Again With The Beer Price Points And Cost Inputs

Friday’s interesting discussion has spun-off other posts. Stan has posted twice to develop some ideas from the comments and Greg supports the valuation of the premium in beer, suggesting I may be a wee bit of the cheeky contrarian in this – which is of course in part true, but I prefer “The Inquisatron” as that is what the logo on my green cape reads. One other place the post has been followed up is in this very good discussion at ratebeer mainly drawing off of this comment by Tomme Arthur of Lost Abbey. This ratebeer-er of the Chama River Brewing of New Mexico, codename “erway”…unless his name really is erwayStan?, makes some excellent observations about packaging and storage time:

The bottles add to the value of the beer in many customers minds. Maybe not to yours, but those 375s that Vinnie is using just look cool. JP is not going through the same aging that RR and LA beers are. They are a great product and cheers to Ron for getting his process down so well, but he can produce a lot more of the vaste majority of his beer than Tomme or Vinnie can of theirs.

…and I think he posted it about five minutes ago. This internet thing may have a future.

Anyway, that is exactly the sort of detail we drinkers need more information about. I am not the slightest bit interested in being a ticker of beer, claiming that I have had 2,376 different beers while lowly you has had only “experienced” 1,932 (both consuming most in one ounce portions for efficiency’s sake). No, I want to know the why and how decisions are made and why they are decisions that deserve the premium I will be asked to pay. That was one of the things that popped into my mind when I read this from Tomme Arthur:

I needed to purchase glass for our Older Viscosity. The bill for the glass was 8K. This beer will retail for $10 per 375 ml cork finished bottle. It certainly is expensive. Yet, the bottle costs almost $2 for the glass, cork, hood and wire and label. That’s before we even put an ounce of the 12.5% ABV 8 months in a new boubon barrel beer in the bottle. I think it’s too cheap given the amount of effort to produce this.

For me that is a stunningly refreshing disclosure even if “effort” alone, though a great thing, has to be well placed in any enterprise – effort in itself is not cause enough for reward as many folks with dead end jobs will tell you. No, I want to know even more than that. Would it offend to ask that the costs of aging be quantified. Is it possible that, as it was with most things, that I be offered the storage opportunity (and the responsibility bear the resulting cost) by selling me a demi-firkin young just as I can buy my bottle of vintage port young for decades of home aging? And was I really aware that 20% of a beer’s cost might be the bit I throw away, the wrapper? Why is that a good decision when almost twice as much bourbon barrel aged high test ale can be bought from a brewer like Weyerbacher? Sure the corked bottles “just look cool” but if you can cut a buck off the cost of a unit of the fluid by putting it in the 22 oz bomber, please do. Why not give me a choice and treat that premium packaging of a corked bottle as a special edition just as you would with a little wooden crate?

This has nothing to do with Lost Abbey whose fine brews are simply geographically beyond my reach and jurisdictionally beyond postal sampling, seeing as I live in Canada and our wonderful residual blue laws. And, of course, many craft brewers certainly do give packaging alternative, even though I still wait for the invention of the quarter-gallon growler. But if I had more of an idea of the options in this aspect of what goes into putting the bottle on my table, I would be able to make better informed decisions and support brewers whose decision making meets my needs. Why can’t more craft brewers be a little more unlike other producers of goods, take the risk of opening the books and put as much information out into the public sphere – as a great brewer like Tomme Arthur has here and on his blog and as a brewer likeSmuttynose puts on its website. It has nothing to do with checking with a brewer drives a Rolls. Simply put: better informed drinkers are more loyal drinkers as far as I am concerned.

Does such information matter to you? What do you want to know about your beer?

[And… original comments!]

Stan Hieronymus – October 28, 2007 2:39 PM

Alan – Have I mentioned that I’m wondering if your little “Are you human?” questions know me. Friday “journalist” was one of my words and later our daughter’s name came up.

So far no “erway” though. But, to answer your question, that is his surname.

And, last I knew, you could get Port Brewing’s Old Viscosity at beerbistro.

Alan – October 28, 2007 2:55 PM

Excellent. I will have to check next time I am in downtown Toronto but, unfortunately, that may be many a moon from now. I am in Michigan in two weeks and need to hunt out some beer shops there for the 24 hours I have at my disposal for Mid-west beer shopping this year.

Alan – October 29, 2007 10:35 AM

<i>…I love the information on the Smuttynose website. But for a brewer to give full disclosure of their costs could really hurt their business…</i><p>Great comments! You know what my immediate reaction to this line I am quoting is? If that were true, then I think brewing is not an art at all. If it is the individual expression of the brewer that is in there that makes these new high end brews worthy, then it would not matter if they list costs and ingredients because, as I understand the beer=art argument, it is all about technique. <p>I could sit and watch Picasso paint but that would not make me Picasso.

Alan – October 29, 2007 1:14 PM

Another discussion has started at Beer Advocate.

Alan – October 29, 2007 8:25 PM

And Tomme has followed up at the BA with a longish comment that is well worth reading.

Keith Brainard – October 30, 2007 9:06 AM

I was more referring to the totality of costs, way beyond just the ingredients. Part of the cost of beer is the malt and hops and other raw materials. But there are also costs such as energy, rent, salaries, insurance, etc. etc. All of these are part of the cost of the beer (or any product) in some way.

I totally agree that brewing is an art. Even for more common beers, the brewing of those beers is at least part art. This is part of the reason that we can have homebrew clone recipes and it doesn’t erode sales of the brewers of the original beer. Echoing your Picasso sentiment, just because I have a step-by-step of how to make a particular beer doesn’t mean I can make it just like the original brewer.

Stan Hieronymus – October 30, 2007 10:45 AM

Hi Alan –

In your reply to Tomme’s post at BA you wrote: “What I was responding to was the commentary triggered by Lew, Stan and Stephen discussing your beers as well as others in the new price range and how the market should bear whatever the consumer will pay.”

I will admit that the two threads have reached the length I’m not going to scour them for the phrase that the <i>market should bear whatever the consumer will pay.</i>

I’m pretty sure I never wrote that. I think there are some beers we should pay more. A lot of the $7-$8 6 packs and some of the higher priced beers. Not because that is what the consumer will pay, but because it is a fair price.

And I agree there are beers that are not worth the price on the bottle. A lot of these are in $6-$12 large format bottles. They may be justified based on the amount of ingredients, labor and time involved but you can’t taste the difference. Or worse, you can and it is bad.

I think we should pay for the difference we can taste, but there isn’t a formula we can plug a bunch of numbers in to and come out with the proper price. Part of it is personal – like if I’m saving up $60 to buy a pretty bottle of vodka.

Alan – October 30, 2007 10:58 AM

It’s not so much what you said as what you three, in the early posts that triggered all this, did not yet get the opportunity to elaborate – which I was merely helping with!

I think we have sussed out that there is a definite price sensitivity to craft beer and the new range of prices does have to justify itself, not just be subject to pure market force. If you want my 20 bucks for a single bottle, I want more back story than a nice corked presentation. Consumer oriented brewers will have the story because it will be true.

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