Thursday, October 26, 2023

What Price a Pint?

Yesterday, the following image popped up in my various socials:


Said image was accompanied by the following text:
"Starting today all pints will be $3.50. Share, spread the word, and show us some love so we can keep it going for the full month… or forever, should the response be undeniable; either way, this is the price that pilsners should be. Come and take advantage!"

Three things immediately sprang to mind, firstly that is a damned fine looking pint, secondly, I don't think I have ever paid $3.50 for a pint of beer in my 14 years living in Virginia, and thirdly bravo to Tabol Brewing!

Tabol Brewing are based in Richmond, and given that I very rarely go that way I have yet to actually get to their taproom, where all pints are now $3.50. I have, however, had a few of their beers in cans, on tap at Beer Run, or in the case of my favourite beer of late summer/autumn their collaboration Franconia inspired vollbier with Selvedge Brewing. Everything I have had from them has been superb, and the vollbier, Tabolcloth, is very much a contender for the Fuggled beer of the year.

A while back, I wrote a post about what the price of a pint would be if we followed the pricing restrictions of Reinheitsgebot as well as the ingredients, and unless my maths is entirely atrocious (eminently possible), based on the average daily wages of a manual labourer in Virginia and it's purchasing power compared to 16th century equivalents, Tabol's new price point is pretty close.

I reached out to Travis at Tabol to share the post I mention above, and while he admitted that he could "proffer zero opinions with regard to the maths of the various European currencies" he did tell me his reasoning behind the change:

"my cans are sold, to-go, at $3.50 a piece in their 4 packs and more expensive packaging. I figured I could cut my pint prices in half, and still be making as good or better profit than my to-go sales in cans".

I have long muttered under my breath about the price of a pint at a brewery's taproom, especially when you consider the number of markups removed from the brewery to drinker process when you buy a pint in the taproom. To see a brewery actually take action on behalf of the consumer then is both refreshing and in my opinion absolutely fantastic.

Travis continued:

"I'd like the working man's beverage to be affordable. I just want to know it it's enticing enough to drop the price. Instead of seeking hype and notoriety for a brand, maybe my traditional style lagers should be more traditional in price? If we can make it work".

I am pretty sure this move it going to stir the pot in craft brewing circles in Virginia, especially given the number of breweries where they are changing $7 and upwards for a pint at their taproom. I am sure that Travis and the Tabol team have considered all the economic implications around the change, and to be perfectly honest I desperately want them to succeed, even though I am unlikely to get to Richmond any time soon and take advantage of $3.50 pints of superb lagers.

I also love the fact that Tabol don't shy away from the fact that beer is the everyman drink rather than a niche product for the upper middle classes. I realise every brewery is different, and for many where their primary outlet is a brewpub, dropping prices so dramatically might not be possible given the added overheads of being a restaurant. But where a brewery's taproom is exactly that, a place to drink a brewery's beer, in situ, as fresh as fresh could possibly be, without the additional logistical steps that drive up the price, then cheaper than draft or packaged retail should be the norm. If this move drives down the cost of a beer, that is a good thing in my world. After all, isn't that one of the supposed benefits of increased competition? 

We have shit loads of breweries now, so why are prices not coming down in line with the alleged economic orthodoxy that increased competition is good for consumers?

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

House Rules?

Blimey, it's been a while since I posted, these things happen from time to time, you know how it is...

Anyway, a few weekends ago I was touring cideries as research for a book I am writing about the cider industry in Virginia, scheduled for release next year. One of the places I visited, with my long time collaborator, photographer, and all round good bloke, Mark, was Troddenvale Cider.

Troddenvale Cider is located on the historic Oakley Farm, owned and run by husband and wife duo, Will and Cornelia. The farm is set in some of the most glorious countryside that we have in Virginia, deep in Bath County, among the valleys and mountains that form the Blue Ridge. To say I reveled in the drive from Lexington to Warm Springs would have been an understatement.

Coming from a wine background, Will and Cornelia approach cider from the viewpoint of it being the highest expression of the fruit that they press, and as such they are insanely patient as their pressings ferment and age in wooden barrels for months, and even years at a time. Their orchard, just a few years old but already producing apples for the press, contains several French and Spanish cider apple varieties as well as many of the American standards.

Their tasting room, and to be honest that term is simply insufficient for the delightful space where they serve their ciders, it really reminded me far more of a country pub, is a charming space that if we didn't have an appointment in Monterey, Virginia to get to, I could have happily sat in all day drinking their stunning cider. When time allows I will be taking Mrs V over the mountains for a tip.

While it is true that the single varietal made from Dolgo Crab Apples that is in the picture above was an absolute revelation - puckeringly dry, intensely fruity, with aromas of strawberry and cranberry, and it goes absolutely stonkingly with a West Country farmhouse cheddar (shock, horror, right?), I have been thinking about the "House Cider" since that trip.

More specifically I have been thinking about something Will said about their House Cider. Given their oenological background, Will lamented that the term "house" has come to mean the most basic wine on offer, something almost cheap and cheerful, but decidedly not excellent. His aim with House Cider is to be the exact opposite, to be the very best that Troddenvale puts out, and it is a magnificent cider, easily up there with the best being made in Virginia today, no I didn't take notes, I was too busy enjoying it.

This got me thinking about the concept of "house" products when it comes to beer. We quite often use the term "house beer" in homebrewing circles to refer to something that we brew regularly, but I don't recall a brewery, at least not in my neck of the woods, hanging their entire reputation as a brewery on a single "house" beer. Is it perhaps that modern beer drinkers are constantly on the hunt for the new, or is it a case of fear of missing out by not pushing every possible style out the door in case the crowds choose to go somewhere else?

I feel as though the concept of a "house beer" is distinct from flagship beers in the sense that flagships are often based on commercial decisions. Plenty of breweries come out the door with their flagship beers and as commercial reality bites they often change. Flagships are more often than not just the best selling beers a brewery offers.

Quite often in interviews with brewers, and I have done this myself, we ask the question "what is your favourite beer that you brew?" Invariably there follows some umming and ahhing, mutterings of chosen your favourite child, before a beer is chosen. Perhaps a better question would be "what is you house beer?" as in, which of your brews is the one that is the highest expression of you as a brewer, of the business that is your brewery? Which one would you stake your entire reputation on?

Best Beer Ever!

Shock, horror, a new post at Fuggled! Yes, it has been a while, but mitigating circumstances, I have been heads down writing my first book, ...