CAMRA always gets a bit of media attention round about now, partly because of the trade session at the Great British Beer Festival yesterday which lots of journalists attend, partly because we're only a month or so off the launch of another Good Beer Guide, but mainly because we're in the becalmed days of slow news when most people are on holiday and eager editors are happy/desperate to fill their pages with whatever subject the PR department at its St Albans headquarters has decided to run with in their press release this year, normally by reprinting it all but verbatim alongside other "silly season" stories about barley, hops and carbon dioxide being set to run out soon as a result of heatwaves, droughts, forest fires and/or the World Cup.
The theme of this year's press release is the rising price of a pint, which it directly links to increased taxation, leading to pub closures, along with competition from supermarkets and off-licences. As always, it's very hard to judge whether the cause and effect being attributed to those factors here actually bears much scrutiny given the myriad costs of brewing and selling beer (the price of raw materials, transportation, wages, rents and business rates as well as duty and VAT), the other, non-price, factors which might lead to people going to the pub less (social attitudes to daytime drinking, deindustrialisation of areas which once supported dozens of pubs, the smoking ban, a lack of public transport, especially in rural areas, and other leisure opportunities now being available) or the reasons why breweries and pub companies sell off viable pubs (as land for housing developments, or conversion to other uses such as flats, shops, cafes or restaurants).
With cask beer being an unpredictable purchase, price doesn't really have much to do with quality either: I've had some great pints in the £2-3 range, and some average ones in the £3-5 one. What's certainly true is that the price of a pint has far outstripped inflation in the last couple of decades. Beer was 80-90p a pint when I started drinking in pubs in the late 80s, and even that would have seemed expensive to older drinkers back then, like this guy who remembers it being a shilling and threepence a pint, which, with my dodgy, post-decimalisation, maths, I make to be between 6 and 7 new pence, when he lived in London in the 60s.
Beer being dearer, and not as good, now than it was in the past is naturally not a new complaint amongst drinkers, as the old man whom Winston Smith meets in a London pub in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four tells him: "The beer was better,' he said finally. 'And cheaper! When I was a young man, mild beer - wallop we used to call it - was fourpence a pint. That was before the war, of course.'"