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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The "Craft Brew" Economy

In a marathon column at Salon, the political writer David Sirota advances the analogy of expensive craft beer and the trend toward upscale.  Essentially, it's like Apple--people are willing to pay more because it tastes better.  He wraps it up thus:
A Macrobrew Economy — a high-volume, low-price model — asks us to compete with other such economies throughout the world, and the problem is that countries like China will always have lower-priced labor, more lax environmental regulations and lower production standards to win a battle that rewards more and cheaper for more’s and cheaper’s sake. By contrast, a Craft Brew Economy — a high-quality, lower-volume model — is a different proposition. It follows the German model, which, as Time magazine notes, is all about being “committed to making the sort of high-quality, high-performance, innovative products for which the world will pay extra.”  The choice is ours — and it starts with the beer in your fridge.
 I have only one problem here: the analogy is flawed.  Even at ten bones a sixer, beer remains a huge value when compared with good liquor or wine.  It's true that Grain Belt is cheaper, but the distance between Bud and Sierra Nevada is pretty slight in absolute terms.  The analogy may point to something real in the economy--though David's evidence is actually pretty thin--but I would hate to have it rise and fall on the example of craft beer.  It's still a pretty cheap thrill.


  1. While I tend to generally admire the work of Sirota, i think he's missing a huge opportunity here to tie in the "local economy" aspect of microbreweries. It's not just that my Ft. George tastes better than whatever equivalent a macrobrewery has; it's that I can drive for an hour and meet the brewers, that they are actively engaged in the community they serve, and that they are providing jobs and economic development in an otherwise vacated warehouse in the heart of one of Oregon's most cherished towns. The whole microbrew economy is empowering not because it gives us beer snobs something better to drink and to show off our conspicuous consumption (although it does), but that it encourages us to slightly push back against the whole transnational corporation thing and develop localized sustainable economies that are more rooted in a specific community.

  2. Fancy a pint of bitter down the local? It's far from upscale or trendy but it goes down nice.

  3. That quote about German beer has it backwards. Germany makes some of the cheapest beer on the continent. And also, some of the best.

  4. While there are still definitely some steals on good beers, I live in NYC and at my local grocery I'm watching as 22oz are being priced at $4-8, and 750ml are getting priced $8-$14. You can find some decent wines (at least for my palette) at that range. We haven't quite gotten to the high prices of very fine wine, but we're on our way. I saw a Mountain Goat Hightail (Australian) priced at $17! I wouldn't pay that, but the retailer seemed to think someone would.

  5. Mike, you're certainly right about that. I marvel at how cheaply we can get German imports.

    Sam, point taken--you can spend serious money on beer (though a decent bottle of local Oregon Pinot sets you back $30). But you're taking about the high end. You can buy sixers of Brooklyn Lager for what, $12? In NY, that's a pretty cheap thrill.

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