September 9, 2011

Catching Up, Including Chick Beer and Arbitrage

Hoo boy, lots to post.

First, there has been more kerfuffle on Chick Beer, that foul-looking pink and curly thing beverage you no doubt crave if you have lady parts. I weighed in with my rant on my new platform as a "Regular" over at... (wait for it)... Men's Health.

Just read it.
Some of you may be shaking your heads in disbelief, thanks to several of the more ill-advised "Drink This, Not That" pieces, where Men's Health writers recommended Michelob Ultra over Sierra Nevada Bigfoot basically because it had fewer calories. What I'll say is this: Give the new site, which is a massive undertaking devoted to covering many facets of alcohol, a shot (Ha! Get it? Seriously, I didn't mean for that pun to happen). From my conversations with the editor, they're taking it very seriously and I think there will be some interesting stuff. If you don't believe me, go and read my aforementioned rant. There's also the full writeup on the Trail of Beers, as well as a quick piece on Yuengling launching a new beer. Another writer has a cool feature pairing books and booze, with the first installment including a favorite of mine, Haruki Murakami.

For those of you placing bets on when I get myself fired... well, put your over/under suggestions in the comments.

But back to Chick Beer and the whole idea of beer for women. I saw via Crafted that Tecate has a boxing-themed hot-or-not contest going on right now, and I have a serious question for all of you: Which is more chauvinist, an online beauty contest with scantily clad women, featuring their measurements and the vague hint of a boxing theme, or a beer that tells women to like it because it uses pink, curly writing, and is low-calorie? I've got polls up here and on the Facebook page.

Okay, moving on.

First, the Washington Post's Daniel Fromson (who we last saw struggling with Belgian beer), then Jeff Alworth, and then Patrick Emerson of Beeronomics, all have tackled the idea of eBay beer sales this week. The idea is this: People buy rare beers (Russian River's Pliny the Younger, Dark Lord, Darkness, whatever), then they sell it on eBay for 10 times as much. People buy it, the brewer gets cranky. Alworth and Emerson both do not understand how this system, which is entirely predictable with a rudimentary understanding of economics, is problematic at all, and I sort of agree. Bill Night says that all of this ignores the fact that it's against eBay's rules, and amusingly points how big a sham the whole disclaimer is.
Reselling his beer makes Koch scream.

Of course, it's price gouging and I think it's kind of stupid to pay hundreds for a bottle of beer. But no one forces anyone to buy anything on eBay. And Stone's Greg Koch, who is quoted in the WaPo article as saying he's on the side of the consumer, laments that people buying online are getting a product that probably suffers from time and shipping shock, so this practice is unfair to consumers.

I think Emerson puts it: "There is nothing pro-consumer about special releases and events that restrict the beer to a lucky/well-connected/eager set of consumers."

Yeah, it's a bit grating when people claim to represent my interests by trying to make it impossible for me to get a beer I can't otherwise.

Emerson and Alworth argue that brewers should charge more for their special beers, and maybe they're right, though I suspect we'd hammer them if they did. I'm actually in favor of them jacking the price on these supposedly incredible rare beers, because I think that will help us move as a market to a slightly more mature stage. The reality is that anyone who buys a beer for $400, knowing that quality will suffer, is either insanely wealthy, or doing it for a reason other than beer.

Here's an anecdote: When I lived in Bethlehem, I once tried to buy a mug from the Fegleys Brew Works Mug Club auction and was unable to do it because the prices were exorbitant. (I think the lowest went for $300). The year previous, people had gotten mugs for $50, a fact that was used in marketing for the auction. I was annoyed, because no amount of loyalty was worth a dime, and I wasted a few hours in a very unpleasant environment to walk away with nothing, and the whole thing felt just a little too shamelessly profit-driven. But the economic consequences were perfect, in a way. I went to the Brew Works a lot less than I would have if I'd had a mug, and my dollars went elsewhere a lot of the time. The Brew Works did what they were supposed to, which was get the most money possible for a valuable commodity. In a way, everyone won, and the only cost was that for a couple days I felt left out of a club to which I quickly realized I didn't want to belong (that being, a group of people willing to pay $300 for the right to pay money for more beer).

So do I think the people who shell out tons of money for beer on eBay are making mistakes? Yes. There's good beer near you; buy 100 of those instead. But it's their money, and I can't see why Greg Koch or Vinnie Cilurzo care that much that their beer commands high middleman prices. If they don't like it, let them distribute the beer more widely themselves.

Okay, some notes:

  • Commenter "Dan" noted on my rundown of Driftwood brewery that there is often an unfortunate difference between the design on screen and the reality. His example was Driftwood's Twenty Pounder DIPA:
Pretty, bold design. Note the lots of grays that give the cannon complexity.
But the actual label is pretty washed out.

Even the Beer and Whiskey Bros find this funny.
Yes, that's the only way to get it. As they put it:
It is designed to push the boundaries and challenge people’s perceptions about what beer is and how served and enjoyed. In true BrewDog fashion we've torn up convention, blurred distinctions and pushed brewing and beer packaging to its absolute limits. This beer is an audacious blend of eccentricity, artistry and rebellion; changing the general perception of beer one glass at a time.
Their misuse of the semicolon aside, I think that's actually very well written.


  1. Dude, I would never pay that much for any beer. I get pissed off when bombers are $8 each. Everything should be bottled and priced in 12's. Who would pay 35-70 dollars for a six pack, which is the rates we're supposed to swallow for bombers.

    As for ebay, I'd never buy those beers.

    And I love the grammatical comment at the end. I railed against Goose Island for years b/c each of their profile pages said Beer Drinker's Reviews with two links to BA and RB. I finally found the right person that fixed it in one day.

  2. In my weaker moments, I've trolled eBay for bottles of Westvleteren, if only because that's probably the only way I'd every be able to taste that stuff. Still haven't pulled the trigger though, and I don't think I'd ever pay $400 for a single beer. I still balk at $20 (though I've certainly paid that much on a number of occasions)!

    I'm pretty much on board with you, Alworth and Emerson though. I can see why brewers would be upset at the practice, as shipping conditions and time can certainly conspire against a beer, tarnishing the brewery's reputation a little. But as you say, the real solution is to make more beer (which, granted, can be difficult for an outfit like Russian River to do - they only have so much production space and aging barrels available, etc...)

    Because I'm a huge Neal Stephenson nerd, I'm reminded of the way he (and his publisher) treated his first novel, The Big U. It's not a particularly great book, and Stephenson wanted to let it stay out of print, but then someone pointed to eBay, where the original editions (which were pretty rare) were selling for hundreds of dollars. So he gave the ok to put it back in print, even though he thinks it's not his best work.

    That's the right way to do it. It's understandable that this is easier said than done when it comes to beer production, but if you're really that upset about it, perhaps the limited runs should be less limited...

  3. Of course production is limited, but at this point Russian River keeps their capacity small because they want to, not because they can't expand. When part of your strategy is to keep demand outstripping supply so that prices stay up, it's more than a little disingenuous to complain about demand driving prices up.

  4. Oh I agree, and that goes doubly so for a company like Stone, which is expanding like crazy. Still, it's not like flicking a switch, and in the grand scheme of things RR is a small brewery and expansion is a big undertaking.