As I sat at the bar of my favorite taproom and looked at the menu I was hit with a stark realization: craft beer is kind of expensive. My wife and I can easily drop a hundred dollars a week on beer without blinking an eye (and as I stare at my screen while I type this i realize just how much that is). We love trying new and favorite beers and we always feel completely justified in what we pay for.
As we prepare for our upcoming trip to Las Vegas we are trying to find the best places for good craft beer. At our hotel they serve Sierra Nevada at the poker bar so I will probably spend a lot of time there. Vegas is a funny beast when it comes to beer- it takes just a few minutes to get a free Miller but a bottle of great craft beer (if you can find it) can average for around $8. This price difference might not mean too much to me or real fans of craft beer, but what about those who are still not a part of the craft world?
If I was new to craft beer I would never drop ten bucks on a beer I had never tried before. I would stick to my Bud Light and call it a day, satisfied with the knowledge that I drank a six pack and had spare change for a Nathans hot dog. I would look at the cooler in the hotel gift shop and see 22oz aluminum bottles for five bucks and a 12oz bottle of 90-Minute IPA for $13 and just laugh. How could beer be so expensive? What is my reasoning to buy that more expensive beer?
Of course, most of you know why craft beer costs so much more, but in case you are new to this strange world I will break it down for you. The cost of beer can usually be attributed to three factors: batch size, ingredients and brewery location.
Craft beer is usually made in small (comparatively) batches using premium (usually) ingredients from one brewery (with exceptions). This hand-crafted beer takes a lot of materials and a lot of time to make, thus it is a slower and more expensive process. The beer then has to be shipped (sometimes across the country) and by the time it gets to you you are looking at a $15 four-pack.
Macro beer is often made in massive batches with cheap adjunct ingredients in many different locations. This allows companies to pump out huge quantities of product and reduce shipping costs, thus allowing the consumer to buy the beer for extremely low prices (like a 12-pack of Rolling Rock for $6). This emphasis on quantity over quality allows the macro brewers to flood the market with product and maximize their profits. It is this kind of business that allows AB InBev to generate nearly $40 billion in revenue.
So craft beer should be cheaper so more people can enjoy it, but the only way to make it cheaper would be to compromise the quality of the brew. Even if there was a way to make the beer cheaper without sacrificing quality, should we? Oh yea, its Devil’s Advocate time!
Craft beer is an art, and like most forms of art the appreciation for it can be lost when an abundance is consumed. After four or five beers you can really start to lose the ability to detect subtle nuances of hop varieties and flavor profiles, thus all the hard work than went into making that beer amazing is lost. Many craft beers are made to be sipped and savored, not to be consumed en masse at a party. There is only so much alcohol the body can take before those subtle notes of peaches go completely out the window.
Speaking of alcohol- craft beer has been getting really boozy lately. The aforementioned 120-Minute IPA has an ABV of 18%, Stone’s new W00tstout sits at a comfy 13% and my favorite Lagunitas Brown Shugga is flirting with the 10% level. These are not standard beer ABVs, these are wine-like levels of alcohol that, while AMAZING can also be a negative thing. If you want to have a nice beer drinking session you really have to avoid some of these beers outright, which is a shame because they are delicious. Can you imagine what the world would be like if these beers were readily available and they were cheap?
While some of you may have been excited at the idea of a cheap six-pack of 120, we have to realize that some things are indulgences for a reason. While a Season 3 Game of Thrones binge may be a good thing, drinking multiple bombers of a high-ABV beer is a disservice to the brewer, and your liver.
Craft beer should be cheaper so more people can enjoy it, but craft beer should also be expensive to limit over consumption. Though if craft beer was cheaper people could enjoy more session IPAs and ambers and not get totally wasted, but of course then who is going to buy session beers if they can get cheap Double IPAs?
This argument it wholly subjective and is based on a myriad of factors. Good craft beer is honestly not always incredibly expensive, and sometimes macro beer can cost an arm and half a leg. The best thing you can do as a consumer is to shop smart, do your research and buy in bulk whenever possible. Craft beer is art and is something to be respected, but more than that it something to be enjoyed, treasured, hell even loved. Beer brings us together and makes us better.
Someday when humanity is part of some massive galactic empire (ala Mass Effect) our species will be known as the race that provided beer to the galaxy. Aliens from across the universe will create beer pilgrimages to Earth so they can taste our mighty brews. Galactic pub crawls will end with Earth as the final stop with the best drinks. Humanity will forever be known as the ones who brought peace to the galaxy, one pint at a time.
… That got a little weird. Please enjoy craft beer. Enjoy it responsibly, enjoy it with friends and please remember that your experience with beer should always be worth more than the money you put into it.