Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Cost of Craft Beer

Taken from http://thefullpint.com/beer-reviews/the-bruery-fruet/
Since when did beer become unaffordably ugly? This question popped into my head a few days ago as I was gallivanting around Jacksonville in search of a few worthy bottles with which I could ring in the New Year. After my first stop, it became quite clear that either I no longer make enough money to support my hobby, or something has gone terribly wrong with the retail/consumer approach to craft beer.

At this particular location in a trendy Jacksonville neighborhood, I came across several bottles that I had been wanting to try. Among them being a bottle of Fruet, brewed by The Bruery. It's a bourbon barrel aged anniversary ale that comes in at a whopping 15.5%! The bottle and label exudes prestige. There is a golden wax seal that tops the champagne-looking bottle. Knowing that I had just found the PERFECT beer for the occasion, I reached up to pull my prize off the top shelf and--Gasp--$35.99? I literally gasped at the price and, remembering what my mother told me: "If you break it you buy it," I carefully eased the bottle back in it's place. Sure, did I have at least $36 in my bank account? Of course. But there is just no reason a beer should ever cost that much. Period. I don't care what it is, where it's from, or who made it.

Craft beer has somehow forgot the very thing that makes it great--it's not only good, but it's affordable You see, craft beer isn't pretentious or intimidating like wine and fine liquors can be. With craft beer, the average Joe can take his ten bucks and buy something better than piss in a can.

Let me be clear in saying I don't fault the store for setting the price of Fruet so high. They know they'll sell it because people are suckers for "rarities."  We're idiots for feeding into whatever it is that makes us believe a bottle of beer is worth that much. Heck, it was just a few weeks ago that a six pack of Westvleteren XII sold for $300 on Ebay. Come on, man. That's just insane. Have we forgotten that no matter how rare a beer is, regardless of how sought-after a particular brew may be, here's what happens when you consume it: you take a giant piss and walk away (hopefully after you've washed your hands).

Now listen, I know I am generalizing a bit and playing to an extreme. I do not mean to say there are not distinguishable differences in "good" beer and "bad" beer.  Yes, even in the craft market there are crappy beers. My argument is simple: craft beer isn't wine. It's not whiskey, scotch, or cognac. It's beer--good beer. Great beer. It might even be aged in fine barrels from one of the aforementioned liquors. But, in the end, it's still beer. And I just don't believe beer is meant to be unaffordable.

Am I crazy? Maybe. But I'll keep buying beers like Stone Imperial Russian Stout and He'Brew Jewbelation Sweet 16, both of which are superb and under $10.


  1. Thanks, Regina! Sometimes, ya just got to vent. :)

  2. Kudos on another great article! This is important information to the soon-to-be professional brewer...something with which to stay grounded. I liken it to how academics speak and write. They're only surrounded by other academics and so, they often forget how to communicate on more basic/normal levels.

    Commercial brewers that have been in the biz for some time are starting to get too influenced by the wine business. Napa Valley wines run at ridiculous prices per bottle. There comes a time when craft becomes too "boutique," if you follow me. :) Nicely written, Brian!


    1. ...And just to clarify, as a brewery-in-planning, I understand the want and desire to make boutique craft beers. Personally and professionally, I know there's an amount of control, especially considering the distribution system, that brewers need to let go; understanding of course that there's little a brewery can do regarding its reputation if a rare, bourbon-aged bottle sells for higher prices on the open market as opposed to onsite at the brewery. Cigar City Bourbon Big Sound is a prime example. I expect that it'd take much more than $20 to obtain a 2011 BBS from Cigar City...and even more than that for a 2010.

      My thought is that if it's coming from the brewery itself (brewery-retail), the pricepoint should be at least affordable. Free market notwithstanding, my personal preference would be to price accordingly with age/ingredients and brew to my capacity. I know full well that people will pay what they want for beer. I've got a personal idea as to the max GrassLands will put on an on-site sold bottle of one of its higher-octane/interesting beers (at least once we get to that point), so I suppose price is still a subjective arena. There are certainly some levels of flexibility, but we've got a general idea as to the max amount price/bottle.

      Regardless, it's all good for the industry!


    2. Affordability is the key--however, I understand that, as a brewery-in-planning, you also have to be thinking with a business perspective. The point of this article is not to say a beer can or should never be priced over $20 (or any other arbitrary pricepoint). Rather, I am simply stating that over the past few years, I've noticed a growing trend in high-dollar, high-profile beers and I can't help but wonder how much of this is a simple gimmick that's taking advantage of the consumer with a collector's mentality. The truth is, every anniversary ale, or barrel aged beer cannot be a "boutique" beer, to use your phrase.
      The trend seems to be any beer with the words "bourbon barrel" have an automatic starting selling point of $20+. But I find it hard to believe that's comparable to the cost of the actual beer.

      In the end, good beer is good beer. There's a reason CBS or KBS sells out in minutes, regardless of the price. If Grasslands puts out a high quality beer that is deserving of a pricepoint of $20 and up (due to brewing costs, cellaring, etc), you can count on seeing my face in line ready to buy what you're selling. I just might not be able to afford more than one bottle. :)