Opinion

Pete Brown asks 'What price a good pint?'

By Pete Brown

- Last updated on GMT

Pete Brown asks 'What price a good pint?'
At £3 a third, Brooklyn Brewery’s rich, nuanced Cloaking Device is not a rip-off, it’s an astounding bargain

Last night I paid £3 for a third of a pint of beer. That’s nine quid a pint!

It’s still a few quid shy of the £13 pint sold in London pub the Rake last month, which was so expensive that, after having been reported in this magazine, went on to be covered by the national press. But it’s still a rip-off, right?

Right?

Well, let’s take a closer look. The beer I bought last night was not technically £9 a pint because, like the Cloudwater beer on sale in the Rake, it wasn’t being sold by the pint at all. The main reason my beer wasn’t being sold by the pint is that it’s 10.5% ABV. I’d also argue that its astonishing complexity and depth mean you wouldn’t actually want a pint of it. You might well want to order a second glass after your first, but you wouldn’t want that volume of liquid sitting in front of you, scaring you. I mean, you might end up drinking a pint of wine over an evening but you’d want it in smaller glasses, drinking it gradually, wouldn’t you?

Come to think of it, this beer has a lot more in common with wine than it does with most beers – and not just in terms of it being wine strength rather than beer strength. Cloaking Device, from the Brooklyn Brewery, is aged for nine months in French oak red wine barrels after brewing. It’s then bottled with Champagne yeast for a secondary fermentation in the bottle, just like Champagne. So yeah, the wine comparison is apt.

Oh, and if scarcity value appeals – as it often does with wine – Cloaking Device is only available at five pubs in the country.

Still, nine quid for a pint of beer, eh? Still a rip-off, eh?

Well, let’s continue with the wine analogy just one more step. A third of a pint is 189ml. That’s slightly larger than a medium-sized glass of wine. Now – you try and find me a pub where even the cheapest, crappiest glass of house red is on sale for as little as £3 for a 175ml glass.

At £3 a third, Cloaking Device – possibly the richest, deepest, most nuanced beer I’ve tasted this year – is not a rip-off: it’s an astounding bargain.

But I suspect a large proportion of the MA’s readership will never accept this logic. This is a beer. And it doesn’t matter what strength it is, or how long it took to make, or how expensive the ingredients, or how it tastes – a beer can never be worth £9 a pint.

I wonder if the people who believe this would also argue that a bottle of Chateau Lafite can’t be worth a hundred quid, because it’s wine and Blossom Hill Chardonnay is also wine and that only costs a fiver?

Balvenie and Bell’s

I wonder if they would also argue that a bottle of 50-year-old Balvenie should only cost nine quid, because it’s a whisky and Bell’s is a whisky and that’s what Bell’s costs?

And I wonder if the people who believe this regard themselves as fans of beer? Because most people I’ve seen in print saying ‘beer should never be this expensive because at the end of the day it’s just beer’ are people who look down on beer, who regard it as innately inferior to wine or whisky or other drinks.

So it would be curious if people who claim to love beer agree with them. The sensible response to those online who have been apoplectic at the notion of the £9 or £13 pint is: if you don’t want to pay that for a beer, don’t.

The Rake also sells decent cask ales at the going rate for a pint in London and my pub, The Axe, sells beers for £4 alongside the one
it sells at £9.

Blinkered and snobbish

But that’s not enough for some people. On CAMRA groups on Facebook, and in the comments sections of newspapers online, people who self-identify as beer fans are offended by the very existence of the expensive pint (and they can never, ever get away from thinking about it in terms of the full pint).

These people don’t really love beer at all.

They have a narrow-minded, blinkered, snobbish idea of what beer is, of what beer can be, that has more in common with a wine snob who would never touch a drop of ale, than they do with real beer lovers.

So come on – seriously guys, if you really want something to get offended by, what about the £2.80 glass of lime and soda? Now that is a rip off…

Related topics: Beer, Marketing