Daylight robbery after dark

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 September, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 September, 1998, 12:00am

There used to be a fellow in England, Dick Turpin, who rode the king's highways by night. He would stop carriages, point two primed muskets at the occupants and shout: 'Stand and deliver.' After stealing the gentlemen's purses, he would kiss the ladies on the cheek and gallop off into the night.

Old Dick would feel right at home if he tied up his steed outside Citibank Tower and strode boldly through the doors of Portico Restaurant. He could rap his flintlock on the bar and order a pint of Caffrey's, much like the honest solid ale of Ye Olde England when Dick made his living riding the roads.

When he got the bill, old Dick might feel the bartender was trying to steal his job. At $71 for a pint of beer, that is highwayman prices.

How on earth can anyone justify that price for a pint of beer, even a nicely-hopped and well-chilled Irish ale like Caffrey's? Please explain, I asked management. 'That's the price,' they said.

Up in the wilds of the New Territories at the Railway Tavern at Tai Wai, a can of Caffrey's costs $23 during the lengthy daily happy hour session. At other times, it is $36. In at least one Central club, Caffrey's is on the list; it costs $42 for a pint of draught.

So why does Portico have such stratospheric pricing policies? They are not alone. In Hari's Bar in the Holiday Inn Golden Mile, I checked the price and it was the same as Portico's.

Much as I like the honest taste of Caffrey's Irish Ale, I will restrain myself from knocking back a pint until next time I am in Dublin. The brew is imported by Wicked Beverages, which has nothing to do with the retail prices, despite the name.

Establishments pay $1,275 for a 30-litre keg of Caffrey's. There are 50 drinks in a keg. By my calculations, that works out at $25.50 a pint. Take a 100 per cent profit - which is fair - and a bar can charge $50 for a pint and I will not quibble. But when it gets up to $71 to get a bit of dark malty brew on my moustache, it is just too costly. A big selection of bars, pubs, taverns, clubs and supermarkets are stocking the drink, which is not surprising. It is good stuff. In taste, texture and colour it is between Kilkenny Irish Ale, which has become so popular, and that old standby, Guinness. The price is between the two.

Modern brewery technology manages to instil a gas mix into the cans which gives a smooth creaminess to the drink. It is easy on the stomach, which is possibly why you see so many Chinese women delicately sipping a half-pint. It has been an article of family faith in Southeast Asia for more than a century, and a heavy stout or porter is regarded a cure for many women's problems. In any back street grocery shop in Malaysia, for instance, you see Guinness stocked for grandmothers.

Although the can has gas, the resulting brew settles the stomach. A glass of Caffrey's is both refreshing and soothing.

After declining a brew in Hari's Bar, I wandered two blocks down Mody Road and turned left down Blenheim Avenue to an affable little place with the unlikely name of the AK47 Bar.

Despite the name, there are no wild-eyed revolutionaries here; a relaxed fellow named Danny reclines on the bar and sells popular imported beers at $12 a pop.

That is my sort of price. There are all the big-selling brews, Carlsberg, San Miguel, Tsingtao and so on, and all of them at this very competitive price during a happy hour session that stretches from 4pm until well after dark.

It does not have Caffrey's.