Barley Mowat 

A Short Missive on the Price of Great Beer

with 8 comments

I’m off to Chambar tomorrow to celebrate Sharon’s birthday, and my reservation reminder email got me salivating like some Russian scientist’s pet. Sure, the food is amazing, and they do make a foie gras terrine so decadent that it likely would have been outlawed in the sexually repressed 1950s. However, the thing that really got me going was the beer I had there last time. Raise your hand if you’re surprised in any way by this.

The last time we were there, I enjoyed an extreme beer rarity: Westvleteren 12. This seldom-seen trappist is hailed by many as the “best beer in the world.” While I might not put it on such a lofty pedestal, it definitely is one of the better beers to ever pass my lips, and not to fluff my own pillow, but that means it’s pretty damned good.

Although I’m uncertain if the fact that my pillow
is also a beer helps or hinders my case.

I enjoyed this beer immensely for a number of reasons. First, it was served at the right temperature in an appropriate glass. Second, the atmosphere of Chambar is nigh perfect for a post dinner sipper of a big ale. Third, and I cannot stress this one enough, trying the Westy at Chambar meant not having to dip into my own small stash to monitor how my investment was progressing.

With such a memorable experience behind me, it’s fairly natural to remark about how great a time was had to friends, relatives, passers-by, and pretty much anyone who will listen. Imagine my shock when, instead of the intended jealously and interest, my story generated disapproval, centered solely around the question of price. I paid (IIRC) $27 for my 33cl bottle of Westvleteren 12–just over twice the ~$13 cost at retail, and therefore around the low-end of restaurant booze mark-ups. The reaction?

“How much? For beer!? *A* beer? I wouldn’t have paid that. You got ripped off.” Sure, some folk got it, and immediately went to Chambar for their own bottle, but others–even some craft beer fans–just couldn’t get over paying that much for a beer. Some even suggested that I could have saved money and drank beforehand. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t frequently pre-game fine dining.

I’m not saying it wouldn’t be awesome,
just that I personally don’t do it.

Think about this one for a second: $27 for 33cl is ~$82 for a litre, or ~$61 for 75cl. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? Here’s Chambar’s wine list. The price per bottle ranges from $38 (Bodegas Navarro Lopez ‘ROJO’ ’11 Tempranillo) to $525 (Chateau Palmer ’07 Margaux). $61 doesn’t even get you into the decent reds.

Drop $525 on a bottle of wine at a restaurant and people will think “wow, that must have been a great wine!” Drop $60 on a bottle of beer, and folk will think “what a rip-off.” The wine > beer mentality has been burnt into our sub-conscious by decades of cheap products from Big Beer and the advertising to back that up. It’s okay for wine to be expensive, but alas beer is not afforded such a luxury, no matter the quality.

Which would you prefer? The “best beer in the world,” or an okay Merlot from Washington State? (Charles Smith ‘The Velvet Devil’ $59). I know which one I’d go for, and I’d do it again in a second if Chambar hadn’t sold out already. While annoying for me, that fact is proof that some progress has been made, but until I can enjoy a high-end beer at a quality restaurant without derisive comment about what is frankly a low markup, we’re not quite done here.

Written by chuck

August 9th, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Posted in Bars,Beer and You

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8 Responses to 'A Short Missive on the Price of Great Beer'

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  1. Yeah! What Chuck said!

    I just bought four $5 33cl bottles of beer from Liberty Wine on Commercial (Brasserie La Seine is available now!) and caught myself thinking, wow, that’s 4 small bottles for $20.

    Wait a tic – you can spend $20 on the equivalent of four glasses of wine at an LRS without batting an eyelash, and you’ll probably end up with some okay to so-so wine. I got some great beer for that $20!

    Ben Coli

    9 Aug 13 at 14:24

  2. I generally agree with you. Expensive beer is a way better investment than expensive wine and I’d gladly pay $30 for a fantastic bottle of beer at a restaurant, even a 33cl bottle.

    In this particular instance though, the price has me irritated. Westvleteren 12 costs $2.30 retail from the brewery. Even with all of the inherent costs involved in importing Westy to Canada, I feel like somebody is capitalizing on its reputation and gouging the shit out of us.


    12 Aug 13 at 13:06

  3. Sorry, some more context. Prices listed from St. Sixtus themselves:

    Obviously Westvleteren is going to be more expensive here. However, look at how much a Rochefort or Westmalle costs here, about 2-3 times more than in Belgium, not six times more.


    12 Aug 13 at 13:11

  4. I just had a blind tasting of Westy 12 vs St-Bernardus ABT 12 vs Rochefort 10 and the Rochefort 10 won easily. So even if I agree on the principle of it, the price tag of this Westy is not worth it when you can have a better and easier to find beer for less, in the same style of beer.


    12 Aug 13 at 15:09

  5. Well, we can argue about this beer being $2.50 at the brewery all we want, but the reality is that aside from a plane ticket and a few days spare time the best we can do is ~$13 in a giant six pack once every few years or so.

    That makes Westy 12 worth exactly that (and maybe even more since it sold out so fast), despite who’s gouging us along the supply chain. Its rarity cannot be ignored when pricing it.

    @Oliver — In the Westy’s absence I had the St Bernardus ABT 12 Saturday. It was good, but not better. I’ll try the Rocheforte 10 next time. Arguing about whether or not a beer is worth the extra money due to its rarity is the exact sort of conversation restaurants need more of, IMHO.


    12 Aug 13 at 18:04

  6. Westvleteren 12 is so rare that it’s only available at the brewery to individual customers and can’t be resold. Except that it’s been available at Vancouver beer stores and restaurants.

    I’ve also seen it available in stores on every beer tourism trip I’ve done in the last three years. For how much longer is it going to be “so rare”?


    12 Aug 13 at 22:32

  7. I was just in Calgary last week and they still have plenty of the Westie Bricks at Zyn @ their Downtown location. I think they are hawking them for $99 a brick if you are interested. I have a picture of it, they must have at least 30 bricks left.


    14 Aug 13 at 10:47

  8. Westvleteren 8 and 12 are on sale now at Legacy and Brewery Creek.


    3 Sep 13 at 17:35

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