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.