Why do craft beers cost the price they do?

By James Beeson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Quality products: craft beers are often highly complex brews made with expensive ingredients
Quality products: craft beers are often highly complex brews made with expensive ingredients
The price of a pint is always a subject of much discussion and debate within the beer industry.

This issue hit the headlines again this week, after an article​ in the national press in which it was ‘revealed’ that The Craft Beer Co is selling a 12% imported American Stout for the equivalent of £22.50 a pint.

The beer itself (Alesmith Speedway Stout Hawaiian Special Edition) was not served in pint measures, and was actually being sold at the price of £7.50 for a third of a pint, but this didn’t stop one publication excitedly collecting a list of Britain’s ‘priciest’ beers and getting its readers to ‘review’ them.

The beers chosen were brewed by some of the world’s most exciting independent breweries, and were highly complex brews made with expensive ingredients. They are meant to be consumed in smaller quantities and savoured, rather than consumed in pint measures. The price of these products reflect the time, energy and cost of making them, plus tax, and the cost of running the pub in which they are served.

Rather than join in with the collective outrage, The Morning Advertiser​ got in touch with the breweries producing some of these beers, to find out exactly why they cost the price they do.

Northern Monk Kentuckyshire Breakfast Stout - £8.18 (in The Craft Beer Co)

Kentuckyshire Breakfast Stout contains 100kg of Canadian maple syrup

This 7.3% stout from Leeds-based Northern Monk was brewed in collaboration with Kentucky brewery Against the Grain. The beer is an ‘Anglo-American inspired stout’ brewed with smoked wheat, maple and coffee from local roaster North Star.

“The grist for this beer was made up of 9 different malts including Bavarian beech-smoked barley to give the underlying smokey bacon impression,” explains Northern Monk head brewer Brian Dickson. “We used Melanoiden malt for its toasted flavour and layers of different roasted malts for all the classic dark chocolate, coffee and ‘burnt’ notes expected of a stout!

“We added a touch of lactose for a milky smoothness and gave it an extra long three-hour boil to thicken the wort up,” Dickson continues. “During fermentation we added coffee from our local roaster, North Star, cold-brewed for 24 hours before pouring in and finally 100kg of Canadian maple syrup for that classic Kentucky Bourbon Stout flavour. 

“We ended up giving the fermented beer four weeks in conditioning tank to let all the complex flavours settle out until we were 100% happy to release it.”

Buy Northern Monk Kentuckyshire Breakfast Stout online​.

Siren Craft Brew Sheltered Spirit - £9.84

Sheltered Spirit has spent a total of around 18 months in Bourbon barrels

Spirit is a Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Porter with Tamarind from Berkshire-based Siren Craft Brew. The beer comes in at a huge 14% ABV, and has spent a total of around 18 months in Bourbon barrels, imported from Kentucky.

“Sheltered Spirit is a beer we devised all the way back in January 2016,” says Siren’s marketing manager Andy Nowlan. “It's an imperial porter designed to showcase the beautiful ingredient Tamarind, which immediately offered amazing deep, sweet fruitiness to the aroma that flooded the brewery.

“We also added dried Habenero, Ancho and Pasilla chillies early on, along with some gloriously smokey Meco Chipotle and Morita post-fermentation. The malt base was full of speciality grains to build up depth of flavour and the smooth, silky mouthfeel we were looking for.

“We designed this beer especially to go into bourbon barrels for ageing,” Nowlan continues. “We ended up using around 22 barrels, a varied mix including Jim Bean & George Dickel. It spent around 18 months maturing and picking up the amazing bourbon notes, vanilla sweetness and rounded flavour profile.

“Sheltered Spirit is a beer we're immensely proud of. It's a beer to savour, to share among friends or to enjoy as an indulgent night-cap.”

Buy Siren Sheltered Spirit online​.

Thornbridge Love Among The Ruins - £18.66

Love Among the Ruins won Gold in the World Beer Cup Awards for 2016

This hugely complex sour red ale is the culmination of a project Derbyshire brewery Thornbridge has been working on for a number of years. The beer is a ‘modern’ sour ale that is designed to give the same complexity and depth of flavour as those produced in the USA and Belgium. The beer won Gold in the World Beer Cup Awards for 2016. 

“We age the beer in Burgundy barrels with dried sour cherries for almost two years,” explains Thornbridge CEO Simon Webster. “We add special cultures of Brettanomyces, Pediococcus and Lactobacillus at set points to let us sour the beer gradually and give layers of flavour that can only develop over time.  

“The rich fruit aroma and flavours complement the sharp sourness, which subsides for more malt and yeast characters to come through. Lively, dry and thirst quenching, this is a beer to savour; a complex and mature sour ale.”

“There can be a misunderstanding that all beer is the same, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” Webster continues. “Like other drinks products, there are hundreds of beer styles, which all take different ingredients, time and expertise to produce.

"Barrel-aged sour beers are expensive and incredibly complex beers to make, from the investment in the barrels in which they sit, the ingredients we select, the length of time they take to bring to maturity and the level of expertise we need from our brewers.

“Love among the Ruins is an incredibly special beer which we as a brewery are proud to showcase.”

Buy Thornbirdge Love Among The Ruins online.

Pressure Drop Bad for Business - £7.87

Bad.for.Business

Tottenham-based microbrewery Pressure Drop has thrown a near-offensive amount of hops into its Bad for Business Double IPA. Loaded with American Simcoe and Citra hops at a rate of 20g per litre, and at an ABV of 8.5% this isn’t a cheap beer to produce.

“The choice of beer was ironic, because the name of that beer – Bad For Business – is an in-joke, based on the high cost of producing the beer and the low to non-existent margin that we end up making on it,” says brewery co-founder Sam Smith. “It’s a beer that we only make because we like drinking that Double IPA style and we want to make customers of the hop-head persuasion happy.

“It is double dry-hopped with large quantities of expensive Citra and Simcoe hops to produce a fruity, aromatic and punchy hop hit that many beer fans enjoy and are prepared to pay a little more for.”

“At the risk of being even more humourless and boring, we could also mention that at 8.5% ABV it carries the higher rate of beer duty (as do most of the other beers featured). A large chunk of those pint prices go to HMRC in the form of duty and VAT… not that that’s a bad thing, what with schools, hospitals and old-age pensions to pay for.”

Buy Pressure Drop Bad for Business online.

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