Friday, 8 September 2017

The only way is up!

Here’s a news story that has been all over radio and TV these last couple of days, and it concerns a subject close to every beer lover’s heart. 

According to the recently published Good Pub Guide 2018 (not to be confused with CAMRA’s Good beer Guide), London is no longer the most expensive place to buy a pint. For the first time, Surrey has overtaken the capital as the most expensive area of the country, with the average pint costing £4.40. This is 20p more than what they would expect to pay for a beer in London. Apparently, this is the only time since the Good Pub Guide first appeared, in 1982 that the average price in the capital has not been the highest in Britain.

By way of contrast, Herefordshire and Yorkshire have the cheapest beer, with a pint costing just £3.31. Other cheaper counties where drinkers have a reason celebrate, include Shropshire at £3.33 a pint, Derbyshire at £3.36 and Cumbria and Worcestershire, both at £3.38.

The difference in price for a pint of beer is now more than £1 across the country, with the average glass costing £3.60 - up by 13p on 2016’s prices. I haven’t seen any figures for Kent, but in neighbouring Sussex, drinkers can expect to pay an average of £3.82, while Hertfordshire comes in at £3.81.
Whilst the figures are broadly indicative of differing prices across the country, they should be viewed with a little caution, as there are many factors which determine average prices. Not least amongst these are variations in earnings in  different parts of the country and that favourite topic of conversation at middle-class dinner parties; house prices.

Some might argue that this story was nothing more than a cynical publicity stunt to promote the Good Pub Guide ahead of its launch. The fact that this guide has hit the bookshelves a week before the official launch of CAMRA’s own Good Beer Guide, might lend a grain of truth to this idea, but I’ve no doubt the Campaign for Real Ale will have a few good publicity stories of its own, come September 14th.

Whatever your take though, the continuing upward creep of the price of a pint is surely a concern for all those who appreciate good beer in good pubs; and if you happen to live in Surrey do you just grin and bear it, do you move to a cheaper area, or do you start brewing your own?


Anonymous said...

Yes, the price of a pint in the South-East seemed to whizz from £3.80 to £4.20 overnight.

Incidentally, I think the average price the GPG quotes is the figure for the pubs they feature in their Guide, which for Surrey can include the most expensive dining pubs in the Surrey Hills compared to a broader mix in London (the Wetherspoons at Whitehall used to be in the Guide). I think yours or my sample may be slightly different to the Good Pub Guide !

Paul Bailey said...

I think the GPG editor did make that point Martin, and I can certainly imagine some of the posh dining pubs, hidden down Surrey's leafy lanes charging prices that are in line with the cost of their food.

I was a bit miffed though, last weekend to be paying £4.40 for a pint of Landlord in the Plough at Leigh; just a few miles up the road from here. Nice pub and nice pint, but not that nice to justify nearly four and a half quid!

Breaking through the four pound a pint barrier is not good news, and I wonder how long it will be before a pint costs a fiver!

Matt said...

The price of Sam Smith's Old Brewery Bitter hit another significant price point in Stockport last year, rising from £1.80 to £2 a pint, occasioning much grumbling from the pensioners in the public bar!

Curmudgeon said...

Last year's press launches were an object lesson for CAMRA in how not to do it.

The Good Pub Guide went on the theme of unwanted piped music in pubs, which garnered acres of almost entirely positive publicity.

CAMRA, on the other side, decided to focus on the use of isinglass finings in real ale, which had precisely the opposite effect.

Paul Bailey said...

£2 a pint for OBB Matt, that's an absolute bargain. Next time I'm in London I'll see what Sam's are charging at the Chandos, just off Trafalgar Square. (I would have liked to have been there today, taking part in the People's March for Europe, but unfortunately had some family matters to attend to.)

Your comment about the isinglass Mudge, reminded me of CAMRA's faux-pas at last year's GBG launch. I wonder what they will come up with this time?

Ian Worden said...

I assume the prices quoted are for central London - I live in East London and can buy a pint for £3 at the William IV at the Bakers Arms (Brodies badged but I think brewed by Rhymney now) and even the North Star in E11 (was Enterprise, never sure of current ownership) charges £3.80. You can also go to Wetherspoons which is around £3 depending on the beer. However, price variations just in London are quite large - a friend of mine lives in Richmond and reckons that coming out this way for an evening saves enough to pay for the fares.

It's a great pity that CAMRA has no focus on prices - unlike most consumer organisations (imagine the RAC not getting into a froth over petrol price hikes!). When actively involved in the 80s I worked on three local beer Guides and suggested having some indication of what pubs charged, at least relative to the area, but no-one else seemed interested. I know CAMRA does put protests in on duty rises at a national level but now seems more concerned to bang on about 'cheap supermarket booze'. I regularly visit Germany and Poland and I don't think supermarkets here are out of line with 'norms' there - if anything, prices here are higher. Corner shops in my area tend to undercut the supermarkets anyway - charging about two thirds of the Tesco price for a bottle of Polish beer when I last did a comparison.

Curmudgeon said...

It's very difficult for CAMRA to focus on prices when they vary so much between different types of pub in an area. It was easier in the days when breweries had large tied estates and tended to impose standard price increases across the board. Plus there's a school of thought (which I don't subscribe to) that we pay too little for our beer anyway as small brewers are struggling to make a decent living.

In general, the people for whom price is important will gravitate towards the pubs such as Wetherspoon's that offer better value. On the other hand, if you're just drinking one or two pints a couple of times a week with your £17.95 braised lamb shank, you won't be too bothered about paying £4.40 in a smart dining pub.

I don't know if you saw my blogpost yesterday arguing that the "cheap supermarket booze is killing pubs" argument is largely a red herring.

Anonymous said...

Just to reassure Ian, I think those prices quoted do cover the whole of London, but as mentioned by Paul and myself only produce an average for the few dozen pubs that get reviewed in the Pub Guide (far less than the Beer Guide). From memory that means dining pubs in Richmond rather than Spoons boozers in Romford !.

Paul Bailey said...

For the record, in the past CAMRA did carry out price surveys. They weren't very popular amongst those tasked with carrying them out (myself included), as they were based on what was known as a "CAMRA standard round."

This hypothetical round included other popular pub drinks, such as Guinness, lager and even the odd soft drink, alongside pints of Real Ale. According to CAMRA big-wigs, this assortment represented a typical round of drinks which a mixed party of people were likely to order in a pub.

Understandably, many licensees were reluctant to disclose this information for fear of being called to account by CAMRA. Many also quite rightly felt, that it was one thing for CAMRA to be supporting Real Ale, but poking its nose into the prices of other drinks was seen as a step too far.

Curmudgeon said...

Theoretically this information could be obtained from price lists displayed in pubs, of course.

One of the many praiseworthy points of Wetherspoon's is that they print all their main drinks prices on "drinks menus" displayed in their pubs.

Paul Bailey said...

Theoretically it could Mudge, but in practice it wasn't, leading to potentially awkward exchanges between surveyor and bar staff. The "CAMRA standard round" was complete nonsense anyway, as the only price which mattered to most CAMRA members was that of a pint of cask ale.

I agree that Wetherspoon's are worthy of praise for their openness about their prices; it's a shame more licensees haven't copied their example.

Curmudgeon said...

Which is why I said "theoretically" - although in practice the pubs I ended up doing were managed houses which did display price lists because it was under the direct control of the brewery.

The point of logging prices for non-real beers was to demonstrate that real ale offered better value for money, but as we know some people think that's a bad thing.