How long will it last?
I was watching a certain current politics show on HBO the other night, when the host flashed up what ostensibly was a line of craft-beer fanatics lined up for the latest release of cans at Other Half Brewing in Brooklyn, New York. The joke, of course, was that craft-beer geeks were even less cool than Star Wars fans.
The culture of waiting in line for new and limited releases is an anomaly in the history of beer but not necessarily the cultural outlier in American commerce that some make it out to be. Waiting in line for new Jordans has been a thing for decades. This past Christmas, people stood in line for a $60 video-game machine that played games from the 1980s that we all donated to Goodwill ages ago. Concert tickets and other limited tickets have traditionally required line waiting.
Still, something about waiting in line for beer seems antithetical to the very idea of beer. People don’t wait in line for wine, primarily because wine value is predicated on how much collectors can and will pay. For a wine bottle in high demand, there is literally no limit to how much a seller can ask. Culturally, high prices are celebrated as a function of quality.
Craft beer, on the other hand, has always been predicated on the concept of affordable luxury—some of the best in the world can be had for just the price of a 6-pack. Rather than charging what they can for in-demand products, as in the wine world, brewers instead maintain prices that are artifically low relative to that demand, and the result is that time (to wait in line), not price, is the factor that determines who gets this limited product and who doesn’t.
There are two solutions to this dilemma that will, ultimately, work themselves out—first is that certain brewers will raise prices, and second is that as more and more brewers produce higher quality product (and those brewers of high-demand beer ramp up production to profit from that demand), the supply of great in-demand beer will reach an equilibrium with the demand for it.
On the pricing side, I’ve watched local brewers push prices up to $10–18 for a 32 oz crowler of IPA (the equivalent of $5–9 for a 16 oz can), and as a result I’ve watched my own purchases shift to more cost-effective (but equally delicious) offerings—exactly what should happen in a rational market.
On the supply side, the number of breweries tackling advanced subjects such as wood-aged sours, barrel-aged stouts, and progressive hazy IPAS is increasing at a truly staggering rate. This increased supply (and a level of average quality that keeps climbing) will ultimately put downward pressure on prices.
No matter how much supply enters the market, however, one thing will always be true—the cream will rise to the top. It’s human to seek out the best, and with the range of ingredients craft brewers now have at their disposal, there’s no reason for them to stop innovating. So buckle up—the ride’s not over yet.
Whether you stand in line for limited releases or you’d rather just make your own, I hope you enjoy this issue. We made it for you.