This past week I had the opportunity to shoot down to New York for the Whisky Guild’s Whisky on the Hudson event. (Apparently the true Whiskey folks leave off the erroneous “e”). Even though this is a beer blog and I am committed to trying as many beers as possible, sometimes I need to take a break from all that hard work for a taste of the good life. Boy did this event deliver.
Over 100 whiskeys were available to sample including some world class vintages like the Highland Park 30 year and The Glenlivet XXV, which are both normally reserved for the well to do, arugula eating elitists of the world (considering that a bottle will set you back about $400). There were also some great vintages of my personal favorite Macallan, some great stuff from Signatory and a host of things I had never even heard of, like custom blends from Compass Box (try the Hedonism it’s awesome). It was certainly wild to spend a night tasting the work of distillers from 20+ years ago and sampling from bottles that cost more than the suit I wore to the event.
Tickets to the Whisky on the Hudson event were $80 – $100 depending on the package. But of course, even a basic decent Whiskey will set you back about $70 which is the primary reason that I typically stick with beer – even a killer world class brew is likely to cost less than $20 at retail.
So this gives me a good opportunity to talk about one of the reasons that I think craft beer is doing well right now. It’s incredibly approachable.
There aren’t many hobbies where the best of the best is available to the common man. From wine to golf to paintball to skiing – stepping it up typically requires a hefty financial commitment. Beer however, remains something that very few cannot at least dabble in and those who want to go all out can do so without disrupting the kids college funds.
Even in the current climate of big beers and with the advent of some cellar stock becoming available for sale, it’s rare to see something pricing out over $25.
Now I certainly “get” the pricing of whiskey – its a risk to make something today and sit it aside and come back to it in 30 years. Occasionally the folks who put it in the cask to begin with don’t ever get to try it at it’s peak. But likewise in some cases, I imagine that beer is actually under-priced. There are some big beers that I can’t imagine the grain bill and time that went into creating them – yet they still come out selling at about $10. So why is that?
Are we as beer consumers not willing to pay a bit more for a better or more complex product? Does beer have a stigma that keeps it from even reaching the pricing structure of wine?
In researching this I tried to find the most expensive beer that was even relatively accessible (no trips to the Bierdrome required) and kept running into Utopias from Samuel Adams. At about $100 per bottle (and come on, the bottle itself is probably $20 of that) it’s barely on par with an 18year Single Malt.
Now don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that the wine model of charging as much as people are willing to pay is better – it’s not. But I hate to hear stories from brewers about selling beer at a loss or at cost just because they “had to”. I would love to see an environment where brewers had the opportunity to create great beers and then calculate the price, rather than having price always drive the beers they create.
Until then, my big money purchases will be The Macallan 18 year and should I ever find one, a bottle of Utopias. Because sometimes it’s nice to live like the upper-middle class…