There are beers out there that cost $150, $400, or even $1000 for a bottle. If your interested to know what they are and where they can be found, check out this site. For some beers, like these the basic laws of supply and demand, are the driving force behind the expense. And to some extent this is true of many a beer. But is there something more than simply supply and demand that makes craft or micro beers more expensive? Following are numerous reasons why some beers are more expensive than others.
There are four major ingredients in most beers. I won’t tarry on this topic too long because I have expatiated elsewhere on the site (here are some links that talk about the major beer ingredients and the roles that they play; they are under What’s your beer made of?). Most often the amount and qualities of the ingredients really are the most important expense of a beer. Other factors include import fees and taxes that many European brewers pay based on the strength of the beer (in America brewers pay based on a flat rate per amount). However, it remains that yeast, hops, water, and grains are the shapers of beer prices.
How can water add money to the cost of a beer? First, there is a ton of water used in the process of brewing. It starts from the time the farmer waters to when the maltster prepares grains for the brewer to when the brewer extracts fermentables from the grains. Not only so, but cooling beer and evaporation during brewing are major sources of water use, not to mention water’s use in sanitation. Breweries are more or less efficient depending on their operations, so smaller brewers often have higher costs than the larger and more efficient facilities of some major brewers. Methods can vary and more tradition methods can cost more water, too; water really does play a role.
Grains. I’ve said elsewhere that there are superior and inferior types of grain suitable for brewing. Suffice it to say, cheaper beers most often use the inferior type of barley. They also have a tendency to add different types of additional sugar to cut the cost of using only barley for fermentable sugars. When you add to this that those cheaper beers use rice, corn, and other types of grain that are cheaper than barley, costs are also cut…but so is quality. Even the darkness or lightness of the grains can be a factor in the costs of the beer. The longer a grain has to be kilned, the more energy that is consumed in the process. And if dark grains are used, other grains must be added to give more fermentables (the more a grain is cooked, the more starch is reduced, and therefore, less sugar potential for fermentation is latent in the grain).
Yeast is another issue. More yeast must often be used for higher alcohol beers. The brewer may have to pitch it two or three times. The same companies may even be developing their own strains of yeast that are best for their specific styles. Of course, this means even more cost. Even with extra cost, they are looking for better quality yeasts that give the desired profiles of the beer in question.
Hops are yet another issue for beers. Some beers simply have more hops than others. For instance, an IPA will certainly have more hops than your average lager or German Wheat beer. So in the sense of simple mathematics, more hops equal more money. Another point that should be raised is where the hops come from. If a brewer in the U.S. is looking for German Hallertau hops, then it will probably cost more than Cascade or Target hops that could be obtained stateside. Conversely, if the German brewer wants Cascade Hops from the U.S…well, you get the picture. This isn’t all. The type of hops chosen can be more or less costly depending on their use. To keep it simple, let’s just point out that hops are used two ways in brewing: first, they bitter a beer by adding them with around 60 minutes left in the boil of the beer; second, they are added after the last 15 minutes of the boil to give aroma to the beer. Some hops achieve bittering easier and others achieve aroma easier (this is based on Alpha Acids levels). For whatever reason, a brewer might choose a more aroma-oriented hop to bitter his/her beer because of certain desired qualities. With a hop that has lower levels of acid, it takes more hops to bitter a beer than a high acid level hop. A good example of a brewery choosing to do this is Sam Adams Hallertau Imperial Pilsner, which we’ve reviewed on here.
One last thing to say is where and how long the beer was stored. Some beers are stored for two or three years before release. It is reasonable to conclude that it has to be stored somewhere and in something. Temperatures for beer storage must be tightly controlled, which is especially true of lagers. So, once you add storage facilities, vessels, and time, plus add in heating and cooling bills, it may come to a substantial amount.
Obviously, there is a lot that goes into making a quality beer. This article was verbose…even for me. But if there is one thing that you should get out of this, please let it be that better beer is more expensive because more goes into it. It’s sort of like a Geo Metro vs. a Ferrari (no offense to Geo owners). But you get the point: you get what you pay for, and for the most part, this is especially true of beer.
Now you know why that beer is so expensive.