Cheers: Don't price out beer

By Don Kavanagh

The cost of a pint at the local tavern has become prohibitive, writes Don Kavanagh.

We're paying too much for pub beer in this country, when compared to prices in Europe.
We're paying too much for pub beer in this country, when compared to prices in Europe.

Few things are more vexing to think about than the price of a pint. Ask anyone you like and they'll say the price is wrong. Drinkers complain it's too high, health busybodies scream that it's too low and find unlikely allies in the trade itself, where owners and brewers would have you believe that they are beggaring themselves at current rates.

And, of course, everyone blames the Government for placing iniquitous taxes on the honest pleasure of downing a beer.

Frankly I think the price of a beer is shocking and for once I'm not going to have a go at the Government over it. Sure, Wellington takes about 10 per cent of the price in excise and a further 15 per cent in GST but of the remaining money, plenty is left to go around.

Production and packaging account for a fair whack as well, but there is still a fat cut left for the producer and the retailer.

I'm not suggesting that breweries should make beer on a charity basis but, compared to other parts of the world, I think we're getting the smelly end of a rather rough deal here.

I was in Ireland recently, a country with a disgracefully high level of alcohol tax, but it was still cheaper to go out for a session there than here and by quite some margin. With the higher dollar, it was especially pleasing and being able to get a pint of stout for the equivalent of about $6 was wonderful for someone used to coughing up $9.50 for it.

And before anyone points out that Guinness is made in Ireland, it's made here, too, and you can't tell me the extra $3.50 goes into freighting it from East Tamaki to the city.

England is also substantially cheaper and as for Germany - well, let's just say that my first breakfast on European soil was not chewed.

It cost me the equivalent of about $5.80 for a gorgeous pilsner at Frankfurt Airport, and we all know what a rip-off airports can be.

As I said, I don't expect breweries to make beer for free and nor do I expect bar owners to give it away, but there comes a time when price hikes lead to a point of diminishing returns.

Bars are a seriously expensive option and one that a lot of people don't worry about. After all, the price of a single "craft'' beer (whether from a craft brewery or a major one) will set you back more than a perfectly adequate bottle of wine from the supermarket.

I hate the idea of people sitting at home drinking while pubs die but really, prices are getting so steep I'm having to seriously think twice about going out. The Government will never reduce excise on booze as long as politicians enjoy a tipple - despite their British counterparts actually dropping tax on beer in the last budget - so someone will have to.

It's either the retailer or the manufacturer who has to do something because, as things stand, the poor drinker is just getting poorer. And if the pub culture dies, we'll all be the poorer.

- Herald on Sunday

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