How Much Is Too Much to Pay for a Beer?

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Without question, beer prices are creeping upwards. In the next few weeks the rising cost of ingredients and packaging will greatly affect local draft prices. The $5 shaker pint will become common place in Oregon. That’s OK, though, because it’s been a long time coming–Oregon has long been cheaper than most for draft beer. But ultra-premium bottled beer is on even more of a record price gain. Where once connoisseurs might have scoffed at a $10 bottle, a $15 larger format barrel-aged beer is the norm and prices upwards of $20 are not unheard of, such as the recent releases of Upright Fantasia and Logsdon Peche n’ Brett. Recently I plopped down 80-some dollars for a 6-pack of Westvleteren XII. What has got me thinking about the subject, though, is Cascade Brewing’s recent release of Vlad the Impaler for a nearly unheard of $30 and a recent purchase of mine, Great Divide’s Hibernation Barleywine Whiskey Barrel-Aged for $25.



So I am wondering what is the max you would pay for a bottle of beer? Do you approach it differently depending on the situation, like if it’s imported from Belgium or made in your home city? What if it’s an $8 glass pour from a $30 bottle? Craft Beer is becoming more like wine every year and is increasingly able to claim top dollar. Much has been made about the black market for craft beer on sites like ebay. While I think it’s great to see beer command the pricing and respect of wine, I wonder if it’s a good thing in the long run.


It’s certainly a plus that a brewer can take risks by using expensive ingredients and cellaring beer over long periods of time, and can then be able to charge the appropriate price for it. This gives us infinite possibilities for new and exciting beers that cost a lot to make, like the aforementioned Fantasia and Peche ‘n Brett, or the recent Westvleteren sale that was done to benefit the rebuilding of the Trappist monastery.

But is rarity and hype now affecting the price as well? For instance, once Cascade’s wild barrel-aged sour beers were $15 a bottle, but in a few years they have reached $30. This is comparable to how much you may obtain a bottle of true masters in Belgium – Cantillon’s wild ales. Is Cascade’s beer better than Cantillon’s? Not by a longshot, and neither it a product of the time and place and techniques that make Cantillon’s beers so special, not to mention without the international shipping costs. Recently at Block 15 Brewing in Corvallis, I picked up a bottle of Pappy’s Dark Ale matured in bourbon barrels for $15. It was spendy, but still a bargain as compared to Great Divide’s BA Barleywine and just as, if not more, high quality of a product.


So again, I wonder how many of you will not purchase a $30 bottle of beer and are drawing the line, or if the rarity or simply the sticker shock will wear off. Perhaps you believe a beer such as Vlad or Barrel-Aged Hibernation is worth that extra extra premium price tag, or maybe you would pay any price just to say you have had it. There are others who will file it into their cellar as if it’s a family heirloom or a gold dubloon that will maintain or increase it’s value like money in the bank.

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com

23 Comments

  1. Unknown

    February 8, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    While I prefer buying bombers to 6-packs, I rarely pay more than $10, hell, more than $8, for any given beer, and it annoys me to see what I perceive to be brewers hiking up their bottle prices, simply because they know some people out there will pay for it. I love beer, but I don’t make very much money, so I have to constantly watch what I spend, and brewers nowadays are starting to price me out of buying their product to cater more to the beer drinkers with disposable income who don’t mind plopping down $30 for a Sour blueberry beer, made a few miles from them (in contrast to a rarer Belgian where actual international shipping costs are figured in).

  2. Jim F.

    February 8, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    Agreed totally. I love beer, but would never, under any circumstances, pay $20 for a bottle. No matter how strong or aged. I think I’ve bought a few $8 bombers in the past year but that is really my limit. My perception is also that some brewers now are putting premium prices on their beers to create the illusion that it is a premium product. Maybe so, but when I can buy something that, at least to me, tastes every bit as good for 1/4 of the price?

  3. Alex Kurnellas

    February 8, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    Totally appreciate this article, as it’s something that brewers need to be aware of. It’s ridiculous that some of them up there prices based on demand and not the cost of production. That being said, I’m a total hypocrite, because I do pay the inflated prices for rare or hard to get beers (e.g., I recently bought two bottles of Vlad from Cascade, although one was a present and I’ve become minorly obsessed with collecting bottles so bought one for myself too). But anyway, I am not a fan of breweries that start to get big heads and stop caring about their customers, and it’s a particularly trend I see in Portland.

  4. Anonymous

    February 8, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    The problem I have with buying these barrel aged or sour beers is in the fact that they are almost always one-offs (granted things like Vlad are released every year and are fairly similar from batch to batch), some barrel aged offerings take on completely different characteristics from year to year. So you might be shelling out 20 bucks for something you have never tried… If i knew it was a fantastic beer from the get go it would be much easier for me to drop the money but I have been disappointed far too many times when mistakenly assuming that high price = high quality.
    Yeah, I get it, barrels cost money, they take up an incredible amount of space and the overhead cost for the amount of time they spend in that space results in a higher priced product. What bothers me specifically about the Vlad sale (and your mention of it nearly doubling in price in the past few years) is that it is produced by a brewery thats business model seems to be based around the barrel aging (and longterm storage) of their products. But as others have mentioned, the realization that you can price bottles at increasingly higher prices (and people will still pay it) has become abundantly clear to some producers.

  5. KeAloha

    February 8, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    Everything with “rare” beer now is such a pain in the ass(crowds, price, lottery tickets, etc.) that’s it’s not worth it. And many of them end up being underwhelming when you finally open them up. It’s much more enjoyable to drink what’s fresh and on tap in most cases.

  6. Jeff Alworth

    February 8, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    The economics: brewers will price their beers as high as the market will bear. If people pay $30, they will charge $30. The Northwest has by far the cheapest good beer in the country, and are only now being shocked by prices that hit other places five years ago.

    As to actual value, I think some of these beers are worth it. It costs a lot of money to age beer and a lot of skill to produce certain kinds of wild ales. (For what it’s worth, Cantillon actually makes a fair amount of bad beer; lambic-making is imprecise. It just doesn’t come to the US.) I don’t know that it’s worth the trouble to produce a lambic, a wood-aged Flemish beer, or a solera-type beer like New Belgium makes, if you don’t charge a lot more than the pale ale a brewery can slam to market in two weeks. Drinkers are generally ignorant of the differences in production time, methods, and skill needed to make the different beers.

    • Anonymous

      February 10, 2013 at 9:48 pm

      What a load of rubbish. Cantillon’s beers are actually very consistent in quality. Which is one of the true virtues in making a geuze. The blending. Which is one ofthe main reasons there still isn’t a proper us geuze

    • Anonymous

      June 8, 2013 at 7:18 pm

      While I’m more of a 3F fan than Cantillon I’m unclear what you mean by “bad beer” when referring to Cantillon. I don’t care for some of their sours but they don’t make bad beer. They are one of the oldest and most respected lambic breweries in Belgium. I’ve had every beer Cantillon makes, outside of the ultra rare ones like Don Q, and they are always consistent. I’d not speak up about subjects you really have no idea on.

  7. Steve Armbrust

    February 8, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    For me, I generally just have a case of whatever IPA Costco currently stocks (Bridgeport now) in my fridge. Only during holiday ale season do I usually grab anything else. But then I go hog wild and buy every holiday ale I can find. Except this year, when there were $8 and $10 holiday ales out there. I couldn’t spend that much for them, just wouldn’t do it. I get upset when the coast pubs like Pelican and Rogue charge $6+ for pints, and I get upset when domestic brewers charge $8+ for a 22-ouncer.

  8. scott lawrence

    February 8, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    This is a curious conversation. Why do we value special aged beers so much less then the wine crowd values even middling wines? People routinely pay $30, $50 or even over $100 for a single bottle of wine without batting an eye. I’m not going to take one side of the conversation here in terms of what the public should be paying because of my natural bias, but for me personally I’d easily pay $50 for a bottle of beer if I loved that beer (and they makers of it). I believe it’s all about perception and it’s curious that even the rare/special/barrel aged beers that are made are perceived to be of less value then most all wines.

    • Steve Armbrust

      February 9, 2013 at 12:17 am

      Bear in mind that I am a renowned curmudgeon and cheapskate, but I believe people who spend a fortune for wine are pompous idiots. I thought beer drinkers were better than that. I can find decent and drinkable wine for $15 and under.

      As for beer vs wine perception, for most beers, freshness is deemed important. For most wine, age is deemed important. So most beers are consumed quickly and not cellared like wine. I think this perception that wine can be held for longer periods and may even get better with age adds to it being considered more valuable than beer.

  9. Champs

    February 8, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    An $8 bomber is not a great value proposition, but where do I get off complaining about it when I happily fork over $5/pour at the bar? Of course, at those higher bottle prices, you can pay as much as a buck an ounce for the draft and still come out ahead.

    But then all bets are off for special bottle releases, cellar beers, etc. And sometimes there’s a beer you want to drink when YOU want to drink it. Sometimes you can’t get to or don’t want to wait for a local bar to run some crazy vertical/horizontal/sideways/themed/blind tasting. I do my own. It takes bottles.

  10. Anonymous

    February 8, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    good article. imo, the beer from cascade is absolutely worth the price tag. when you consider the time, care, quality and art that goes in to making a beer like vlad it makes sense that you would pay 3x more than you do for a quality double ipa. then again, i am also a huge cascade fan. i have had cantillon and would rather cascade. their beers are world class top-notch.

  11. Jon Abernathy

    February 9, 2013 at 3:37 am

    Generally speaking, I won’t pay more than $10-12 for a bomber, especially if it’s a beer I’ve never tried. I picked up The Abyss this year at 13.99/bottle (ouch) and two I can think of where I took the chance were Laurelwood’s Framboise a few years ago for 17.99 (it was good, but I don’t think $18 good) and the steep $25 for Pelican’s Mother of All Storms a year or 2 ago. (Still aging that one, and haven’t spent that much since.) A notable one that burned me some something from Evil Twin (I think) that I spent like $14-15 for and it was infected.

    Jeff’s comment is right: the brewers will charge what the market will bear. I personally won’t (can’t?) spend $30 or even $20 for a bottle of beer (unless I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was fantastic). A large part of that for me is knowing that there are perfectly amazing beers at a fraction of the price; another part is homebrewing, I can make good beers that I want to drink for even cheaper.

    My 2 cents.

  12. Sean Fletcher

    February 9, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    I think it’s fine to spend whatever the cost… The beers you talking about pulling the high price tag are ones that you drink occasionally and most likely cellar and keep for special occasions. Most people are not going to drink a 6 pack of Westy or 2 bottles of Noyeaux in a sitting for the average night out at the bar. There are beers for that situation. To a lot of people beer drinking has evolved from a can and a screwdriver to something special and almost like a scavenger hunt of sorts, where I want to try as many special and rare offerings as I can get my hands on. For example I got a sixer of Westy (delish!!!)… But, missed Fantasia when it sold out in what seemed like an hour. It’s all a game and adds to the enjoyment and hobby aspect as well.

  13. Shawn

    February 10, 2013 at 2:28 am

    Alex wrote, “It’s ridiculous that some of them up there prices based on demand and not the cost of production.” I wonder if Alex has ever heard of the free market economy?

    I, for one, don’t mind paying a little more for one-off beers, but I’m probably not a ‘standard’ Portland beer drinker. I’d rather have one or two really nice beers per week than one to two average beers per day. I like experiencing as many beers as possible. Even when I find a six-pack beer that I like (e.g., Full Sail LTD 6), I still buy a mixed six so I can try other beers, too.

  14. Paul!

    February 10, 2013 at 5:36 am

    My experience with buying 20$ and up bottles over the years, has generally taught me that the ones which are aged, and/or masterfully blended (I’m looking at you Fire Stone Walker), are usually the only ones that make me feel that I’ve got my moneys worth.

    As much as my pocketbook dislikes the industry’s upward creep towards wine industry prices, I think it’s a positive change. Most brewers I’ve met can’t really afford to buy the beer they make. If higher bottle prices trickles down to better wages/health care/etc. for the brewers, then I’m all for any sort of price inflation.

  15. Brian Yaeger

    February 10, 2013 at 7:59 am

    Short answer: $30 firm ceiling! Longer answer: I used to have a $20 cap, but one day my gf (now wife) bought me a bottle of Goose Island’s Imperial Brown Goose for $30 so that became my de facto limit. Of course, it has to be a DAMN special beer to get me to shell out that much because that’s a LOT of money for A beer. I’ve probably splurged that much a dozen times from a few Cantillons I found on a shelf in BC to the Anchor Our Barrel Ale released in 2010. Actually, I bought a whole case at that price, but keep in mind those were magnums! (Still have one left.) And yes, I did buy a couple bottles of Vlad the last time it was released because it’s easily in my Top 5 sours. I might plunk down $30 for a beer even smaller than 750 or 650 ml, but I’d never spend upwards of $30 (unless, maybe, if it was in a magnum or larger). Why? It boils down to this: I’d rather buy 2 world-class beers for $16 each than one world-class beer for $31. The fact that winemakers can and do charge $50+ has no bearing on the beer market, or at least it shouldn’t. That’s bullshit snobbery right there. Brewers and beer lovers shouldn’t denigrate our segment to play catch-up with them. Better to keep pricing in line with real costs (materials, time) rather than perceived costs.

  16. Felix

    February 11, 2013 at 3:18 am

    Interesting article and intresting comments! I`m a german beer blogger and currently living for one year in Vancouver. It took a lot of time till I get used to the beer prices here. It´s so diffrent and more expensive but of course you get diffrent and more special beers then in Germany. But slowly the market in Germany is changing and we got a lot of Imperial Stouts, IPAs, Triples and more special beers in the last months.. The thing is that the retailers and breweries sell the beer for around 20-30 Dollars which is totally crazy in comparison with the regular beer prices (a Dollar a half liter bottle) and the other crazy part is, that the people are buying the beer for sooooo much money!!! I dont get it!!

    Here in Vancouver we have locla Russian Imperial Stouts (Barrel aged) between 8 – 15 Dollars, I guess this is ok.. All other regular bottles in a Liquor Store are around 5-10… Beers from the states are more expensive for sure.. The Abyss was for 30 Bucks and I decided not to buy it.. Also Black Ops from Brooklyn Brewery.. Logsdon beers were also around this price range and I just had a pint in a pub for around 8 bucks which was ok for such a great beer..

    Anyways! I´ll never buy a beer which is more then 20 – 22 Dollars.. That is to much money for me… it´s not worth it or maybe I´m not that crazy beer geek for this!

    Cheers,
    Felix

  17. Anonymous

    February 12, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    Expensive beer is just not my idea of a good time. Whenever I see a 6′er for 8-10 bucks, I kinda shudder. If I check back a week or so, the price is usually down a buck or two or three- then I jump on it. Same goes for the larger (22s/750s). If they aren’t moving, the price is definitely coming down. Just gotta check back frequently; if you get the chance that is.

    I think the most we’ve paid for a 750 was right around 20 bucks. It was Cascade after all (we are huge fans), and it was definitely splurge worthy.

  18. Anonymous

    February 13, 2013 at 1:05 am

    The only thing more troubling to me than a $30 beer is someone dictating how much a maker can charge for their creation… much more troubling.

  19. Dan Hughes

    February 14, 2013 at 12:11 am

    If you don’t want to buy expensive beer, make it yourself. A lot of self education, some elbow grease and trial and error, you can produce really good beer. There are home brewers making beer better then some craft brewers at a fraction of the cost. really good beers too.

    Or suck it up and pay. It’s just like food. You can make it at home and it will taste just as good. Or you can pay someone else to make it at a premium and enjoy it without the labor. you pay for the privledge.

    If I think a beer warrants it, and I don’t have time to make it myself, I’ll spend for a nice bottle of something. Nobody is making you buy the beer.

  20. Anonymous

    February 14, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    I believe that there is excellent beer in the Northwest that can be had for affordable prices. I also think that barrel aging and higher gravity beers are more expensive to produce and are subject to more shrinkage from the method in which they are aged. You, as beer drinkers have a choice. You can choose not to pay $30 for a bottle of beer and still not run out of excellent choices. If there is an “overpriced” bottle you really want to try, you have three options; 1)suck it up and pay, 2)try to find it somewhere on draft, or 3)split a bottle with friends. Option 3 is usually the cheapest and most fun anyway.

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