I've been spending a bit of time resting and recuperating ready for a new season. Getting to spend weekends away when one runs a pub is not easy. During our winter close-down we spend quite a lot of time working on the property and a little bit of time doing what normal people do - having a life.
I probably need to start thinking about brewing some beer ready for us opening. I also have some very nice beers I need to bottle; a 10%+ barley wine and a 7%+ whisky cask aged stout. Time, as always, is getting limited and there is insufficient winter left in which to complete all the jobs I have to do. In a pub beer matters more than anything else, we know that, so I need to get my finger out.
In pubs the difference between what beer is bought in for and what it is sold for is what helps to pay the staff wages, the electric bills, insurance, maintenance bills and all manor of things. Hopefully there will be a little bit left over for the publican, although most people would probably be surprised to know that this amount is often less than 10p per pint. Yes. Really.
As with most things, beer gains some economies of scale as the brewery gets bigger. Small breweries have the advantage of a reduced duty rate to counter this. The smaller the brewery the more expensive per pint the beer is to produce. It is generally considered that for a stand alone brewery to make money for a single owner/brewer, with no additional staff costs, it needs to produce around 10 brewery barrels1 per week, minimum.
Below this volume then the economies of the BrewPub take over. In this situation the elimination of transport costs, amalgamated overheads, shared administration and other factors help to further benefit the economics of this dubious business model. But there is again a limit to how viable this can be. At a brew length of 2 barrels, the size of my brewery, I would say that the economics are right at the limit of viability. Making beer for the pub, without any external sales, is just about viable because I can sell the beer over the bar at £2.50 or so a pint. At this price my efforts as the brewer pay off. Selling the same product at wholesale prices makes no sense to me whatsoever.
I regularly get requests to supply my beer to beer festivals all over the place. My answer is almost always that I can't. 2 days of my time makes about 600 pints of beer. At wholesale prices it doesn't pay for my time. If I sell beer to other pubs my pub loses out either because I lose a day off or because my pub has less Hardknott beer. Or perhaps I get less time to finish the tiling in the gents loo or tidy up the cables that hang unsightly in the bar, or 1001 other jobs that really need to be done.
So, if you ring me up and ask for beer please understand "no" does actually mean "no" not "maybe if you keep pestering me I'll give in and say yes". My beer is worth at least £2.50 a pint whether it's in a glass or a cask, end of.
1A brewery barrel is 288 imperial pints or about 160 litres. 10 barrels is, obviously, about 1600 litres or 16 hectalitres.