Barley Mowat 

Archive for February, 2011

The Cost of Beer

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Occasionally while talking about my recent beer acquisitions with friends, the subject of price comes up. I mention what a particular high-end or limited-production beer costs and often get a look of concentrated confusion followed by “We’re talking about beer here, right?”

The price of beer is a sensitive topic. Years of advertising by the major labels have drilled into our heads that beer is the drink of the hard-working everyman and, therefore, should be cheap and unsophisticated. In fact, price is often the major consideration for many beer purchase decisions. The notion of “very expensive” or “luxury” beer is almost ludicrous to most people. So when someone mentions a beer that costs, say $20 a bottle (less than the vast majority of wine) the result is often confusion.


I mean, it’s gotta be a huge bottle… right?

If I asked you to put the following things in order of least expensive to most expensive (Macro Beer, Craft Beer, Wine), you would almost certainly echo my list as presented because, well, that’s what we’ve been taught to think. The reality of the matter is really rather different. Macro beer, astonishingly, is not cheap–often priced within a dollar of similar micro beers. While there absolutely is a price war for macro lager, it is only between macro brands. Pennies and free random crap have huge impacts on sales but, even with a gun to their head, macro consumers won’t branch out to something they don’t see on TV, so this reality is moot.




Darnit. I’ve gone and blown your mind.

The truth is that you’re actually paying for the brand, and more TV commercials (sadly) means that the word “Molson” is worth a whole lot more on the outside of a can than “Central City” despite the complete opposite being true for what’s inside. (Also note that “Molson” seems to get you a picture on the LDB site, or maybe it’s because the CC logo is a scantily clad redhead).

So it’s settled, craft beer costs the same and is better, right? Um, no. Sure, small producers can compete in the lager market by cutting their margins to razor thin levels, but more complex beers have that nasty habit of requiring more ingredients. You want higher alcohol or more body? Well, you need to buy more barley malt, and let it ferment much longer. With the malt goes a lot more hops, because malt is basically sugar and you have to balance it out with bitterness. Fail to do that and congratulations, you’ve produced something as sickly sweet as apple juice. I mean, sure, it’s apple juice that’ll get you loaded, but what kind of market is there for that?


An adorable market, that’s what kind.

But here’s the rub: all these things have the stubborn indecency to cost money. More barley malt costs money. More time to ferment costs money. More time to mature costs money. More hops especially costs money (and some hoppy IPAs have as many as 20x the hops of their less hoppy brethren). And the worst part is that sometimes these highly expensive brews wind up going off, and need to be poured down the drain (or maybe given out to employees as a “bonus.”

Rather than valiantly absorbing this cost themselves (and thus valiantly going out of business), breweries pass this added expense on to the consumer. And we wind up with bottles of beer that cost $15-$25 (see below) and sometimes even more. Once beers starts poking its head into wine territory, fermented-grape aficionados start getting concerned. After all, if that $19 bottle of Argentinian Malbec table wine is cheaper than beer, well, that just means beer must be better, doesn’t it? And if there’s one thing we all know, wine is better (and thus more expensive) than beer.

When asked to defend this perception, the answers I get rarely delve any deeper than “well, it’s wine!” as if that was all the explanation we needed. Beer costs less than wine, dummy, everyone knows that! Does wine cost any more to produce? Well, yeah, it does. Perhaps even twice as much as a budget beer ($2 vs $1 for a 26oz bottle), but at higher quality levels things get a bit more muddled, as we start to include barrel aging and warehouse space on both sides. So why do people flinch and recoil at a $25 bottle of beer but drool in anticipation of a $100 bottle of wine? I’ll give you a hint, it has a lot to do with our lesson about “Molson” above.

Yup, “wine” is a brand, just as much so as “Coors” or “Bud” and definitely at least as much as “beer.” Don’t get me wrong, the “Châteauneuf-du-Pape” part of the label is certainly largely responsible for the $100 price tag, but don’t believe even for a second that you could replace the “wine” part with “beer” and still keep things in three figures (or heck, even slide the word “white” in there, since white wine has lower brand support than red). Common culture has trained us to simply not support this notion.

Where am I going with all this? Well, this resistance is making the profit proposition hard for craft brewers wanting to branch out into the higher end of ales. Microbreweries are absolutely feeling the pressure to keep prices down to support sales, even if it means cutting back on quality, and always if it means cutting into already-tight margins. Very cheap beer is a lovely concept in the short term, but in the long term it discourages new entrants to the market because the margins are just not there. When margins on good beer are low (because it’s pricey to produce), things start sliding downhill and we wind up with cheap, bad beer. When you refuse to pay for the beer you want, you get the beer you deserve.


The mind recoils in horror.

Things are getting better, as folk like you and I are showing interest in higher end beer products, and proving that interest at the till, but the broader market is still stuck counting pennies on lager.

/Aside: When I talk about $15-25 beer, I’m not talking about something like $32 Deschutes Abyss: née $12, but now with $20 of import tax! I’m more referring to delightful rarer brews like North Coast Old Rasputin XII, Brooklyn Black Ops, and the higher-end Driftwoods whose prices reflect quality and ingredients rather than government tax grabs on import.

Written by chuck

February 15th, 2011 at 10:57 am

Posted in Beer and You

Beer and Beer Accessories

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We all like beer. Or at least I hope you like beer, since you are reading a beer-themed blog after all. I would be crestfallen if you were just here for the occasional photo of scantily clad drunk girls. What’s that? You are? My pageviews shot up to HOW MANY?


Pictured: Journalistic Integrity.
And about 100 pageviews.

Ahem. Where was I? Oh yeah, beer. It’s one thing to pop open a six of your favourite lager and see who can shotgun them the fastest, but we bearded beer geeks are a refined lot. We enjoy the finer things in life, and that includes slurping our imperial stouts from the proper glassware while sporting a jaunty monocle (poor people appear less filthy through a monocle).

So where to start? Well, you’ll need something to keep your beer at the proper temperature for starters, and maybe even to serve it. For such a beast I recommend Barfly (barfly.ca). Barfly is a friendly Toronto firm that takes old refrigerators from the 50s and fully restores them, but not in the “get an appliance working” sense of the word restore. More like the “1963 Corvette” style of restore.


Drooooooool

The fridges are repaired, then rechromed, then painted much in the same way a car is (sand, primer coat, sand, base coat, sand, main coat, sand, gloss coat), and the effort shows. Convincing them to ship to BC takes a bit of cajoling, but believe me it is absolutely worth it.

Now you have beer, and it is cold. What next? No. We do not, do NOT drink straight out of the tap. Bloody no class, inbred yokels, the lot of you. I mean, what kind of vulgar mouth-breathing cretin drinks straight from the tap?


Most. Pageviews. EVER.

No, you need glassware. And nice stuff, too. I’ve written about glassware before, but since then Sharon has found me a new supplier. BeverageFactory.com is a great source for a lot of things, but in particular they sell the tulip glass from the Spiegelau collection by its lonesome. Since that is the best and most useful of the lot, this is fantastic. They’ve taken pains to hide it, though, as the glasses are logically hidden in the “Wine Glasses” section.

Don’t be tempted by all the other cool stuff they have, though, as they don’t ship to Canada, requiring a quick trip to the US to pick up your goodies (or a 48 hour, 1 minute camping trip/beer store visit, perhaps?). For other awesome bar related miscellany check out Kegworks, who have about the same stock but ship to Great White North.

Lastly, to cap it all off, you need a nice cosy place to rest your sophisticated pint. The single best place for this is on a Howe Sound MegaDestroyer Leather Coaster. At $4 each (or free with the purchase of a bottle of MegaDestroyer) they might seem pricey for coasters, but let me assure you they are simply the only sophisticated option for keeping your beer .3cm off your table. Well, that and they smell like leather and will be, quite possibly, the last coaster you ever buy. I have eight, and I’m looking for more (if they have any left, that is).

Written by chuck

February 10th, 2011 at 11:11 am

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with

Cellaring Update

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I have a cellar, and it’s full of beer. Simply having a beer cellar isn’t enough, though, as I like to dive into it from time to time and see how my lovelies are progressing. This is why, when I buy a beer to put down for a while, I tend to buy a lot of it.

Very few breweries or beer review sites provide any information on how their beers are developing in the cellar. Heck, even the major beer review sites like Rate Beer or BeerAdvocate don’t even separate out different vintages into separate reviews, while any semi-decent wine site wouldn’t be caught dead reviewing a ’07 Cab Sauv as if it were the ’06! Imagine the confusion and chaos that might result!

About the best you can hope for is a vintage guide, for determining when that beer you’re holding was brewed and bottled. Handy, for sure, but not too enlightening as to whether you should open the damned thing and drink it now (hint: the answer is usually yes). So, in a half-assed effort to correct this problem, here is my first periodic update on how the contents of my cellar are changing with time.

Driftwood Old Cellar Dweller 2010
Cellared October/November 2010
Sampled December 2010
Now: 8/10 — Potential: 9/10
Notes: Hasn’t really started to age, but is absolutely worth drinking now, especially since it is–somewhat remarkably–still widely available.

Driftwood Singularity 2011
Cellared January 2011
Sampled February 2011
Now: 7/10 — Potential: 9/10
Notes: I’m conflicted by this beer. Absolutely the alcohol and hops are hiding the bourbon characteristics, and absolutely the stronger flavours (coffee/chocolate) need substantial time to mellow, but sweet baby Jebus is this beer good right now. I’d say hold on, though, as retail supplies are getting harder and harder to find for replenishment.

Lagunitas Imperial Stout (unknown vintage)
Cellared: October/November 2010
Sampled: December 2010

Now: 6/10 — Potential: 7/10
Results: No noticeable change from Cellaring, but who knows how old it was when I bought it?

Upright Late Harvest 2010 Batch 1
Cellared: August/September 2010
Sampled: December 2010

Now: 7/10 — Potential: 7/10
Results: Definitely matured and lovely, not sure how much further this one will go.

Deschutes Jubel 2010
Cellared: November 2010
Sampled: November 2010

Now: 6/10 — Potential: 8/10
Results: Haven’t tried it since I put it down, but even then it was obvious this beer had legs. Needs time for the hops to mellow though.

Deschutes Abyss 2010
Cellared: January 2011
Sampled: February 2011

Now: 7/10 — Potential: 9/10
Results: Definitely too hoppy now, but by the end of the bottle the other flavour have had time to build up on your tongue. This versus Singularity in late 2011 will be an interesting battle, but right now I give Abyss the edge.

Vancouver Island Hermanator 2010
Cellared: October 2010
Sampled: February 2011

Now: 8/10 — Potential: 8/10
Results: Not a beer for cellaring, I know, but I cached two cases of this for savouring over the whole of winter (as opposed to a late fall/Xmas drinking spree… okay, in addition to), and the strong alcohol flavour has absolutely subsided on this, creating an absolute delight to sip away at on a cold night. A viable alternative to Singularity if don’t want to deplete your reserves or get all punchy (not sure why, but Singularity does that).

Written by chuck

February 7th, 2011 at 10:31 am