Only in Ireland Would We Measure The Economy in Pint-flation

Posted 1 month ago in Food & Drink Features

DDF apr-may-24 – Desktop

Nowhere else in the world do folks lose their marbles over the price of a pint quite like us Irish, doubly so in Dublin. It’s not uncommon to read articles chronicling the price of a pint across the city. In fact, @DublinByPub, an anonymous but well-known pub culture blogger, keeps a running tab of the price of pints in all of Dublin’s most vibrant haunts in his notes app.

When the price of a pint changes here, it’s not just news—it’s front-page headlines. This is particularly true when it comes to Guinness. We are the home of the black stuff so it grinds our gears that it’s cheaper in other countries than it is in the city where it’s made literally down the road. It boggles the mind and every minute shift warrants an announcement and a wave of media scrutiny.

Journalists can write all the nuanced features about how ‘They can’t do this to us; this is our heritage they’re talking about’. But they can, and they do. On Tuesday, March 26, Diageo announced its third price hike in eighteen months. As you read this, publicans are bracing themselves to cough up six extra cents for ‘the usual’ pint and a whopping nine cents more for Guinness 0.0.

Blaming rising costs, the current feeling is that Diageo is throwing pub owners under the bus, forcing them to decide whether to pass on the hike or take the hit themselves. What does it mean for the customer? Well, according to Deadcentre Brewing, this 6c is added to the wholesale price. Then, on top of that, you have to add VAT and apply your margin before it lands on the bar.

According to the popular anonymous Twitter account @TheAngryBartender, the margin on Guinness is ‘insanely low’. That’s why Guinness is ‘consistently the cheapest pint in the country’ – publicans accept a lower margin for it.

If you run the numbers a 6c increase, plus VAT @ 23% through a pub that wants to achieve a 60% margin (although most will likely lower their targets for Guinness) means the customer will be lumped with an 18.4c increase. I’d guess most pubs will add 20c onto Guinness and 30c onto 0.0 (rounded up from 27.68c). It’s likely this will push the price of the average pint in Dublin up over €6.50. Though it is already much higher in some places aimed at tourists.

The hike has predictably set Twitter alight, TikTok on fire, and will start burning a hole in people’s wallets on April 15. As is the way of it, people have called to nationalise Guinness on Twitter. They have debated the merrits of late stage capitalism and what counts as a national treasure.

This obsession with pint prices is as much a part of our culture as talking about the weather, or praying to St Anthony when we’ve lost something. Pints in Ireland are never just an economic transaction; they’re a reaffirmation of a way of life that we have inherited from our ancestors. There is a new book coming out about just this on May 7. Published by the award-winning Nine Bean Rows; “A Compendium of Irish Pints” by Ali Dunworth celebrates the cultural significance of a few scoops, creamy bois, Jars, bevvies, Dreamy creamers, Pintíns, deochs, or whatever you’re having yourself.

In this book, Dunworth tells how we’ve been griping about the price of pints since taxes were first slapped on them way back in 1188. Back then, it was all about keeping the prices low because beer was practically a dietary staple.

She cites Cian Molloy’s beer-infused history lesson, which teaches that by 1256, King Henry III was laying down the law, fixing the prices of bread and, you guessed it, beer. Bakers who dared to overcharge got publicly shamed in the stocks, but brewers and pub owners? Oh, they faced a dunking stool—yep, potentially fatal punishment for overpricing a pint.

Fast forward to the late 1800s, and price wars were already a thing. Guinness, cheeky as ever, brokered some deal with other Dublin brewers in 1862, starting a price war that saw its profits tanking but its market share skyrocketing. A practice which has very much informed the intentionally squeezed margin bars still have on the pint of plain.

As this latest price hike proves it is Diageo leading the upward charge, much to everyone’s annoyance. The Vintners Federation of Ireland‘s not having it, calling this the final straw for struggling pubs and demanding more government support.

They’re asking for lower excise, a return to the 9% VAT rate for food-serving pubs, and relief on employer’s PRSI. With wages up, sick days now part of the package, and pensions looming, pubs are drowning in their own rising expenses.

This discourse has made a creamy pint of plain more than just a cultural touchstone and a conversation starter. Now, it’s a legitimate barometer for the economy thanks to the Raisin Bank’s index. This basically uses how many pints of Guinness at the median national price the median national salary can buy. This means that an international financial institution thinks that the price of Guinness is fundamental to our Consumer Price Index. The CPI measures the rate of inflation by determining price changes of a hypothetical basket of goods, such as food, housing, clothing, medical care, appliances, automobiles, and so forth, bought by a typical household.

Back in ’97, your average paycheck could net you 32 extra pints compared to now. According to Raisin Bank‘s index, despite today’s average weekly paycheck being more than double what it was in ’97, you’re still ending up with six fewer pints in your proverbial pint pot (164 vs. 170). And that’s before the most recent price hike.

The thing is, we have all been doing this casually for years. It’s not out of the question to measure things in pints. ‘Ah no, sure, going to the cinema is the same price as three pints, especially that cinema – might even be four’ is a conversation I’ve had with a friend who just waits for everything to come out on streamers. I know a reformed smoker who, every time they want to buy a pack of smokes, tries to remind themselves how many pints they can buy with the €25 a box of rollies would cost them these days. We even collectively think of minimum wage as ‘less than two pints an hour in Dublin’. The price of a pint is woven into who we are as a nation.

The thing is, pints can make you forget you’re mortal. You see that perfect domeage and it reminds you that, whatever happens, you can gather with people and that a perfect monochromatic pint will reappear, and so will spring. Pints remind you that you are in a world of perpetual renewal, and if you hitch your destiny to the ritual of a few pints with the lads, you too, can live forever. Pints are their own currency, as emotional as the dollar, as stubborn as the pound, as up-on-its-dignity as the stag on the punt.

Governments, publicans, and punters have been at this dance for generations, toeing the line between order and utter chaos. There’ve been Guinness boycotts, legal battles up to the High Court, government-enforced price freezes, and protests outside pubs. Every price bump, just like this one, gets labelled the proverbial final nail for pints, yet there’s a peculiarly Irish acceptance that settles over us every time we dance this particular tango. A resignation. A distinctly recognisable shrug of the shoulders that says, “Sure, what can you do?”

Despite the pinch on the purse, the allure of the pub is largely undiminished. It’s not just about the drink; it’s about the joie de vivre, the intangible magic of spontaneous encounters and shared laughter that bubbles forth from every corner. We all have strange rules about what we will and won’t splash out on. Blame the way we were brought up – and our fear of death. Many concepts of value are locked down in childhood, so it’s safe to say we will always spend whatever portion of our wages a pint makes up now.

For Diageo, the rationale might be clear – rising energy costs, transportation woes, and the spectre of war-induced grain shortages. Yet, it’s about more than the bottom line for the patrons who gather at the taps. It’s about identity, family, friendship, preserving a tradition, nurturing a sense of community, and raising a glass to that fickle but indomitable Irish spirit.

Only in Ireland could such a phenomenon unfold in a land where the economy is measured not just in euros and cents but in the laughter that echoes through the snug over a shared pint.

Words: Shamim De Brún


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