Merchant du Vin marketing manager Craig Hartinger starts any discussion of beer prices by pointing out that given his job he’s naturally biased. “I’m cheap when it comes to every other thing, but I think paying more for beer is worth it,” he said.
Hartinger might not be as different as he suggests. The book Trading Up: The New American Luxury offers research showing that that almost everyone will pay more for at least one type of product, spending a disproportionate part of their income on it. The authors call these consumers rocketers.
“Rocketers care about the product. They are knowledgeable. They have been in the category for some time. They have an interest in learning,” author Michael Silvertstein explained via e-mail. “They drink on-premise and want to tell their friends. They are sharers by nature.”
Hartinger deals with those consumers on a regular basis. “For us, demand begins with the educated drinkers,” he said. “Then the great retailers will seek it (a beer) out. It’s really the consumer getting it started.” These consumers know what they want and aren’t afraid to pay a fair price.
How do they know? When should you pay $3.99 for a 22-ounce bottle of beer you’ve never seen before instead of $2.99 (or $4.99) for one you know well? First, do your homework. Each issue of this magazine features good ideas in Beer Talk and the Buyer’s Guide. Internet resources abound, starting with RateBeer.com and BeerAdvocate.com. You can choose to pay attention to number ratings or simply looks for “leads.”
Here’s another six-pack of suggestions:
“That’s what they do in the wine world,” said Drew Hagen of the Corkscrew. “‘We’ve got a dual license so people can taste beers are our bar. When somebody asks how good a session beer can be we bag ‘em—let them taste the session beer against something stronger.”
Taste across styles
You might love Baltic Porters and yawn at brown ales. If you form a tasting club then each member can try a few ounces of any particular beer, and you’ll have the chance to find out what style you prefer. Consider taking notes. You don’t have to assign scores, but writing down what you discover, and what others are tasting, will help you find still more flavors.
Taste across prices
Is Péché Mortel from Dieu du Ciel in Canada worth twice as much as AleSmith Speedway Stout from San Diego or three-to-four times as much as Founders Breakfast Stout from Grand Rapids, MI? Granted, these are tough-to-find and expensive beers, in this case coffee-infused stouts, but you could do the same with smoked beers or bock pilsners.
It’s not like brewers in Germany and the United Kingdom suddenly forgot how to brew since they were the standard that many craft brewers once graded themselves against—but their beers cost less (sometimes much less) than Belgian beers. Consider buying what’s “out of favor.” Also don’t rush to buy every new beer or seasonal that may offered just once (for good reason).
Christmas in July
If you are buying a beer you intend to cellar then look for years, watch for beers your retailer may have marked down because they’ve gone “out of date.” Your cellar may be friendlier that the floor of a liquor store, but you were already willing to take a chance, weren’t you?
Pay for flavor, not alcohol
Making a stronger beer costs more and often the alcohol produced in fermentation adds flavor and complexity. That’s good. However, if you think only in terms of buzz for the buck you’ll overlook too many equally excellent beers.