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Does a Higher ABV in a Beer Warrant a Higher Price? Let’s Break It Down…

I posted about Bud Light Platinum yesterday, a boozed up version of Bud Light, that raises the alcohol by volume in the beer by almost 50%, from 4.2% to 6%.  As the name “Platinum” infers, this is intended to be a premium version of a pedestrian beer – Bud Light turned up to 11.  But does this boost in ABV make it more premium?  Surprisingly, to my mind the answer is “yes.”

Without thinking it through, my gut tells me that beers with a higher alcohol content are worth a premium because you are getting “more” in the bottle.  More what?  More flavor, more gravity, more of that nice tingling sensation in your toes. And more is worth more.

Here’s a simplified look at how I break it down “value” when I’m shopping for bombers in the craft beer aisle:

Premium Craft: These beers range from $12 to $16 a bottle, and are usually have an ABV of 9% or above.  They are worth a premium in my mind because they are excellent beers that required a ton of premium ingredients to brew them; extra malts, interesting adjuncts, lots of hops, whatever.  These are also typically beers from breweries with a track record of excellent, artisinal beers, like the Bruery, Allagash, Dogfish Head, Jolly Pumpkin, etc.  Quality of ingredients combined with the highest expression of the brewer’s art make these puppies worth the price (or at least most of them).

Value Craft: These are beers that are also well made, but won’t set you back an arm and a leg.  To fit in the “worth it” category in my caveman brain, they must pack an ABV of around 7% or above and cost less than $10.  Think of Stone or Victory or Laughing Dog or maybe Great Divide.  Bonus points here for a boozy treat that’s under $8.00, like Troeg’s Mad Elf, which is a delicious beer that packs an ABV of 11% in a 22oz. bomber that costs $7.99.  That a steal in my mind!

Session Craft: Here we have an interesting variety of beers with an ABV of 6.5% or below that usually cost less than $7.00 a bomber or $10 a six pack.  These are your every day or “stretch beers,” like Dale’s Pale Ale or Avery Joe’s or Victory Lager.  These brews usually are lighter and crisper than the “Value Craft” offerings above and cost less because (to my mind) they have less booze in them.  That’s right, the way I see it, these have less “bang” and therefore command less bucks.

Craft Imports: This is where the math gets muddy, as you must pay a premium for beers that were put into heavy glass bottles across the ocean and shipped to you local beer store.  The ABV on these can vary, but most are usually 6% or above.  These beers are from all over the map, so it’s fitting that their prices are as well, with the costs ranging widely.  To be honest, I typically eschew imports, as American beers cost less and are just as special in their own ways.  I explored imports more fully when I first got into craft beer, but these days I tend to buy mostly American.

Rarities and Hype Beers: All bets are off here, as logic flies out of the window and the competitive desire to get a taste of something “special” overwhelms your ability to compute the true value of a beer.  Put it in your basket and think about it later.  Better yet, get three!!

So that’s how I see the beer aisle, with ABV being a big part of the value equation of a beer.  I’ll get excited about a beer that packs a wallop but is kind to my wallet, and I’ll hesitate pulling the trigger on a beer that costs a pretty penny, but has an ABV in the 5% to 6% range.  As a matter of fact, I don’t think I could spend more than $10 on a beer with a low ABV.

So in my mind, a beers “value” breaks down as follows:

You take how appealing that particular style of beer is to you at that moment, add in how much “stuff” (measured by ABV) it’s packing, and then consider who made it.  You add all of this up and then look at the price tag to determine if it’s worth purchasing. At least that’s how I do it. Novelty and hype can affect this equation, but generally this is how my mind works when considering purchasing a beer, especially one I haven’t tasted before.

Does ABV play into your “value” equation when you’re shopping for beer?

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Categories: Beer

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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28 Comments on “Does a Higher ABV in a Beer Warrant a Higher Price? Let’s Break It Down…”

  1. November 11, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    after reading your post, i’m not sure that i agree…or disagree. all’s that i know is that i only go by the domestic selection to get to the craft selection…i don’t foresee my buying any of the bud lite “turbo” unless it is all that’s available wherever that might be…and the beer would have to be very cold to be able to drink it…besides, i have so much really craft beers in my office to worry about trying any wannabe craft beer…just sayin’…

    • November 11, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

      Yeah, I won’t be cracking open a Platinum anytime…ever…

      • November 11, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

        the only way that i’ll crack one open is if i accidentally knock one of of the display somewhere…

        • November 11, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

          🙂

  2. John King
    November 11, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    I take value in a session beer. it fits along the lings of your ABV and price…but not the value.

    • November 11, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

      I love a good session beer as well, and by good I mean one that’s surprisingly flavorful and complex at a low ABV. Those are usually my favorites – it’s like a magic trick. All of the deliciousness, less of the booze!

  3. Jeff
    November 11, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    ABV is invariably a factor for me, but that may be a symptom of my addiction to imperial stouts and IPAs, Belgian quads, strong ales, barleywine style ales, etc. They just seem to be more robust in their flavor profile. I don’t generally enjoy venturing beyond a “buzz”, into full-on inebriation, so I guess my legendary tolerance is an asset these days, but my wallet hates it.

    • November 11, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

      Yeah, as I’ve gotten older, I tend to be the same way. I don’t want to get dizzy, I just like big flavor. Usually I just drink very slow, which you can do with a bigger beer.

      • Jeff
        November 11, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

        Exactly. I love to cradle the ole Dogfish Head signature glass in my palm and experience the development of the depth and complexity of flavor as it warms…and a big beer really lends itself to that in a way that a smaller beer simply cannot hope to ever emulate.

        • November 11, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

          I usually drink ail of my big beers starting at room temp – why wait for them to be great, right?

        • Jeff
          November 11, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

          I usually start at the point where the bottle stops sweating…half an hour out of the fridge or so.

  4. November 11, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    If I see a ridiculously high-priced beer on the shelf, the ABV will either soothe or inflame my feelings of righteous indignation.

    Also, I’m glad you included the Craft Import category. I find myself paying the Mikkeller tax all too often.

    • November 11, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

      I actually resist Mikkeller because of price. I figure that I’ll be okay as long as I don’t know what I’m missing…

      • November 11, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

        Although it hurts at the register, I rarely regret it once I actually consume the fruits of Mikkel Borg Bergso’s labor. I think I feel the same way about him as you do about Sam Calagione. We’re talking artist/genius/mancrush territory here.

        • Jeff
          November 11, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

          Mikkeller really is something special, though an occasional purchase. If only I could shit money…

        • November 11, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

          That might make it awkward for the cashier 😉

        • Jeff
          November 11, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

          Well…I’d move the freshly shat cash to the back of the rotation…as any remotely civilized person would do…DUUUHHHHH.

  5. Dermot
    November 11, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    I think you have to modify this equation using quantum physics when factoring in the complicated “hype” variable. Maybe some sort of uncertainty principle – your mind doesn’t register the high price when all you see is the hype, or for the more reasonable among us, your mind doesn’t register the hype when all you see is the high price.

    Also, bought a four-pack of Dogfish Head Palo Santo for $18 last night. Well worth it, I say!

    • November 11, 2011 at 3:03 pm #

      Palo is definitely worth it. Great stuff.

      I’ll see if I can’t work a little string theory into the equation as well…

  6. November 11, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

    OK, so let me see if I’ve got this right.

    1) higher ABV equals more taste;
    2) higher ABV equals a big beer;
    3) a big beer (as defined in 1) is better; and
    4) because its better, it costs more.

    Thus, if I added pure grain alcohol to a session beer, I’d have a “bigger”, “better”, beer?

    Uhh, I don’t think so. Ingredients and brewing methodology are what determine flavor. Alcohol does play a part–a small part–in the flavor profile. (Don’t believe me? Take a swig of vodka and describe the flavor–salty, savory, bitter, sweet, sour? Pour that same vodka into a snifter, warm it with your hands, take a big whiff–waddya smell? Fumes!)

    I do agree that high ABV in craft beers will drive up the cost, for reasons already stated by Jim. I don’t agree that it makes for a better, or “bigger” beer.

    What I require from a beer is not an alcoholic kick (I can get that from a shot of Metaxa 5 Star Brandy, thanks), but rather taste, mouth feel, aroma, and a propensity to refresh my taste buds and my spirit. I’m willing to pay for that, up to a point.

    • Jeff
      November 12, 2011 at 6:14 am #

      I agree, but in my experience, higher ABV tends to be a result of the whole process of brewing a bigger, more deeply flavorful beer. I’m never looking for an astringent, alcoholic bite in a flavor profile, and I’m certainly not looking to get wasted or whatever, but my favorite brews seem to have a propensity for both a high ABV, and the ability to mask it quite well on the palate. The alcoholic presence is but a tiny fraction of the myriad flavors in a truly well crafted beer.

      • November 12, 2011 at 10:38 am #

        Hi Jeff;

        I think it depends on how they get that higher alcoholic content. The natural mix of sugars (plus trace ingredients) derived from the malting process give beer a distinctive flavor but limit the amount of resulting ABV. If the brewer goes to great lengths to increase ABV thru the use of innovative and flavorful ingredients (like honey or maple sap for instance), it can give the beer surprising and very flavorful notes. If he throws in a batch of refined beet sugar or corn syrup its just gonna make the product harsh.

        In addition, brewers’ yeasts impart their own unique flavors to the mix. If the ABV is so high that the yeasts can’t survive to finish their job, the resulting flavor will be sweet, cloying and off.

        In my not so humble opinion, its the quality of the ingredients as well as the level of artistry the brewer brings to the process, that determines how “big’ and flavorful a beer is. The ABV is secondary (or even tertiary) to those factors.

        • Jeff
          November 12, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

          Oh, completely agreed. If I wanted alcohol for alcohol’s sake I’d probably still be slamming 40s of Schlitz Bull Ice. Lord knows it would be cheaper lol. I’ll take my beer without the corn syrup and/or beet sugar, thank you very much. I guess a higher ABV is just a product of brewing the sort of beers I enjoy most (imperial stouts being my current love affair), but isn’t really the goal of the brewer, just a happy coincidence.

    • November 14, 2011 at 11:29 am #

      I thought of you when I posted this – I know you’re a fan of the session beers. For the record, I’m not flatly saying “more booze = more better,” if that were the case I’d only drink Everclear.

      The point is that many higher ABV craft beers are worth it because more goes into making them (ingredient wise) and they are sippers. Just my opinion, and I fully expect fans of session brews to disagree.

      • November 14, 2011 at 11:32 am #

        Jim, i agree on the higher ABV craft beers are worth it…especially the sipping part…the first time i had a craft beer that was a sipper was Dog Fish Head’s Palo Santo Maron…now that is a sipper…imo…

        • November 14, 2011 at 11:52 am #

          I agree about Palo. Save your time and skip the fridge altogether with that one – waaay better at room temp!

  7. November 13, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    I was just discussing the issue of cost in relation to homebrewing. The guys I brew with like to push the limits for our beers. We end up spending a lot of money on each batch. A higher ABV makes these expensive batches worth it. Not only is there more bang for our buck, but it causes us to consume the beer more slowly.

    • November 14, 2011 at 11:31 am #

      Yeah, you really see what goes into a beer and what it costs to brew one when you make it yourself. It makes it easier to understand why “big” beers cost more and why they should (as long as you enjoy drinking them).

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