Cellarmandirect's beer is sold in nine pint barrels which cost from around £20, making it competitive with premium beer in off licences. The company has a distribution agreement with Amtrak, the courier company, which will collect the beer and cider and deliver it to addresses across the UK.Mirroring somewhat what Joe Sixpack wrote about this week, I've been involved in some emails over the last few days with a firm trying to figure out the couriered delivery of beer in the US and the insoluble knot of laws that they would have to work though. Good luck with that. But even once the laws are dealt with, there is those practical issues of weight and profit. The more hands the beer has to pass though, the more hands need to be given a share. And the farther they move the brew, the additionally higher the costs.
Traditionally, the answer was plenty of brewers all feeding a local market - and some places that still works. The April issue of Beers of the World has an article on Hook Norton, the English brewers, which shows how they still use horse power to get their beer to all their pubs. One imagines that their savings on gasoline are not entirely offset by the price of hay. The alternative where there is over-regulation, the system we suffer from in Ontario, is the centralized depot which makes the brewer and the customer all deliver themselves and the beer to all but a few locations. One effect is the encouragement of a corresponding centralization of brewing and distribution. As a result, we cannot get ready access to beers made in the bordering parts of the United States because the LCBO's only US depot is in California. Plus, we the consumers also all have to drive to buy a six-pack as there are only seven locations in this city of almost 120,000 to buy a bottle of beer to take home and our nearest brewers offering to the public and not just through the pub are all over an hour's drive from here.
So would I buy from a service like Cellermandirect if it was offered here? While it would release me from the bonds of centralization, for me the cost would seem to be prohibitive. Almost fifty bucks Canadian for 4.5 litres of beer seems to be quite pricey. And I seem to recall in US grocery stores, small casks of about twice that much beer are now showing up for half the price. And, frankly, if I need some basic real ale draft around, I tend to make it from all grain mash for a fraction of that cost. But if such a service were to offer greater rarity and freshness, it brings the prospect of having your own craft beer festival with your pals within reach at a reasonable shared cost. That for me is the interesting aspect of what they are doing.