Low and non-alcoholic beverages have never been so favorite, yet they can cost nearly as much as your regular beer or spirit. Is there any justification? Regina Lavelle reports It seemed like a punchline in need of a joke – the Irish pub with no booze. And with the flurry of headlines heralding the arrival of Dublin’s The Virgin Mary, it seemed everyone else was thinking it too. But oxymoronic as it may seem, the new venue reflects a growing thirst for healthier lifestyles – alcohol consumption fell from 14.2 liters per person in 2005 to 10.9 in 2016.
Indeed, according to Bord Bia, sales of low- and no-alcohol drinks increased by more than 20pc in the year to August 2018. But what is the cost of sobriety? Excise tax adds roughly 55c to a pint, €3 to a bottle of wine, and around €12 to a bottle of whiskey, and yet a 70cl bottle of non-alcoholic spirit Seedlip costs €30. Meanwhile, you can buy a 70cl bottle of not-fancy gin unique in the supermarket for as little as €20. Out in pubs, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between buying alcoholic beer or non-alcoholic beer, except one of them won’t give you a hangover. If low and no-alcohol products do not incur excise, what’s going on with the pricing? Baked into pub prices of non-alcoholic drinks are the associated running costs, which include insurance premiums.
Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) Chief Executive Padraig Cribben says: “The cost of staying in the pub business is escalating at a serious pace. Insurance premiums have increased for all publicans by anything from 30pc to 100pc and more in extreme cases. When discussing price, you also have to take into account value. The pub offers a unique atmosphere, something that is appreciated by both locals and tourists.” At The Virgin Mary, owner Vaughan Yates says his beers retail for roughly €4.50 to €5.50.
Cocktails are in the €7 to €8 range. “Our overheads are no different to an alcohol environment. We don’t have to pay for a license, granted. But our bar is good. It’s small but fully kitted out, and the running costs are the same, whether it serves alcohol or not,” says Yates, who is a drinks industry veteran. We juice all the fresh tomatoes for our Virgin Mary. We make all our fresh strawberry juice,” he says. “The products are the same. They’re complicated products to make, especially some of the spirits because alcohol amplifies the flavor.