A Sign of Things to Come?

Beer shopping in the States is always a strange experience. It’s a mixture of a whole bunch of different emotions and feelings – there’s pure excitement at the selection, anger that you can’t buy a certain beer where you live, anxiety over having to only choose certain ones and the nervous feeling of how much all the bottles will cost in the end. I experienced all of these on the weekend, but then felt a bit abused and that I was being taken advantage of because I was a beer geek.

Let me explain. My friend Scott took me to his local beer shop/hot dog emporium (weird Pennsylvania laws – don’t ask) and I noticed a small shelf of premium beers behind the counter. Couple of BrewDog, Mikkeller, Port Brewing Older Viscosity and a Founder’s KBS. Okay, they might deserve to be reserved in case of theft. I was really happy to see the KBS and was planning to grab a couple of bottles. That was until the clerk told me they were $24 each. I’ve done my share of bottle shopping in the States and have regularly spent lots on beer (especially a Seattle trip that included Lost Abbey, Port Brewing, Russian River and more), but $24 for a standard bottle is ridiculous and the price I would expect to pay on eBay, not at a store. In my opinion, the store was clearly marking up this product because of its status within the beer community and its perceived rarity.

In general, the store itself was fairly expensive, which definitely reduced the amount I brought back because getting ripped off isn’t an experience I’m particularly fond of. But I wonder if this is going to be happening with greater frequency as craft beer grows and scarcity for certain beers increases. The economics is simple – price will rise as the demand increases, assuming production stays the same. Is the onus on the breweries to increase production or do beer geeks have to be self-regulating, turning down high prices at stores or bars that charge an unreasonable markup? Either way, this is a trend that could soon become a problem – bars or stores charging a steep markup for a premiere product.

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8 responses to “A Sign of Things to Come?

  1. I would hope craft beer stays relatively cheap for us beer enthusiasts but I mean what’s to stop beer from becoming like wine? With wine there is perfectly acceptable, well-made wine at an affordable price point and then there is wine like Chateau d’Yquem or Latour that demands a huge premium because of the brand, the history, and the quality. I would hate to see bottles of Rochefort 10 start going for $30 a pop but I dont see it as an impossibility either.

    The bleeding edge of this might be something like the Sam Adams Utopias. I’ve seen it “retailing” for well over $350 a bottle when it’s being sold at MSRP here in Ontario for $115. Is it fair for that person to be selling it at $350? Sure it is. It’s a free market. Is it fair? I think it’s fair too. If you want something that no one, or a select few, has access to then the gatekeeper has no obligation to share that access with you at anything less than what you are willing to pay.

    • That is my basic fear as well. I doubt Rochefort would be priced that high – the production is high and a good chunk of the beer community has had it. I’d say Westvleteren would be a better example. People pay a lot for the chance to try a bottle.

      Utopias is an extreme example and hopefully remains an isolated case. I do vote with my wallet and have elected not to splurge, but clearly people do. It’s troubling, because I can only expect more breweries will follow their lead.

  2. Where were you in PA? Having lived in the state for four years, I can go on and on about the frustrations of trying to buy single bottles. The main problem is, if you’re not a beer distributor (those that have to sell by the case), you have to have a liquor license to sell beer by the bottle, the same as any bar or tavern would. The cost of this drives up the price of single bottles and take-out six packs drastically. Luckily, Philadelphia is on the border of New Jersey and Delaware, so there are more reasonable prices within range of where I am.

    • This was in Pittsburgh and not one of the more well known retailers. Not all prices were high, but the biggest increases were based on brewery and scarcity. I’ve seen varied prices in the States, but these were extreme!

  3. Price gouging is alive and well here in Ontario, too. Some of my favourite bars charge what I feel is a completely ridiculous mark up for some of the more sought after products. I understand that a bar/restaurant has overhead above the wholesale value of a bottle, but 2 to 3 times as much? Really? There’s no way I’m paying $19+tax/tip for a bottle of beer I can buy at the LCBO (admittedly, on rare occasions) for $6!. So I don’t. If people make the same decision you would expect the price to drop.

  4. Buying beer in PA is the worst. I frequently have to travel up and down the east coast, and unless your looking to buy a giant case of something, there is no reason to even stop in at a beer store in PA.

  5. I think it’s your responsibility not to pay. I remember when the LCBO got their first US imports DogFish Head IPA and Prima Pils. I seem to remember that the were priced at $15.95 for six when the Canadian dollar was at par.
    I can only assume they didn’t sell well enough at the price point. Southern Tier changed their product and now costs $12.95 and Prima is no longer available.

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