What does the price of a pint say about a pub?
The price of beer varies considerably across the UK, a survey indicates. What does the cost of a pint tell us about where we drink?
It is the familiar cry of the northerner cast adrift in unfamiliar London licensed premises: "How much did you just say a pint costs?"
The weather, the state of public transport and the conduct of politicians might be familiar subjects of saloon-bar gripes, but the price of beer will always be a favourite riff among drinkers who want to conclude their evening with a good moan.
To those of us who can recall - just - the days of the sub-£1 pint, shelling out three times that amount for a single beverage will always cause a small part of ourselves to die a little inside.
The steady march of inflation and indirect taxation means this is unlikely to change any time soon.
But a survey by the Good Pub Guide suggests that some of us can count ourselves luckier than others.
The publication asked all 1,165 pubs featured in its 2011 edition how much they charged for their cheapest pint of real ale bitter.
The Great Britain-wide average was £2.80, a 4% rise on 2009. But this covers broad regional disparities, with the cheapest part of the country, the West Midlands, falling well short at £2.45 below the most expensive, Surrey, at £3.08.
According to the Guide's co-editor Fiona Stapley, the wide variation in prices reflects not just the socio-economic make-up of each area but also the levels of competition, the nature of their bars and the type of beer on offer.
"In areas where you have heavy concentrations of the big chains, the prices tend to be higher," she says. "In pubs which brew their own beer, prices are on average a third lower.
"Beer is more expensive in London because they have a large concentration of people who will come out from work and go drinking. But at the same time, food in London pubs is incredibly good value."
End Quote Iain Loe Camra
You're paying £4 or £5 in a London style bar where the beer might not be any good”
The fact that pubs serving real ale tend to be cheaper than those which do not is likely to give connoisseurs cause for comfort.
Some central London bars charge upwards of £5 a pint, but what distinguishes these from their cheaper rivals is not so much the quality of the beer on offer as the supposedly prime location.
A pint can be obtained in the middle of the capital for less than £2, if one is prepared to visit a chain like JD Wetherspoon, in which volume and low prices are seen as more important than atmosphere.
Iain Loe, research and information manager for the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), believes the age-old British system is at play.
"In days gone by, pubs would have the lounge bar and the public bar," he says. "The public bar would be for the working class, there would be linoleum on the floor and the beer would be 2p or 3p a pint cheaper.
"Nowadays, it's the same class divide - but in different pubs, so you're paying £4 or £5 in a London-style bar where the beer might not be any good."
It might not be enough to stop the regulars complaining. But a glance at the price list could tell you all you need to know about your local.