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.