell beer to pubs and bars. The brewery needs to make enough money to pay its bills and employees. The pubs need to make enough money to pay theirs also.

In summary, if this “Golden Age” is to continue, maybe we need to pay more for the beer, so that those who make it can make an actual living from their efforts.

Give me YOUR price suggestions below.

I’m off to the bomb shelter.