Sunday, December 28, 2008

Whatever happened to...

...the furor about expensive draft beer? In the first half of 2008 we got Jeff Alworth's Honest Pint Project, Andy Crouch's upset rant (vent? screed? tirade?) about prices, bunches of posts on the beergeek sites, and ink in BeerAdvocate and other beer rags, all about prices being just too damned high!! And now? It's all gone away. Why no more complaints about prices? Is it because gas dropped by more than half from its ridiculous mid-year high and no one cares anymore? Is it because a lack of business has brought prices down? Is it because someone got to the ringleaders, promising them free beers if they'd just shut up? (I have no proof of that, and no reason to even suspect it, but it's never stopped anyone from saying shit like that about me, so what the hell...) Is it maybe for the same reason that I haven't written anything new on my PLCB rant-site since October?

Dunno, but the silence is deafening.

29 comments:

Stan Hieronymus said...

Did prices go up again since we left at Labor Day? Seems like it. Could just be the difference between drinking in Czech and Franconian area pubs and here. Or buying seasonal (thus more expensive) beers.

Lew Bryson said...

I think your second thought is a good possibility. Because I don't think prices of 'standard' beers went up again.

bilking said...

I can get on board the honest pint project as beer is sold by volume, imagine the outrage if a 12 oz bottle had 11 oz's. However it is a consumer's job to accept price points on what they purchase and if the product is too expensive the market speaks. Look at the high end retailers who are dying on the vine, the consumer will no longer support their bloated margins. The craft brewers and local brew pubs need to be aware they are a luxury, not a necessity. As the yuppy becomes extinct you will see the $8 glass of beer go the way of the dodo. As much as I like beer I will never set foot in a cafe like Monk's where the product is highly marked up. Nothing against Monk's, its probably a great bar but beyond my value point as a consumer. I'll stick with my local brewpub and use my savings to head to Stateline to buy my imports.

Andy Crouch said...

Interesting that you should bring this up as I was sketching out my next BeerAdvocate column on the plane ride back to Boston from Chicago this afternoon. The topic: why better beer drinkers should refuse to spend more than $10 for any bottle of beer and considerably less for a six pack. To round the column off, I think I'll focus on six friendly priced brands that express some of the best flavors you'll find at any price...

As to why I've been mum on the subject as of late, a bunch of people bitched (you may or may not have been one of 'em actually) that I was being too one-note (or two-note if you consider the ethics issue, which I hope we don't). So instead of beating the proverbial dead horse...

Andy Crouch

Lew Bryson said...

Andy,

I thought I managed to stay away from the pint/price issue, and don't remember commenting on your treatment of it...but as my kids will gleefully tell you, I don't remember shit I say from one day to the next, so who knows?

As for prices, as a PA native, I'm used to thinking of case prices, not sixpacks; I've come to think of $30 to $35 as 'normal' anymore, and to tell the truth, that bugs me.

But...my position on the price issue is that if you don't want to buy the beer at that price...don't effin' buy it. I'm not being a smartass, that's my whole position. If enough people feel the same way, the beer will either come down in price or vanish from the market. Wise brewers/wholesalers/retailers will react. If people read your column and think, he's right, that is too much, well, okay, that's part of how it works, too.

On the other hand, if you decide not to buy it at that price, and the retailer continues to sell enough of the beer anyway to other people...where does that put you? Steve Beaumont wrote something about beers like Dark Lord and Kate the Great a few months back: beer geeks may complain about how much they cost and how hard it is to get them, but...it's not just us buying it any more. It's people with money and curiosity. Tröegs, for instance, sold ten magnums of Mad Elf to a woman who didn't drink beer: she thought they were cool, and was going to give them out as gifts at an office party.

Another point...are you old enough, been in New England drinking craft beer long enough, to remember the round of price wars that killed Catamount and put Harpoon and Otter Creek behind the curve for years? If craft brewers can't get the money they need to grow, they go under. Their economics are not the same as mainline brewers.

On 'gouging' by wholesalers/retailers, I see that in the whiskey biz, too... but how are you going to stop it? Here's what happened recently in Boston: the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, a limited annual release of very nice, quite special bourbons and rye whiskeys, arrived in the few local stores that managed to get an allotment. Aficionados/collectors/whiskey geeks showed up at the stores as the bottles arrived and bought them, often before the manager even realized they'd come in on the truck. That's direct from two different retailers; the collectors had figured out when the deliveries were being made. So...if you were a retailer in that position, would you charge the suggested retail? Prices went up by quite a bit, and all the bottles sold just as quickly. Sound familiar?

Anyway...away we go. I appreciate your six "friendly priced brands" angle: too much attention to the wild and outrageously priced stuff lately, IMO.

Joe said...

Hey Lew, I think "if you don't want to buy the beer at that price...don't effin' buy it" sums up the situation nicely. From what I can gather, consumer pressure plays a large role in high prices. As a guy who's trying to open a brewpub, I'm afraid of pricing my beer too low because I don't want it to be perceived as cheap swill. I plan on knocking a buck off the pint price of session beers, which should be educational. In a business course I took a couple of years ago, Berghoff was used as an example of a price increase that led to an improved reputation and increased sales (I would guess it happened in the early 90s).

Lew Bryson said...

Joe,

Thanks, good luck on the brewpub, and thank you for charging less for session beer! As your comment makes clear, pricing is not a simple exercise. You have to take a lot into account: where you are, who your particular set of customers are, the perception of value your price will give you, the changes in the economy...it's a moving target.

Anonymous said...

Lew,

Haven't read all the comments thoroughly, but wanted to weigh in with my observations on pricing/volume last week in WV.. I noticed that some beers were being sold in what seemed to be 12oz. bottles, but marked as 11.5 oz. of beer. There's no legal problem, because they've labeled it (if in small print). But I happened to see that and thought, this is just like everything else (ice cream comes to mind) that's sold in a container approximately the same size (or exactly the same size) as it used to be, albeit with more air than previously.

Geoff

Steven said...

Personally, I just stopped buying the high-priced stuff unless it was something I really wanted to try.

I just noticed that Goose Island raised their prices again, at least locally. It's kept me from trying the annual Holiday Ale -- same answer for Anchor's this year. Might just give in on that one, though.

Alan said...

I haven't mentioned it recently as I laid down the law in October 2007 and have stuck with it generally. Back then I wrote:

"...Let's have a little rule, then, shall we: a big format beer that costs more than, say, ten bucks has got a problem or at least needs some 'splainin'. Same with the 12 buck six pack. While we may quite rightly drink a rare beer that is more or we may also be paying for the service - which is quite rightly earned - most craft beer isn't really that rare. It's just local to someplace you ain't..."

And a great cavalcade of comments followed including by Stan and Lew.

And I do think I have stuck with it. I had a very nice $8.50 Nostradamus on Christmas, I avoid Cantillon in favour of Hanssens, I don't buy the LCBO's marked up sixes of US IPAs (nearing 15 bucks!) in favour of waiting to drive into New York state where I can get plenty of good craft brew for less. [I have also had a wave of samples getting through the Canadian uber-guard of the borders which is making my average cost even less...but that is just me and a few others as far as Canada goes.]

Coming up, I will buy beer in Quebec to bring home (when I visit relatives in Ottawa) and may also make a run to Ithaca (you know, "for the kids".) These sprees will be based on budget conscious selection which, all things remain equal, will provide for great variety and quality at a great price.

Bill said...

I'm not sure a price increase or two is worth more words than they got. If I recall correctly, things were along the lines of "can we the consumers afford it?" and "will some folks go out of business?" -- few folks were railing against brewers or brewpubs for greed or gouging(although I'm not on the noisier forums these days -- maybe that happened there).

Turns out, personally, what I said I'd do sadly was what I did. I kept going to my local as much as ever, and bought less bottled beer from liquor stores or supermarkets to compensate... and that beer was often a lower price point: Red Hook over Goose Island, say. Bell's re-entered Illinois, and I'm thrilled, but my purchases of their brews are less than they might be, because of the price point.

Anonymous said...

weird this came up next to your ithaca post .ok if i was in pa id get a good deal on the case . but my place in ny only gets so much if its not a big seller . i was buying ithaca flower power and apricot wheat all summer for 8.29 a six then it shot up to 9.50 a six and the beverage guy said it was not there idea and now what was selling okay is just getting dusty . the flower power did sell out that was there best beer .

roan22 said...

what about four packs..like what Founders and Weyerbacher Double Simcoe come in? If a beer comes in a four pack, to me it is deemed to be rarer. Although honestly I do not get why Weyerbacher's beers a lot more than some Cali beers per case.

Russ said...

I wonder if the writers complaining about too-expensive pints simply gave up because not enough readers cared. I think the average beer consumer is sophisticated enough to realize they can stop buying a beer if it's too expensive, especially considering how many options beer consumers have today. Plus, I think there's an element of condescension in the argument; why are certain writers better suited to determine the fair price for a pint than the average consumer? Anyway, as somebody who would rather drink a nice Kellerbier than an imperial whiskey chai oud bruin (patent pending), I'm hoping higher prices for extreme beers will ultimately lead cost-conscious beer geeks to discover (or re-discover) underappreciated session styles.

roan22 said...

"Is it because someone got to the ringleaders, promising them free beers if they'd just shut up? (I have no proof of that, and no reason to even suspect it, but it's never stopped anyone from saying shit like that about me, so what the hell...)"

LOL...Lew you are keeping it real on your blog..I love it.

Alan said...

"...Plus, I think there's an element of condescension in the argument; why are certain writers better suited to determine the fair price for a pint than the average consumer?..."

What a bizzare thought. So, is any writer on any topic condescending? If I write that I do not like beer "X" am I crapping on those that do? Good Lord. So much for the marketplace of ideas.

Lew Bryson said...

Have to agree with Alan here, Russ. Writers are just expressing their opinions. It's certainly not at the point where folks feel obligated to obey them; let's leave that to the wine world.

S.Johansen said...

I think the scariest thing about this is your statement that "normal" is now $30-$35 for a regular case of craft. A couple years ago normal was probably closer to $20-$25. So, many of the comments have addressed not buying "special, seasonal, or rare" if the prices are exorbitant, and I can certainly get on board unless it's something I'm dying to try. And I guess I can afford the extra 10 bucks for normal, but that certainly doesn't mean I'm happy about it...

stingo said...

I think prices on just about everything have gone up, not just beer. As prices rise though, especially in a recession, I think people will buy fewer sixpacks/cases/kegs, and what they do buy will have a concentration on the quality of the beer/something they really enjoy. For example, instead of buying a case of some new beer and a case of Mad Elf, only the Mad Elf gets the nod. So for those lucky beers, prices will continue to rise and the others will fall by the wayside - at least that's the way I see it.

bilking said...

In defense of the industry as a homebrewer I've seen the costs of everything but yeast go up at least 50%. Hops, if they are even available, climbed more than 2.5x so I guess you could justify a bit of a price increase. However beer is still 92% water so the price rise should be diluted a bit, both literally and figuratively.

Alexander D. Mitchell IV said...

I just sprayed beer over the bar as I read this. A classic case of "spit-take."

That terrific IPA cost me 99 cents an Imperial pint. Well, it's not a marked British glass, but close enough--definitely NOT a "cheater" "pint" tumbler/shaker, at LEAST 16 ounces.

99 CENTS. (Plus freakin' tax. Well, they took my dollar bill, so hell, I'm calling it 95 cents.)

Yes, it's a weekly special. All day every Tuesday. If the economy is so freakin' bad, why can't I find a freakin' parking spot anywhere in this shopping center?

(Lew, you know where it is. The rest of you can rtead about it in MY blog or column.)

Lew Bryson said...

bilking...
Just remember; if beer is 92% water now, it was 92% water before, and the water's still pretty cheap...so no real effect on the price. The hops and malt are the expensive ingredients (and the energy, and the packaging, and the transport, and the labor...), so that's what has an effect, no?

bilking said...

Lew, my point exactly. The price of the ingredients only accounts for ~8% of the volume in the bottle assuming the water is free or nearly so.

To me the question that begs answering is why is bottled beer not cheaper at the brewery???? No distribution costs, should be cheaper at Victory, DFH, Troegs, Flying Fish, etc than at your beer store.

Anonymous said...

Lew please do not forget about our poor wholesalers in the area that are just getting by with selling between eight million and fourteen million cases per year,they may have some small reason the public is paying forty bucks for a case of craft.Hey sure this is off topic..
How bout those gas prices

Lew Bryson said...

But if the only thing in the bottle that costs money is the malt and the hops...the cost of malt and hops is the only ingredient cost that will effect the price, not so? After all, there's air in the headspace, too, and that hasn't changed in cost.

As for why it's not cheaper at the brewery, that's simple: it's because your retailers would be really pissed off at you for selling your beer cheaper than they can. You don't want to piss off your retailers; they sell more beer than you do.

Anonymous said...

Lew thats pretty deep do not know what the heck you are talking about,unless you assume the wholesaler gives a rats ass if the retailer makes his margin as long as he keeps the price where Joe six pack can keep the cases turning..
The breweries our the biggest rat bastards and will keep turning the screws on the wholesalers and in turn will be passing on the price increases..

Lew Bryson said...

Ya still don't have the guts to use your name, do ya? Sad.

Russ said...

What a bizzare thought. So, is any writer on any topic condescending? If I write that I do not like beer "X" am I crapping on those that do? Good Lord. So much for the marketplace of ideas.

Sorry for the late response, but I fear I didn't express my point very well. I certainly don't have a problem with anybody opining that they think something is overpriced. What I meant is that the manner in which some advocate for cheaper beer seems somewhat condescending. For some in the industry who are often treated to behind-the-scenes tours and complementary samples of high-end beers, it's easy to say that beers are overpriced. However, some of us are willing to pay a premium to try something that we may rarely get to try again, and I don't appreciate somebody else telling me I'm paying too much for that opportunity. Hopefully that's a little more clear; I never meant to suggest that sharing an opinion is de facto condescension.

Lew Bryson said...

Russ,

It's funny: I've been told that it's easy for me to say that beers aren't overpriced for those exact same reasons. But really, most beer writers I know, even when we're getting samples all the time, and backstage tours, still buy beers often. I just paid full-up for a Blind Pig and a Hibernation Ale this afternoon, bought a Sly Fox Saison 3-liter magnum at full price earlier this month, and finished off a case of Sierra Nevada Celebration I bought. Essentially...we're just folks.

The real difference is that our full-time job is thinking about this stuff. Not sports, not officework, not all the other stuff, but beer. It's what we do. And when we're not thinking about it...we're drinking it.