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Cask ale pricing is stupid: discuss

My latest monthly column for the Publican magazine is here.

There’s going to be a lot of chat about cask ale round here in the next month! New Cask Report coming out on October 5th. If I can finish writing it in time…




I've always found it odd that cask ale is cheaper than keg lager – but it's not something I'm going to complain about!

I would guess that pub prices reflect what the publican has to pay.


Is part of the reason for cask commanding a lower price than keg lagers that, even in well-run pubs, there is still something of a quality lottery when ordering a pint of cask?

Woolpack Dave

In your article you mention Timothy Taylor Landlord. I know of several pubs that are selling it alongside what I would consider to be lower quality brands and pricing correctly. People are prepared to pay more for a quality beer.

Ed, the problem is that if prices stay too low the expansion of quality beer that we are seeing will hit a plataue. It is even posible that as initial enthusiasm of the many very good craft brewers waine once they realise long term that they can't afford to pay into a pension fund, for example, the sector will actually shrink.

Cask ale is still too cheap from the point of view that it is extremely difficult to make a living from the job. I'm not seeing my nest egg grow, despite working very, very hard. If that doesn't improve, I'll be giving up.

Many pubs and breweries are concentrating on pricing as a method of getting people to spend their money. Some licensees are still in the frame of mind that they can't charge more and so fail to put the correct margin on the beer. A reason why some pubs fail I think. Landlord is an expensive beer to buy, pubs have to sell it at the correct margin.

Curmudgeon, you point about variable quality is a valid one. I'm a big fan of the taster and customers should insist on trying draft first in my view.


Yep – exactly. My point is that many landlords believe "you can't make money out of beer", and running pubs – and brewing – are businesses. If cask ale has a lower margin than other beers, and we successfully make the case that people want to drink it when it's on the bar, we're telling landlords "Stock cask ale and you'll make less money". If you can't make money form it, good pubs won't stock it, we won't be able toy drink it and brewers won't be able to make a living from it. I know of one guest ale that is being taken off the bar because it's too popular – people are switching to drinking it instead of lesser but more expensive beers. Never occurred to pubs to put the price up – they just stopped selling it.


When cask ale is good, it's worth immeasurably more than keg. When it's bad though………..

One little (all too) truism in the biz is that good business skills and good cellar skills are mutually exclusive.

Crown Brewer Stu

to many pubs on the real ale trail in sheffield are keeping the prices low because they think they have to in order to keep customers.
that then afects the prices breweries are charging. out side sheffield i know i can get £10 more per cask for my beer than if i try to sell it in sheffield.


This is a hugely emotional issue. We once suggested that maybe it wasn't a crazy idea to pay more than £3 for a pint of decent ale, especially during a hop shortage like the one we experienced a couple of years back. One commenter said: "I hate any elitist response to such an egalitarian thing as beer and wishing beer to be more expensive sounds like just that".

Various people have pointed out that, in the Czech Republic, there is a fixed idea about how much a pint should cost, which hasn't kept pace with inflation, so some breweries are reducing the quality of the product so they can achieve the 'price point' customers expect.

Surely not a good thing.


Is it perhaps the case that some of the very small one-man-and-his-shed operations are too small-scale and under-capitalised to really be viable? I don't like this idea but can't avoid it.


Hmmm. Problem is I've got local brewpubs selling very average beer at very high prices. And yet I can get very good beer from local micros much cheaper and yet at a price they are happy with. I'm all for everyone making a good living, but how exactly will more expesnive beer across the board benefit me?


I find it utterly bizarre that many people are prepared to pay more for poor wine or industrialized fizzpiss than hand crafted ale. What I find even stanger is the attitude of many active CAMRA members, who whilst banging on about preserving pubs and the brewing industry, continually sit on a low price hobby horse. This can only serve to keep prices artificially low, thus making the brewing of hand crafted beer financially untenable.
If there is no money in decent produce, it can only be the preserve of hobbyists & profesionalism will evaporate.
Compare this to the craft sector in the USA. People accept that good stuff costs more to make, particularly on a small scale. For that matter look at the pricing policy in any cheesemonger.
Elements of CAMRA bandying faux proeletarianism have a lot to answer for.
Glad I got that off my chest, it's been nagging me for some time.


people buy particular drinks for many different reasons, cost is an aspect, but its not the only deciding factor.

cask ale has one obvious lesser production cost associated with it than "mass produced" lager, and thats advertising.

But its obvious some drinks are sold at prices that are clear profiteering. That pint of beer you buy at a concert or at a sports ground for upwards of £4 isnt about having a premium experience none of the profit makes it way to the brewer,and its usually rotten beer in a cheap plastic glass served at sub-zero temperatures. But people still buy it because they consider it an equitable trade given the choices on offer.

that doesnt mean people are prepared to pay £4 universally and thats the real point people will only pay ultimately what they think something is worth to them.


I am relatively price neutral living in London and drinking in a range of pubs you lose track of the average price. That being said the places that charge the most tend to worst run places. If a place is hellish with loud music, crap food, sloppily poured/kept pints you can guarantee you'll get stiffed on the price.


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