Counting the Cost of Craft

Ho hum. Another tedious commentary on the shocking price of craft beer. Well, maybe. This is more of a real life observation that may mildly interest you.

Brain’s of Cardiff have finally weighed in with their own interpretation of a ‘craft beer’ pub, the Cambrian Tap. It’s a lovely, historic building set in Cardiff’s city centre and deserves its own review, so we’ll say no more about the establishment here. Let us consider pricing policy.

Pricing policy isn’t something I give a fig about when I’m straight out of work on an unseasonably mild Friday in May. First thing’s first is a crisp, refreshing pint to wash away the working week. Everything else is secondary. So, naturally I was quite happy to see Beavertown’s Neck Oil pouring bright and beautiful from the keg fonts at the Cambrian Tap.

It’s a wonderful beer from a sterling brewery, based in London. Unfortunately it seems that London beer attracts London prices, even in Cardiff. That pint cost me £5.80. No, I wasn’t aware of that before I ordered.

So I died a little inside, cried a little outside, took my pint away and enjoyed it very much, but not to the value of £5.80. It’s hardly a one-off with the Cambrian Tap either. The majority of their guest ales are priced at £3.65 for a 2/3rd pint measure, while the Brain’s house beer is around the same price for a pint.

The cynical minded might view this as an attempt to steer people away from the guest beer and encourage them to drink the Brain’s stuff, but I’m sure it’s just better value because the beer has less distance to travel. It’s all about the craft beer miles these days.

Even so, when you’re paying pint prices for a 2/3rd measure of regular strength beer, you can’t help but feel cheated. I’ve been in there a couple of times since it opened, and after a couple of wallet busting rounds my friends and I usually take a stroll up to the City Arms. Now, if you’re still with me, we’re coming to the mildly interesting observation.

The City Arms is another Brain’s owned pub and it’s not far from the Cambrian Tap. It’s 0.3 miles away, or about 4 minutes by foot. Here’s a map to give you an idea. The Cambrian Tap is A, City Arms is B. Many roads lead there:


At the end of July I was in the City Arms after a brief pit-stop in the Cambrian and noticed they had Beavertown Neck Oil on keg, so I enquired about the price. It was £4.15 at the City Arms. How about that? The same pub chain selling the same pint in the same town but at a difference of £1.65.

I asked Brain’s Brewery about it. You can see our banal exchange in full for yourself below:


The reassuringly bland face of corporate PR acknowledged there was an issue here, one that would be rectified. All good then. Except… what do they think the problem is? Is the Cambrian Tap overpricing Beavertown Neck Oil, or is the City Arms selling it too cheaply? They never actually state in which direction prices will be made more uniform.

Whatever. They’re a business, I’m a consumer. I rarely gripe about the price of things I don’t have to buy, this is simply an observation.

If the City Arm’s prices go up then there’s always the newly opened Hopbunker (directions below – A is the City Arms, B is the Hopbunker). Their pricing policy is a lot more straightforward: Cask is £3 a pint, keg is £4 a pint (special imports etc not-withstanding). When the Gravity Station opened, and for some time afterward, their pricing policy was similarly simple and transparent.

The Cambrian Tap is merely a case study. I wouldn’t be surprised if examples like this could be found across the UK. The ultimate cost isn’t from my wallet, I can lose that £1.65 once, but can any craft beer bar afford to lose a customer if they think they’re being overcharged? The craft beer bubble is getting bigger, but the bigger the bubble the more taut it becomes. How long can we maintain this surface tension?



Edit: More headache for Brain’s. Beer writer and photographer Rob Gale popped in to the Cambrian Tap on Sunday 9 August in the hopes they had dropped their prices following my exchange with them. Prices remain unchanged at the time of writing, and Rob highlights a few other eye-watering prices, though my £5.80 pint still wears the crown for Cardiff’s most expensive pint. See tweets 2 and 3 for Brain’s curious justification on their pricing policy. I can’t help but feel they pissed in Rob’s pocket and told him it was raining.




5 thoughts on “Counting the Cost of Craft”

  1. Its not beer miles its how much can we rip you off for miles.I was in the Hop and Berry in London who put their beer miles on the board.
    Hammertons -Baron -h 6.2 beers miles 0.7 £3.10 a half
    Butternuts -Moo Thunder stout – beer miles 3663 £2.70 a half
    pricing for craft keg is a joke.

  2. What was the abv on them? That sounds fairly standard for London, mind. It’s when those prices creep outward to other cities that alarm bells start ringing.

  3. Most extreme pricing I’ve seen recently was Kernel’s 2.9% Table Beer for £5.40 a pint. This is in Brighton, so approx 50 beer miles – not the other side of the country. I couldn’t pay that without feeling I’d been had, so voted with my wallet and got a (very nice) pint of Dark Star APA on cask for £3.60.

    I’ve no problem paying big money for big beers where you feel the ingredients/ageing/duty account for the price tag, but for a 2.9% light hoppy beer I’m not convinced someone isn’t having a laugh.

    1. In my experience Kernel has always been on the expensive side, for whatever reason. It feels to me like they helped develop the early craft mystique by charging high whack – if it’s expensive, it must be good, right?

      I like the weak beer concept (last time I was in a BrewDog most beer was about 8% ABV. Straight out of work on a hot day, I do not want a craft thimble of 8% ABV Triple IPA) but you’re right – when they kick you in the wallet it makes it hard to enjoy.

  4. There is one thing that I’ll sway is that with a large amount of the beer bubble operating within London, to some extent we will have to pay London prices outside of London. That’s because operating costs of London breweries are higher – notably the cost of hiring space, and the cost of hiring staff – with the cost of living and working in London continuing to rise due to a housing and land crisis in London, that price difference will continue to be seen. I don’t know whether some of the London brewers are considering moving out of London now, but it might be a wise bet.

    You are however right about the continuing price rise being a continued issue – it’s not even the £6 pint that’s the issue any more, it’s the £12 pint. Meanwhile due to complex distribution arrangements, it’s very unclear how much mark-up any pub is having to pay – there is a lack of transparency on that end that isn’t helping.

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