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The Juicy Middle of Price to Value

July 13, 2017

Let’s look back for a moment. When I first came to the Capital Region ten years ago, there was a lot of complaining about the food scene. Granted, a lot of that was coming from me. Sometimes over the years the nuance of one’s arguments fades away, and all that remains are the echoes.

My long time gripe has never been that there was no good food in the area. My issue was that both the food and overall restaurant experience wasn’t good enough for the prices being charged.

The evaluation of price to value ratios takes up more of my bandwidth than I care to admit.

For example, I consider myself far too sensible to ever buy a new car, or to take a loan to buy a used car. Instead, I went without a car until I could save up enough cash to buy a reliable used car outright. Paying interest on a depreciating asset seems like a terrible idea.

But lately there has been a category that has obliterated my objectivity when it comes to looking at price to value ratios. In part, this has to do with pricing schemes. But the other has to do with where I peg the baseline.

Confused? Well, I’m going to show you some numbers. But first, here’s a story.

Two hours away from Albany, in the quiet town of Monson, there is a farmhouse. And in that farmhouse, they brew beer. Enough people think it’s so good that they make the pilgrimage to this remote hamlet from around the world. To make the situation more complicated, the brewery sells out of everything it makes every single day.

An economist might suggest that the brewery isn’t selling its beer for enough money. But if you are lucky and able to leave with 12 beers, it could set you back $50. Yep. I like to call it the $50 twelve pack.

Now before you pass out from sticker shock, consider this. That’s about $4 per pint. And when comparing that to how much you might pay for a pint of mass produced plonk at a bar, this seems exceedingly reasonable. Especially given the quality.

It’s been this false equivalency that has been buttressing my fancy beer purchases for the past year and change. But I’ve finally come to the point where I have to face the facts. Beer for home consumption needs to be compared to other beers for home consumption.

Fancy beer makers don’t make it easy for simple cross comparisons. Because while most readily available beers are sold in 12 ounce six packs, the highly sought after cult beers are either sold individually in 16 ounce cans, or maybe if you are lucky a full four-pack of 16 ounce cans.

For the sake of convenience, I’m going to do some rounding, and make some gross generalizations.

A standard six pack of good beer goes for about $9 in the Capital Region.
Better beers can fetch $12 for six twelve ounce cans.
Cult beers can go for about $20 for a four pack of pints.

On a cost per ounce basis that breaks down to:
$.13 for the standards
$.17 for the betters, and
$.31 for the cults

Even if you could pick up a four pack of cult cans for $14 it would still be $.22 per ounce.

I say this while here on vacation down in the Hudson Valley, where I’m staying with friends. And I was confronted with some hard decisions in a very good local beer store. In the end, I went with picking up a $9 six pack of Worker’s Comp Saison from Two Roads Brewing Co and a $12 six pack of the Gose from Westbrook Brewing.

Amazingly, there was plenty of Finback on hand, and I could have picked up more than one $20 four-pack from this excellent Queens brewery.

What I think I’m learning is that these cult beers make a great sometimes treat, but there are some truly delicious beers that are far less precious. And I think it’s time to get more familiar with them.

That said, the $2.75 pint can is equivalent in price to the $12 six packs. So $11 four packs are still fair game in the cult beer category for everyday consumption. But the rest I’m going to start saving for special occasions.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. -R. permalink
    July 13, 2017 10:17 am

    So, did you actually make it to Tree House (and obtain some beer) or are they merely an economic exemplar?

    • July 13, 2017 10:58 am

      I did. But the limit was eight cans of Julius and one 750ml growler. I put Julius somewhere in the second tercile of the TH line. And I had a choice between Bright, Green, or some milk stout. I do like Green, but never had Bright. Went with Bright. Now I know I prefer Green.

  2. July 13, 2017 10:24 am

    If you have already committed to burn the gas to drive to Tree House or Hill Farmstead, or the opportunity cost to stand in line at EBI for two cans of Grimm, the actual cost of the beer is a rounding error. If that’s the way you want to live your life, go for it.

    For the rest of us, there’s Genny Creme, I mean Ithaca Flower Power.

    • July 13, 2017 11:00 am

      FWIW I had other reasons to be in Monson. While I have now stood in line for beer, I have yet to drive distances for the sole purpose of standing in line for beer.

  3. July 13, 2017 10:29 am

    I tend to stick with the fancier beers because of the whole legal “beer companies don’t have to share their ingredients” thing. I hate it. As someone who is super intolerant to high fructose corn syrup, many beers contain it, and I don’t know which to avoid. The craft beers tend to leave the hfcs out and sometimes, they share their ingredients anyway. Otherwise, I have to deal with a stabbing-like stomachache for the rest of the day. Price is barely a factor, but due to all of this, I tend to stick with wine to be safe.

    • July 13, 2017 10:30 am

      I miss my days living in the Czech Republic, where most beer is on tap, cheaper than water, the best beer I’ve ever had, and high fructose corn syrup doesn’t really exist there.

  4. Ryan H permalink
    July 13, 2017 8:21 pm

    I love cost analyses like this. I’ll buy pick-and-mix craft beer six-packs a couple times a year. I have my stable of moderately priced beers I like. I’ll occasionally add an expensive one in there, but I’m always worried it will disappoint (usually it does). Like, is the $10 bottle really 2.5 times better than the $4 bottle? Probably not.

    But if I was at a restaurant and I came across something where its reputation proceeds it, like Pliny The Elder, I’d probably buy it like a sucker.

  5. Jenny permalink
    July 14, 2017 10:31 am

    I used to get very concerned spending more than $10 for a 6 pack of my favorite beers. But I questioned it when I found myself way more flexible when making purchasing decisions about wines. Most of the time, I am fine with a $10 bottle. But $12-$18 for a bottle is not considered outrageously expensive. And while I probably pour a more generous glass of wine than I should, officially a six pack of 12 ounce beers and a bottle of wine both have about six servings.

    So my question to you, is, does your price to value equation transfer to wine as well, or does something else come into play there?

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