Beer on a budget

In defense of expense
By JOSH SMITH  |  May 19, 2010

The beer industry is generally considered recession-proof, since people are still going to drink beer when times get tough. But has the same been true for more expensive craft beer in the recent recession?

Not too long ago one of my favorite fellow beer bloggers, Jeff Alworth of, commissioned a very unscientific but still interesting survey on whether the recession had influenced personal drinking habits. An impressive 53 percent responded that in some way their drinking habits had already changed. Obviously a shift is underway, which leaves the question of how to continue drinking craft beer when on a budget.

This isn’t just a theoretical exercise for the Smith household, as my wife was recently laid off along with several hundred other teachers in her district. Being reduced to a single income would certainly alter our lifestyle, drinking habits included. Judging by Rhode Island’s 12.6 percent unemployment rate, the third highest in the country, we aren’t the only ones making tough choices.

Making matters worse is beer’s rising price tag. The past few years have seen the largest cost increase for ingredients since the dawn of the craft beer movement. With many farmers shifting to planting corn in order to cash in on lucrative ethanol prices, the cost of a pound of malted barley has increased by 50 percent. Still more pronounced is the shortage of hops, which have quadrupled in price in some places! Even the cost of glass bottles has gone up. Every one of these costs is passed on to the consumer, giving you the days of $10 six-pack that are now upon us.

So when I am feeling a little strapped for cash, my first recourse is to stay in that night. It is expensive to drink out, and you probably pay two to three times more in a bar for the same exact beer you can buy in a store. While not economical from a volume perspective, sampler trays allow you to try four different beers for around $8. Samplers provide an opportunity to be social and experience what a bar has to offer without breaking the bank.

When stocking up on beer, make sure your liquor store’s prices are where they should be. Driving the extra distance to my favorite store makes a difference — 50 cents to a dollar less on each purchase adds up. Watch for sales too: Nikki’s Liquors in Providence recently featured HARPOON as their “brewer of the month,” offering six-packs for $7.49. Not bad.

Be sure to consider volume as you shop as well. Just do the math; even a moderately priced 22-ounce bomber at $5.49 works out to be an $18 six-pack by volume! When you really think about it, six-packs are a no-brainer. It is harder to find 12-packs of good beer, but at $15 for a case of SIERRA NEVADA PALE ALE or SHIPYARD EXPORT ALE, the price is right.

Obviously some beers are a better value than others. Try to avoid slickly marketed and overpriced brands. Both newly-launched and local brewers tend to be cheaper, and bargains can always be found among the German lagers.

Regional brewers like NARRAGANSETT and YUENGLING are an even better deal with six-packs for only $5 — and for ’Gansett you are getting six tall boys! I will often keep one of these on hand to switch over to on session nights.

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