The cheapest places to buy a pint – in Britain and beyond

Cheaper beer exists, even in London – if you know where to look
Cheaper beer exists, even in London – if you know where to look - Moment RF

There is a moment in every man’s life when he realises he has turned into his father. Mine came at the bar of a well-known central London pub last year, when a card-reader, proffered almost apologetically by the barman, informed me I owed close to £8 for the mass-produced beer I’d ordered. I swallowed hard. I almost spluttered. £8 for a pint? How?

Of all the indignities of modern British life, expensive beer is amongst the most infuriating. Beer should be an affordable pleasure – and yet, according to the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), a glass of beer in the pub is now a “luxury”. Lager has, according to the Office for National Statistics, grown in price by more than 28 per cent, on average, since before the pandemic. It’s nothing short of a pint-tastrophe.

And while it would be nice to be able to identify a culprit – a moustache-twiddling, beer-watering brewery boss, perhaps – the causes are nothing so colourful. The Ukraine war has driven up energy and raw material costs, with a knock-on effect on everything else. Rents have risen as landlords try to claw back cash lost during Covid-19 lockdowns. Staff in London have to survive in a ludicrously overheated housing market, driving up wages – and the city attracts huge numbers of tourists, keen to experience London pubs and generally less price-sensitive than locals.

All this is on top of other, longer-term factors, like sky-high beer taxation and the fact that many pub tenants are forced to buy beer from their “pubco” (the company that owns their pub), invariably at prices higher than on the open market. And brewers are not entirely blame-free: some beers are understandably expensive because they’re made with expensive ingredients in small batches by tiny breweries, but others are expensive because their multinational owners know (or believe) they can keep prices high and punters will continue to fork out.

Ask a freehold landlord what she or he pays for a keg of the world’s favourite stout.

But it’s not all bad. Cheaper beer exists, even in London. Indeed, I’ve never known a time when the price of a beer varies so much depending on where you buy it. Wetherspoons is reliably cheap: according to a spokesman, this is based on a philosophical belief in “fair prices”, achieved through purchasing power and a rigid buying structure. Others, like Sam Smith’s, once noted for value in London, have abandoned the policy.

And then there are the blessed places, in the UK and abroad, where good beer remains reasonably priced in pubs of all types. Here are my recommendations if you want to avoid a meltdown at the bar.

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The Black Country

A few years ago, I interviewed Tim Batham, genial owner of Black Country brewery Batham’s. “I think beer ought to be cheap, it’s a staple thing that everyone ought to have,” he told me. I was delighted to subsequently discover this philosophy was shared by most in this part of the world. Tim’s beer – or should I say his daughter Alice’s, since she makes it, at the brewery next door to the Vine (colloquially known as the Bull and Bladder) pub in Brierley Hill – remains great value. Try also the charismatic Beacon Hotel in Sedgley, home to the legendary strong mild, Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby, still well under £4 for a truly delicious 6 per cent beer.

Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby is a cheap yet delicious pint
Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby is a cheap yet delicious pint - Beacon Hotel in Sedgley


Debate about Britain’s best beer city can keep pub bores going all evening, but when it comes to good beer at excellent prices, one city stands out: Sheffield. It’s full of charismatic pubs, and it has more breweries per capita, according to the recent Sheffield beer report, than anywhere else in the UK. Probably the best part of town for a pint is that around Kelham Island, home to the Fat Cat and the Kelham Island Tavern, where a good pint of perfectly-kept cask beer is generally yours for a lot less than £4. There’s a bonanza of choice, too: around 600 different beers are on sale in Sheffield on any given day.

The Fat Cat in Sheffield boasts pints of perfectly-kept cask beer for less than £4
The Fat Cat in Sheffield boasts pints of perfectly-kept cask beer for less than £4 - Alex Ekins/Alamy

The North East of England

For my third pick, I enlisted the help of England’s greatest pub expert, Martin Taylor, who in 2022 completed Britain’s longest pub crawl of all of the establishments in the Good Beer Guide. He suggests the North East of England, particularly the coast between Stockton and Sunderland. “Try the banked Bass in the Sun Inn [in Stockton] and the Camerons Strongarm in Hartlepool for maritime heritage and affordable pints,” he told me. Banked beer – with its huge, teetering head of foam – has to be seen to be believed, and at less than £3 a pint, it’s a luxury that anyone can afford.

The Sun Inn is a popular pub in Stockton
The Sun Inn is a popular pub in Stockton - Alamy Stock Photo

Franconia, Germany

There are plenty of places on the Continent for cheap beer. In terms of capitals, Minsk works out the cheapest according to travel booking website Omio, with pints crossing the bar at 90p a go – although why you’d want to go to Belarus right now is beyond me (and the Foreign Office advises against it).

Much better to head for Bavaria’s northern third, Franconia, the greatest brewing region in what may be the world’s foremost beer country. There are dozens of small breweries here, churning out delicious, characterful lager at prices that seem barely feasible given the quality. At Upper Franconia’s heart is Bamberg, a town of 70,000 souls with more than a dozen breweries. Spezial, Schlenkerla and Keesman, the last-named producers of what may be Germany’s best Pils, are must-visits.

Bohemia, Czech Republic

Plenty of Britons head for Prague to drink, and the beer there is reliably cheaper than here. But for really good value, get out of the Czech capital. Here are two options to please drinkers of both political persuasions: Cvikov, in the north of the country, saw its brewery closed by the Communist government in 1968 (there’s still graffiti on a brewery wall lambasting the minister responsible) but it was reopened in 2013, complete with a hotel in the former maltings; and Kutna Hora, to the east of Prague, had its brewery bought and closed by Heineken in 2009 but reopened by locals in 2017. The latter is a particularly delightful town boasting a remarkable gothic church, Saint Barbara’s – just the sort of tourist attraction those of us slowly turning into our dads appreciate.

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