What is Craft Beer?

There are many ways to answer this question and many definitions from various brewery trade groups and organizations like CAMBRA and the US Brewers Association, but my definition is based on the brewery using quality ingredients, brewing for passion first and profits second, involved with their local community, engaged with their audience, and looking to do what is right for the customer and the environment.

Why is Craft Beer so expensive?

Expensive is a relative and at times subjective word to use. One can say that Craft Beer actually provides the consumer with a lot of value. For instance compare the price of the elite wine brands that cost over $3000.00 for a new vintage or the elite spirits which are over $500.00, the elite Craft Beer brands even for their limited edition hard to get beers will sell for $10-15.00 for 355ml/12oz and $12-$25.00 for a 650ml//22oz in the US–of course there are “traders” who will get these coveted and rare beers and sell them to other “traders” at a substantial markup.

A top US Craft Brewery’s core flagship beer in Europe costs €3-6,00 per 355ml bottle/can in a bottle shop and for a high quality non-elite European wine one will still pay €40-70,00 or more per 750ml bottle. One needs to change their mindset or perception of craft beer as it is NOT a “commodity” beverage.

Take for example cars, they all do the same thing, and yet they range in price from $10,000 to over $1 million for the elite ultra-rare super cars. You do not judge or compare a $40-80,000 “luxury car” with an $10-18,000 “economy car” even though they both do the same thing, move you from A to Z, and say the luxury car is expensive. Yes, the “luxury car” is more expensive than the “economy car”, but you get better handling, styling, speed, quality craftsmanship, amenities/options, etc… A proper comparison is to compare a “luxury car” with other “luxury cars” in its class to determine if it is expensive or not or if it provides more value than another “luxury car”. This is a more accurate comparison to the relative value and “how expensive” a car really is, by comparing it to peers in its same class or category.

This is the same way one should perceive or compare the value of Craft Beer. You can not compare the price of Craft Beer to a commodity “macro beers” that costs €0,50 for 330ml as there is similarly a large difference in quality between the two.

So why does Craft Beer cost more than commodity “macro beers”. Craft Beers use:

  • much higher quality ingredients like real malt/barley and some varieties can be hard to get, versus very cheap and plentiful corn and rice
  • rare or scarce hop varieties, and in some beers a sense of terroir as they are using very local and unique ingredients not easily sourced in large quantities
  • they are brewing in a much smaller scale than the commodity “macro breweries” often in batches of 15hl or less
  • then Craft Beer that is exported overseas markets, there are very high transport and shipping costs especially when you need to ship by refrigerated containers at 4-5C to maintain the beer’s freshness. In addition there can be high tariffs/taxes on imported beer

So the question is not how expensive the Craft Beer is, but what is the value I am getting for the quality of the beer.

Can you get me “such and such” brewery’s beer?

In the US, there are usually three issues involved in answering this questions:

  1. In the US most breweries work with one exclusive exporter or importer for a specific country or territory when it comes to international sales of their beer
  2. Many of the top and in demand breweries do not have enough supply to send beer internationally
  3. Some breweries are philosophically against exporting their beer

As most US breweries work with only one exporter/importer and if they already are working with someone already, they will not sell to another exporter/importer as they tend to give an “exclusive” to just one company. That does not mean that in the future, especially if things do not work out with their original exporter/importer, that AmeriCraftBier or another company could represent them in the future as some breweries do change who they work with.

I have probably contacted or tried to contact all the top US Craft Breweries regarding exporting and many of them do not have capacity to even supply their local market. Any brewery expansion is usually meant to increase their distribution in their local market/s first and international sales are not a priority at this time, but things can change. For instance there are several top US breweries I am in contact with for the last two years who are still prioritizing their US distribution, but at some time once they have completed this, exports will be the next focus–as with many things in life, persistence is always key.

Lastly, even if a brewery does have some excess capacity, some brewery owners are philosophically against the idea of transporting their beer across the ocean, are not interested in reaching international markets, or for other reasons. Some of these breweries may change their mind and others may not, its really a personal choice with some of these owners.