Rising Beer Prices & Mystery Freshness:
A Consumer’s Perspective

I do not own a brewery, never have and never will. However, it would
seem to me that as a consumer who purchases a significant amount of
beer each year, a consumer is quite integral to the ecosystem of the
beer industry (despite the small handful of those breweries who feel
that consumers complain too much and don’t deserve their attention).  

Even before Covid, I noticed that the price of 16 oz. 4 packs started to
creep up in bottle shops and stores across New Jersey. I get it. Fuel
prices, production costs, ingredient costs, canning costs and a litany of
other factors can influences price. For some interesting reading, you can
locate some 2018 articles online describing why global warming will be
the cause for increased beer prices.

I’m going to kick those articles to the curb for now and focus on beer

prices in what is our current “normal,” because that’s the reality of
what’s going on now.

Ponder this: when are craft beer prices so high that they actually
influence your decision not to purchase it? I can tell you that I finally
reached that point a few days ago, after 30+ years of drinking craft and
spending money like a drunken sailor.  

In addition, the decision of certain breweries to avoid date stamping
their beer is only going to cause a bigger issue, as more and more high-
cost stale beer sits on shelves.

Here is my story. I walked into a liquor store I had not frequented in a

while because it was near my travels. As I looked around and saw
majority of non-local but very popular craft beers, I was staring eye
level at a four pack of a well-known brand one state over. In fact I saw
four different types of their beer. Score.  

I told myself that I wouldn’t mind trying this beer, but then I saw the
price of $25.99 for a four pack of 16 ounce cans. For the first time in 30

years I made a decision that I’m not buying it based on cost.  

Sure, I’ve decided not to by the entire allotment of BBA bottles and
bought 4 instead of 6, but this was different. I then panicked and

looked around for something to “back in to,” as if I would breathe
more easily if I saw an NEIPA for $18. Just $18 for a 4 pack.

Please! Help me! $18!

And then, I felt calm.

I spied a 6 pack of Stone IPA bottles that was made 2 weeks ago. The
cost was $11.99. I took it home and I enjoyed it as if it were 15

years ago when I was drinking that beer all the time.

What happened? I finally put my financial foot down.

One of the things that also deterred me from purchasing that other
beer besides the price was the fact that there was no date stamp on
their beer. So that brewery is telling me to trust them that what was
sitting on the shelves at a place that you’ve never been to in a long time
has costly and fresh beer.  

Call me crazy, but I have come to this simple conclusion: if there’s no
stamp I simply move on. It doesn’t matter who brewed it. I don’t care. I
don’t need a beer that was made yesterday. I just don’t like to engage
in Russian Roulette when I purchase beer, and I’ve been burned in the

How I spend on beer and everything else is much more important than
it was prior to Covid. Think about the situation some of us are in. Credit
card debt is rolling in now and in an effort to have some semblance of a
normal holiday season, credit card debt from the holidays is now even
bigger than it was. For some, decisions are made about what you’re
spending your money on, how much you might be supporting local

businesses on takeout and if you have kids, what activities they have
coming up. It’s all relative to your situation. I feel pretty comfortable
saying that being married with a family is a decent patch of the craft
beer quilt.

So if we are being extremely careful with the purchasing patterns of

everything else, why would it be any different for beer? Why would we
blindly throw money at a brewery just because they command such

a high price?

It may offend some, but from a consumer standpoint, it’s just beer.

For breweries, it’s your passion and the reason you went into business,
but for consumers, it’s just beer. For breweries, it’s the reason you may
have taken out a second mortgage to buy new equipment to be able to
expand and that’s great. In the end, for this consumer, it’s just beer.  

I won’t downplay the fact that seeing a date stamp when the beer

was made was a substantial factor in my purchase decision. We all
know Stone was at the forefront for pushing a freshness-first
approach. However, the pendulum has swung to a point where the
decision not to tell the consumer when their beer was made is a bit
troubling in my opinion.

If you tell me the cost to put a date stamp on the can was cost
prohibitive, then maybe there would be some merit to the argument. I
think we know that’s not the case. Then why?

I wish I had the time to go into a beer store and index the amount of
beer that is sitting on shelves that is older than 30, 60, 90, 120 or 180
days or more. From what I can tell, the amount of aged beer

sitting on shelves is staggering just from s visual standpoint simply
by knowing when certain beers were seasonally released.

We all know how Covid has impacted us, and for breweries, especially
larger craft breweries,  they may need to pump out more cans because
their distribution of kegs has been greatly reduced. I understand.
However, if you expect the average person to purchase 64 ounces of

liquid for $26 all the time, you have to be prepared for a consumer
base that eventually is going to be more critical of that decision.

It hurts to say this because of how supportive I’ve been to local
breweries, but when you think about the beers you used to rush out
 buy when craft beer was still flourishing15 and 20 years ago, but
seemed to abandon when they were no longer “cool,” I find it ironic to
be considering going back to them in the face of inflated prices and
unknown brewing dates.

This is just my observations and opinions. Feel free to disagree, but
please, look around. Breweries will do what breweries will do and might

not care what I think, but at some point, please understand that there
is a limit to what folks will buy. Quite simply, I will support local craft
until I can’t.

Until next time, choose wisely.

March  2021
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