Saturday, 7 May 2011

A fair price for Barclay's Stout?

What is a fair price for beer? It's a question that's recently been asked in connection with sales of rare beer on e-bay. But beer pricing has been the subject of discussion much longer than that.

A word of explanation. By the Diggings, they mean the gold fields of Victoria. After gold was discovered in 1851 thousands of prospectors flooded in. Funnily enough, I've been to Ballarat. It's a lot quieter than in the 1850's.

"If there is one place in this world which gives us a better lesson than any other concerning prices, it is the region of the Diggings. Who can possibly tell what is a fair price for a bottle of Barclay's Stout at Mount Alexander or at Ballarat? Sixpence or 6s.—which? The expenses necessarily entailed in conveying that beverage from London to Melbourne by water, and from Melbourne to the Diggings by land, raise the original value; but besides this, the diggers—thirsty souls as they may well be—eagerly desire the welcome draught; and as they have nuggets of gold in their pouches, they will be liberal in dispensing their nuggets for the Stout. If the bottles of Stout be few, and the diggers and the nuggets be many, then the bottles— like pit-tickets, and Chertsey omnibuses, and fancy tulips—rise to a premium: nothing is a fair price; or rather, everything is a fair price; for if the digger would rather give an ounce-nugget for a bottle of Stout than do without it, who shall say him nay—who shall say that the seller ought not to take so much? Sitting quietly in our own room, and meditating on these things as judged by ordinary dealings, we may give a moral shake of the head, and exclaim: 'O what extortion!' Again and again we say, it is not until we have closely tested our everyday conduct, that we shall be justified in hurling this charge against the Australian speculators."
"Chambers's Edinburgh journal volume 19", 1853, page 219.

See? A fair price is what someone is prepared to pay. It holds just as true for today's rare beer auctions. If you think the price is too much, then just don't pay it. Without willing buyers the market would simply collapse. Ridiculous prices are determined by the buyer, not the seller.

Moving away from the philosophical aspects, exactly how expensive was sixpence or six shillings for a bottle of Barclay's Stout? In 1871, a dozen pint bottles of Barclay Perkins Brown Stout cost (in the UK) 3 shillings. Double brown Stout was 4 shillings and 9 pence a dozen. Or 3 pence and 4.75 pence per single bottle. Even allowing for considerable transport costs, 6 shillings a bottle is a hefty markup.

I bet you're expecting me to come up with some details of the beer, aren't you? Not one to disappoint, here's Barclay Perkins Export Brown Stout from just a couple of years earlier:

Barclay Perkins BSt Export 18th March 1850
OG FG ABV App. Attenu-
lbs hops/ qtr hops lb/brl pale malt brown malt black malt amber malt
1096.3 1028.0 9.04 70.93% 15.34 7.14 66.35% 22.57% 2.61% 8.47%
Whitbread brewing records held at the London Metropolitan Archives

I can now rest easy. There's this week's Barclay Perkins reference.


Martyn Cornell said...

I wonder what was so rare about the Chertsey Omnibus?

Ed said...

I've been to Chertsey! And Ballarat is where they train brewers in Australia now.

beer guru, jr. said...

9% abv! must have made for a comfortable evening after digging all day.

Ron Pattinson said...

Martyn, it's explained elsewhere in the article. Can't quite remember what it was exact, but it was something else where the price was outrageous.