Half measures

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The chief reason for visiting a taproom or brewpub is to sample the range of beer a brewery produces. On such occasions, and if I have enough time, I’m more than likely to try all the beers on offer. For me this is the key reason for making such visits and typically these establishments encourage my quest by offering third pints or special deals on smaller pours.

Trying different beers was my objective when visiting the brewpub of Australian brewer Little Creatures in London’s King’s Cross recently. It’s a mightily impressive set-up with high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and a line of conditioning tanks taking pride of place behind the bar. The beer list was manageable too – with seven available on my visit – but the big shock was the pricing.

A number of beers were £5.90 a pint, which is par for the course in that part of London, but the surprise was seeing halves listed at £3.50 – no third-pint measures were listed. This places a particularly large premium on buying two halves compared with a pint. I was sensitive to this differential as only a few days earlier I visited north London-based Earth Ales’ taproom – it’s actually a double-decker bus, but that’s another story.

I had seen Earth Ales’ Verbena pale ale listed at £6 a pint and happened to have £3 in change in my pocket so confidently handed it over (I did ok at maths at school). I was then asked for another 40p. Using the aforementioned maths capabilities, that equates to a premium on two halves of 80p compared with a pint.

In my experience over many years a pint has always been pretty much double the cost of two halves – it clearly makes sense. Like most pub companies Fuller’s has such a policy and its halves cost half the price of a pint – give or take 5p when the division doesn’t work out exactly. In some of its pubs, including my local The Great Northern Railway Tavern, a tray of three third pints is offered at a discount to buying a pint. Clearly the objective is to encourage tasting and experimenting with new beers.

This was also Charlie McVeigh’s intention when he set up the Draft House chain. He admitted his offer of three third pints for only £5 was hardly good for group profitability but encouraged drinkers to try something new and enhance their experience at Draft House.

I fail to see the placing of a premium on half pints as anything other than an encouragement to customers to trade up to a better-value pint. This is the rationale behind coffee chains setting the price of their large pours at only a modest level above their medium serves, even though the amount of extra liquid is proportionally much greater.

The reality is that in the overall mix of costs involved in serving that drink to the customer (including rent, business rates, salaries) the cost of the actual liquid is arguably negligible. The extra 30p to 40p charged for a large serve is therefore a valuable bit of extra margin to the business. It could be argued the two drinks could be charged at the same price.

Clearly that isn’t going to happen but the coffee chains could do so if they chose. This would be much tougher with beer because of the undoubted implications of encouraging drinking. There is quite rightly much sensitivity around the topic and so it’s questionable whether certain operators are blatantly placing outsized premiums on halves.

But this isn’t my personal beef with the practice (I’ll leave that to the Portman Group). My issue is it penalises those who don’t want to consume high volumes and discourages people from trying different beers. At the Little Creatures brewpub I tried only a couple of its selection whereas under a different pricing structure I’d have stayed longer and tried others.

Perhaps it’s of no real concern because the place was packed on my visit so its pricing policy doesn’t seem to bother other people particularly. However, if such a policy were to be widely implemented across the industry I think it would sadly diminish the current wonderful environment we have for experimentation in trying different beers – and that would be massively disappointing.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider 

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Beer Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.

 

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