Who gets how much of your beer £?

EDIT: 2014-05-03: I have adjusted the figures in this post to not use the minimum GP I’ve been applying to beers but something more normal/average – I’ve moved it from 11.11% to 17.24% but I’ve been told I ought to be targeting 20%. As I stated I’ve seen margins spanning from as low as £5 to £15 out there and I sort of went for the middle to start with (since I’m not in London). I’m a newbie at this… on a steep learning curve.

Inspired by my new reality of being piggy-in-the-middle between pub and brewery beer pricing I’ve knocked up the following “infographic”… OK, it has minimal “info” and my “graphic” skills are suspect at best, Kat has drawn me a prettier version of the infographic now! But here we are, where does the hard earned money that you spend on a pint of beer go:

Cost of a Pint  (5% Distributor)

I have clumsily tried to show the progressive beer duty here, in steps from the full relief rate through 10k, 20k, 30k, 40k, 50k hectolitre breweries to the full rate on the right. (In reality this is a gradual increase dependant on brewery production – not stepped.) These figures are based on a 4% beer and as both the price of the pint and the duty will vary with the strength one could generate a variety of different versions of the above – however I believe the general gist of the ratios shown for my “£3.60 4% bitter in Cambridge” example will hold across a broad area and range of beers.

Of course if there is a PubCo involved then there’s a massive chunk missing from this that takes a big bite out of the “pub” section. Probably up to 50% of it based on the pricing I’ve heard from tied publicans I know. (Which makes me all the more perplexed by free-houses who pop a vein over £5.)

Van load of casks

Van load of casks

The format of this is inspired by Yeastie Boys Stu’s lower-tech but far more characterful infographic shown here: What’s in my beer? Stu breaks it down further than I have, although remember he’s in New Zealand and his breakdown is focused more on the bottle market so is rather different to the UK situation. Freight costs in my case are part of the brewery’s costs in getting beer to me and part of my costs in returning empties to them, it can get more complex in the case of using eCasks too. Each of the “brewery”, “distributor”, and “pub” sections could be broken down further in similar ways. Everyone needs to rent/maintain facilities, pay for consumables, pay staff, etc. In fact Dave Bailey of Hardknott fame has contributed this level of detail from the brewer’s point of view to the Guardian: Beer: how much would you pay? I don’t think I’ve seen a breakdown for pubs but I expect high rents and high wage bills to consume a large chunk of their share.



The “distributor” chunk is based on a mere £7.50 £12.50 margin on a cask – which is what I’m using in many (but not all) cases. This varies though – and the highest average margin I’ve seen is £15 down in London. But the retail prices are higher at the pump in London too, so the higher margin probably doesn’t change the total percent taken by the distributor. (Not to mention that the costs of operating in London must be even higher than Cambridge!)

Why did I put all this together? Mainly to show the “distributor” band there. That’s my bit… and when some landlord dismissively tells me “you need to sharpen your pencil“, this is why I’m inclined to tell him to go bugger himself. Of course I wouldn’t say that … even in the face of rudeness… sorry, I say, I don’t think we can help each other. The only way I can offer lower prices is by buying cheaper beer. As it stands I’ve moved my minimum margin from 3% to being closer to a whopping 5% of your pint… or 18p of your £3.60. Reducing the publican take to a meagre £1.96 from £2.04. Eyebrows will be raised. [2014-05-03: Numbers modified slightly. Originally the numbers and graphic were based on the lowest margin I’ve used -£7.50 per cask (3% of retail value). This is too low… bear with me, I’m new to this. Also, to avoid confusion: the 5% is of the retail cost of the pint and represents a GP to me of about 17.25%.]

Weird Beard

Weird Beard

Don’t take this as a negative post, my customer base is building and I’ll continue to try and do what I desire to do… bring different and interesting beer into my area. I’m not trying to rip anyone off, I cannot “sharpen my pencil” as I’m only working with a stub of charcoal here. If you’re interested in beer and beer excites you then I think I have something to offer… in effect I work for you to get hold of the beers that the national beer scene is talking about, enjoying, and wanting to get their hands on. I have a fairly broad coverage from what’s hot in CAMRA/traditional circles to what’s turning heads amongst craft beer junkies. I feel I’ve come to know the UK beer scene pretty well at several levels and all I really want to do is spread the love. But… if beer is a replaceable commodity of no individual character or value to you then I’m afraid we aren’t going to get along.

Finally – I’m a big believer in “openness”, I have hippy commie open-source roots, I’ve spoken of many variables in the text around the infographic… so, here’s my little spreadsheet: Who gets what from your beer money? You can duplicate this and play with the numbers as you like… or spot the errors in my calculations? (If so then please let me know!) Cheers to Geoff Latham of Pope’s Yard brewery for eye-balling my spreadsheet for me – however I do take full responsibility for any errors that snuck through of course!

Know any pubs in the Cambs/Herts/Beds area that you’d like to have some of my beers at? (Yes, I need to update that list…) Think they’re the run by the sort of people who’re not after the cheapest thing on the market? Point them my wayor point me their way… :)

Summer Wine

Summer Wine

[Edit: 2014-05-03: People have pointed out that this might make the pubs look “greedy”. This is not the intention at all! Yes pubs have a high GP, but they have huge costs as well. There are some numbers on the costs of running a pub available at the link provided by Jon in the comments. It is also worth noting that for a pub a mere 5p lost on a pint isn’t completely trivial… say a pub shifts 500 firkins of beer a year, 35000 pints… £1750 lost profit. And that’s a small pub. My thinking is that in the right pubs with the right customers that 5p cost can be passed on to these beer-loving customers who are willing to pay it for a better beer and better beer variety. Not all 4% beers are made equal so why should they all be priced equally? More on this another time…]

CAMRA – can it be part of the equality solution?

The issue of women in beer is being discussed a lot lately – continuing reverberations of the session #81 I expect. Read those links, that’s background material.

GBBF Bar Staff

Opening-time volunteers on my GBBF bar

I want to know: how can CAMRA be a part of the solution to making the world a better and more equitable place for women. Currently the beer scene, and in the UK the “real ale” scene more so than average, is adept at alienating 50% of the human population. CAMRA publications, events, and pubs in general are often uncomfortable, and sometimes even hostile, places for women. I personally don’t think CAMRA is a source of the problems – my experience volunteering for CAMRA from the branch level (North Hertfordshire) through to GBBF has always given me the impression that your typical active CAMRA member is relatively forward-thinking and progressive. Why then do we sit by and allow the “real ale” scene to be regressive with respect to equality? Why does the organisation, in its passivity, help to proliferate misogyny?

I should note that I am in the camp of thinking that says: organisations must be pro-active about equality and the rights of women. Further to that: we live in a very inequitable society – the cultural, social, and political balance of power is very much in the hands of men. Men cannot dismiss feminism and equality with “ignore it, it’s getting better on its own” – because it isn’t really – we must do all we can to help push the world forward. By not helping to fix things we accept the status quo – we become, or rather remain, part of the problem.

Coming back to CAMRA, here’s some rough proposals that occurred to me today:

  1. Strict editorial standards banning advertising that sexualises or trivialises women.(Really ought to add the same for race, sexuality, and gender issues in general.)
    • Example: The infamous “Top Totty” pumpclip, and similar – never to be seen again in a CAMRA publication. Oh, and please toss this “keg buster” rubbish on the “relics of yesteryear” pile.
  2. The same standards applied to beer branding and point-of-sale material at beer festivals and events.
    • Example: As per above, pumpclips are a particular problem. But problem beers on a “banned” list until the marketing is altered. (I’m hesitant to suggest blanket-banning the brewery, but I wouldn’t object to the idea.)
  3. Strong & enforceable codes-of-conduct that apply to CAMRA office holders, volunteers, and event-goers:
    • Example: This is a hot topic in the technology sector, see what the Ada Inititive has to say on the matter of codes of conduct: Conference anti-harassment policy.
  4. A “FemAle” scheme, like LocAle
    • OK, I don’t like the name “FemAle” (and expect it has been used already) – but the point is to have a scheme whereby pubs agree to a code-of-conduct under which they will not display sexist materials (i.e. pumpclips again) nor sell beers with inappropriate “humorous” names. Furthermore they must come down like a tonne of bricks on harassment on the part of their customers. Like “LocAle” they will be marketed (i.e. a GBG icon) as female-friendly pubs – but they must be strongly held to account, to ensure they maintain their side of the bargain. Complaints will be taken seriously – perhaps using some sort of “three strikes” style of system.

This is a vague spur-of-the-moment rough idea at the time. Do the above make sense? If not: why not? What else could be added to the list? What can CAMRA do nationally and what can CAMRA branches do at the “grass roots” level to become a part of the solution?

How do you sell this to the CAMRA membership? A guideline/policy would have to go up for a vote at an CAMRA AGM. I think a simple justification is: the success of your beloved “real ale” and “local pubs” depend on sales… yet right now the “real ale” world is alienating 50% of its potential market. What is the sense in that?

In fact this ought to be priority #1 for CAMRA’s current key campaigns: “Encourage more people to try a range of real ales, cider and perries” & “To raise the profile of pub-going and increase the number of people using pubs regularly” (login required) – yet the issue is not even mentioned! I’m actually astounded that whoever wrote those campaign outlines didn’t even consider addressing this.

To stoke the fires we could even leverage a dirty bit of container-politics: right now the “craft beer” movement is doing a better job on this front, attracting customers who are uncomfortable with the misogyny in the traditional pub and cask ale market. They’re taking their friends and family with them… out of the traditional pub and into keg-only BrewDog bars. The horror!

Can we do this, can CAMRA be a force for good?

Oh, Camden…

I don’t have much to add about the unfortunate Camden BearD situation [oh, link has gone deadAnd it is back again.]. I understand the desire for brand protection on Camden Town Brewery’s part in this situation… I don’t have a problem with that. But it seems that they’ve handled this very badly. This is perhaps where “craft brewing” becomes “suit brewing” – where the accountants and lawyers are running the show.

Colin has only this to offer…

Oh... Camden... *sigh*

Oh... Camden.

Response: The Point Of CAMRA

Yet another excessive blog comment turned post… these words are written in response to some very valid points raised by M.Lawrenson at Seeing The Lizards in: The Point Of CAMRA. I couldn’t submit my comment because it was more than 4096 characters. Ooops.

I speak for only myself of course. I dislike some things CAMRA does, I like other things CAMRA does. I’m an active CAMRA member and have done time on the committee of the North Hertfordshire branch. I currently live in the Cambridge branch area but have had my membership tied to North Herts as I’m still actively involved there. So “my branch” is North Herts.

Please read this first. As the below is a direct reply.

CAMRA festival funds – profit driven? Excess raised by the festivals I’m involved in gets sent to HQ where I presume it goes into the “general campaign pot”. What we keep pays for: setup costs for the next beer festival (including float), newsletter publication, subsidised minibus trips [edit: to hard-to-reach countryside pubs], occasional buffets at branch meetings. [edit: forgetting: as a branch we own a lot of equipment related to beer festivals too, which needs continual maintenance and replacement] Costs are going up so festivals don’t seem as cheap as I’m guessing they once did (before my time in the UK). Venue hire is increasingly expensive, beer is going up quite a bit too. Profits are certainly not shooting up and (my branch at least) has no goal to increase profits at successive festivals.

'spoons vouchersLicensees relations – not good? Nope… CAMRA branches don’t quite do enough to get them onside. The problem is every one seems to want personal attention and a member drinking in their bar 100% of the time. (There probably is – the problem is they only see the “core” members as “CAMRA” – in my branch that’s ~18 out of nearly 900 members – and we have 200 pubs.) IMO more needs to be done to improve relationships with pubs across the board. The fucking ‘spoons vouchers really don’t help here. I’ve nearly rage-quit CAMRA several times over them. On the other hand the very very low number of active members makes it difficult. I wonder if this might really be an member “activation” problem. Not enough of us, we’re all using our “spare time”, it really is time-consuming…

Beer discount rage? I don’t really know where this comes from. (Outside of the ‘spoons vouchers.) I think there must be certain members (and maybe branches) that are a pain in the arse about it. I’m not even sure if any pubs in my branch area offer a CAMRA discount – and I’m speaking as a committee member. As a branch, in recent years at least, we’ve had no policy to badger publicans to offer discounts. I expect some do so because they’re “playing the game” – they’re the ones willing to spend money on marketing. I’d say the more “business minded” licensees perhaps. They know this helps spread the word about their pub… and that really most drinkers aren’t CAMRA members so it isn’t going to have a huge impact on their bottom line. (I have noticed Cambridge branch publish a list of pubs that provide a discount.)

Active members campaigning? In my branch a dismal 2% of members are regularly “active” despite significant membership increases. I’ve puzzled myself about why we have this constantly increasing membership (about +100 this year IIRC). Festival entrance? Not ours, it’s only 3 quid and doesn’t suffer from queuing – but we’re near Cambridge… huge queues there… so maybe. Pub discounts? (Very few in my area AFAIK). Wetherspoons vouchers maybe? (Only 3 ‘spoons – though soon to be 5.) I’d love to know more demographic and “churn” stats but I don’t have ready access to that data (for quite sensible data protection reasons). I know the geographic distribution and it is fairly wide & even, certainly not clustered on Wetherspoon pub locations.

As for CAMRA newsletters… almost universally an embarrassing relic. Including, to some extent, the one that covers my area that’s edited by – CAMRA heartland – the South Hertfordshire branch.

'spoons vouchers

To address “The Point of CAMRA”: I think there are a few factions/mindsets in CAMRA who see this differently:

  1. Core oldsters who’re still “fighting the war” – keg may come back at any time, keg is the antichrist, keg is “cold chemical fizz”. Many of these are probably not exactly flush with cash so they might appreciate the vouchers and discounts I suppose.
  2. “For the consumers” – it’s all about getting deals for members. They’re somewhat price-focused, and see pubs as a “resource” in the dehumanising “Human Resources” sense. These are the ‘spoons voucher defenders – and CAMRA HQ seems to be a concentration of them. The ones super-focused on the membership number strangely enough. (And apparently membership would fall like a STONE if CAMRA stopped the flow of vouchers and made What’s Brewing & Beer available to the general public.)
  3. “For the beer” – for the most part simply want to enjoy a good beer beer. To this end the goal is promoting cask ale: festivals spread the word but pubs are the core. Supporting pubs is key, running GBG selection and selecting a Pub of the Year is an important campaigning activity with the goal of driving up standards.

I’m in group 3 myself. IMO this group wants to help pubs because helping pubs means more good beer. This seems to be a majority of the group you’ll find volunteering at GBBF and many other festivals. In my experience these folk are more concerned about quality than price. I think this sort of member is the dominant force in my own branch. We still get all of the flack listed above though as, I expect, a) some general members out there are right real-ale-twats & b) some landlords don’t seem to realise that they can’t manage cask ale to save their lives and meagre branch resources are not able to hold their hand. If they’re not attracting CAMRA members & attention then the reason is probably nothing to do with the price of a pint. I’ve done more than enough “pub rambles” where as a branch we deliberately visit a set of pubs where all but one or two are ones that we *know* will likely be pretty damn awful on the cask ale front. We go, we drink their beer, when it is properly crap we tell them (we return the properly crap beer and likely end up having either a discussion or an argument about it). The ball’s really in their court at this point.

I should state that I’m entirely on the side of CAMRA focusing on support for _cask_ale_ in pubs. I have nothing at all against other beer formats, but really do see CAMRA as a cask-specific organisation. (Controversially (?) I wish the cider folk would go get their own organisation, and think that “real ale in a bottle” is a distraction… what next – should CAMRA add a committee to support morris dancers?) That said, I think CAMRA should crack down on ALL negativity about “keg” and “craft beer” (sigh, whatever that is… fucking What’s Brewing letters section. Stop publishing that shit!). I do think there should be more focus on pubs – but I also do think this IS happening, it’s just taking a long time for it to filter down to the branch level. And, frankly, I get the impression from people I know that some branches are the “Real Ale Twats”… solution to that? No idea. I might think of some suggestions – like a “HOWTO execute a hostile takeover of a CAMRA branch” blueprint.

Alas for the general direction of CAMRA at a macro-level… it’ll be slow to change, because as far as the AGM and vocal membership goes there seems to be a lot more support by member types 1 and 2. It feels, to me, a lot like national politics in that way.

Sorry about the incredibly lengthy reply. I should probably try and write my own modern/young(hah) CAMRA member manifesto some time.



Session 81: Women & The UK Beer World

I missed that this “Scary Beer Feminists” (aka “Women In Craft Beer”) “Session” thing was happening. A detailed roundup.

I do have my own typically grumpy point of personal experience to add… it is, as it must be, UK-centric…

GBBF Bar Staff

GBBF Bar Staff

My other half and I are just the “young” side of mid-30s. Kat is as keen on drinking beer as I am. We go to the pub together, we share beers together at home, we go to beer events together, we’ve both volunteered at beer festivals small, big, and independent. We’ve even both “done time” on a CAMRA branch committee. Kat was the one who got her own work group going to the pub regularly on Thursdays for lunch. We don’t really think of any of this this as being odd – perhaps because we’re from Australia? Though we do recognise that it isn’t exactly usual…

Kat with Table

Kat with Table

But that does not excuse the typical crap we experience from (almost always “older”) blokes in pubs and beer festivals in the UK. Fucking hell it is getting pretty damn tiresome. It likely doesn’t help that Kat’s small, of south-east Asian background, and is quite happy drinking a pint of 5+% stout or porter… but again, no fucking excuse. “I’m just curious.” “Where are you really from?” “Where does she put it all!” “Hur hur hur…” *leer*

Sadly I don’t expect this dire situation to change in a hurry. It’ll probably change only as fast as these relics of an outmoded worldview pass away with time. What this situation does is cement a developing beer-culture divide – if there’s a younger, hipper, more “craft” venue available then we’re likely to prefer it just to avoid the asshats. So-styled “craft beer bars” may have a “full of young hipsters” feel to them – but that’s a hell of a lot better than a  “full of leering, sexist, racist, old fools” feel[1]. The same can be said for events. CAMRA[2] festivals tend to have more of the “problem” customers while events like the Independent Manchester Beer Convention and the Birmingham Beer Bash are far more comfortable (and diverse in both people and beer).

Real Ale Twats - A Stereotype

Real Ale Twats – A Stereotype

I do not, of course, accuse all traditional pub goers – not even a majority of them. I haven’t done a comprehensive census.[3] But even if the problem types are a minority – the majority accept them, don’t bat an eyelid, a handful may apologise for them – thanks – but nobody tackles the issue. We understand, been there done that, it is difficult, it is exhausting to have these arguments – and the usual response is a brick wall of offended consternation. So we, ourselves, rarely say anything – we just uncomfortably put up with it and choose our drinking venues and events accordingly. Normally none of these folk are bad per se, many could be thought of as “good old chaps” – but they exude an unwelcoming subtext, an accusation of being different, out of place, incongruent, an amusement.

In contrast… I feel that “new wave” venues and events are providing a more comfortable experience for the non-“old white male” drinker. Somewhere where people of all backgrounds and genders can feel comfortable having a drink… OK, that’s stretching things… we’re not yet at such a Utopia. I speak as one of the privileged – I’m a white male – it takes effort and experience for me to understand and sometimes even see these problems (and I don’t claim to understand them completely, it’s complex). But within my understanding the “craft beer” community in the UK is an improvement on traditional beer culture in the UK – for that I am thankful – but there’s still plenty of room for further improvement. As certainly documented in the session roundup. This “Session” is also an example of how the modern beer scene benefits from having these discussions and is lucky enough to have a whole raft of people keeping things in check. We must be ever vigilant and also self-critical: as the saying goes “Check Your Privilege”[4]. But more simply & specifically to our case in the beer world: all humans should have the opportunity to to enjoy a beer in happiness and comfort. If you’re doing anything to work against this ideal: CHANGE.

1. I tried to find a good image of the “craft beer hipster” stereotype, but failed. I was hoping for a “craft beer” equivalent of the Real Ale Twats. Somebody should do this. :)

2. CAMRA customers are less diverse than “craft beer event” customers. As observed by me, I don’t have stats of course. But there is a huge variance. Cambridge festival is pretty good but our own Hitchin festival isn’t so good – although both have a distinct problem element that is far less noticeable at the new wave of indy fests. Interestingly enough diversity amongst festival volunteers seems higher. Sadly, female festival volunteers have a hard time of it thanks to the certain sort of customers my vitriol is directed at here. A win/lose situation for CAMRA.

3. The bulk of our UK pubgoing experience is in the London/Hitchin/Cambridge corridor, an area I’d have thought would be more on the progressive side.

4. I really don’t like this phrase, it makes me feel uncomfortable… perhaps that’s why.

[This post reviewed and approved by Kat.]