How long will it last?

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Editor’s Note -

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.

Jamie Bogner Co­founder & Editorial Di­rec­tor Craft Beer & Brewing Mag­a­zine®

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