There’s more than a grain of truth to the complaint of having “champagne tastes but a beer budget.” On a dollars-per-drink basis, even a pretty good beer is a relative bargain when compared with other alcoholic beverages. This is especially true if you work with realistic serving sizes as opposed to a “standard drink” which is defined on the basis of total alcohol content.
For example, a 750 mL bottle of scotch contains around 16 standard drinks of 1.5 oz (45 mL), so a nice 12-year-old single malt comes in at somewhere around $3 for a standard drink, but a realistic serving is more like twice that (a “double” as they used to say in the movies) which means more like $6 per serving. (I’m thinking about what it costs at home–the markup in a bar or restaurant is often 100% or more.) A 1.75 L bottle of decent gin or vodka is almost 40 standard drinks, which brings us down to about $1 per standard drink or $2 for a nice-sized martini, not counting the vermouth and the olives. Wine can, of course, be outrageously expensive, but at the typical price point chez Dr. Dave of $8-12 per bottle, each of the five standard drinks in a bottle of wine is around $2 – $2.50. Three servings per bottle is more realistic, which gets up to around $3-4 per serving.
Based on this analysis, it’s easy to see that good beer is a pretty good deal, especially when you consider that a “standard drink”–one 12 oz bottle or can–is also a realistic serving. Mass market American lagers can be found on sale for around $0.75 per 12 oz can, but even a lot of craft brews come in at around $1.50 or so per 12 oz bottle ($9 for a six-pack; a little cheaper if you buy a twelve pack for around $14-16).
Even so, I was pleasantly surprised on a shopping trip last month at one of my preferred liquor stores to find a display of several craft beers at the front of the store that were discounted to $3 for a six-pack or $6 for a twelve pack, bringing the price per bottle down to a rock-bottom $0.50. That was a price too good to pass up, so I picked out a few brews to try.
The biggest experiment in the group was the Casco Bay IPA, from Portland, ME, since I didn’t know anything about this brewery. This was a pretty standard American IPA, not a standout among the others I’ve tried but perfectly serviceable and not over the top in terms of the amount of hops.
The second beer from this expedition was the Long Trail Hibernator, an unfiltered Scottish ale that is sold as a winter seasonal offering. Long Trail is from Vermont and is named after the hiking trail that extends the entire north-south length of the state of Vermont, overlapping in places with the Appalachian Trail. (Dr. Mrs. Dr. Dave and I hiked a small section of the trail to the summit of Mt. Abraham back in our younger days.) Part of their marketing strategy is to cultivate an outdoorsy rural/wilderness appeal in their naming and packaging–this one has a drawing of a cartoon bear sitting in an easy chair with his feet propped up in front of a roaring fire. My impressions of this beer were inconsistent–tonight I was catching a funny aftertaste when I first tasted it, though that became less obvious when I started eating tonight’s dinner of creamy chicken stew over brown rice and I didn’t remember that from previous tastings.
My final bargain find was from Magic Hat Brewery (also from Vermont). Magic Hat is notable for its sense of whimsy, demonstrated by a penchant for slightly offbeat ingredients, short pithy aphorisms printed on the inside of the bottle caps, and cryptic names which don’t always give an indication of the style of beer. My selection was the Heart of Darkness, which the brewery describes as a “diabolically delicious stout.” This wasn’t a particularly “creamy” stout, but it had an intense black color and generally pleasing malt flavors with a noticeably smoky note to the finish. Since I had a lot of this, I also donated one bottle to the liquid for a hearty crock-pot stew of chicken thighs, carrots, peas, onions and mushrooms (plus just a little bacon for extra flavor). Beer in the food in addition to beer with the food is a great combination!
My three bargain brews bring the blog count up to 40 for the year. Upcoming posts will discuss the virtues of letting somebody else make beer choices and explore a couple more variety packs, including another brewery with a distinctive branding approach. Cheers!