Craft Beer Collecting, Will it Take Off? May, 7, 2017
An interesting off shoot of the Craft Beer industry is the “collecting” of the top and very rare brands internationally. We all know the names 3 Fonteinen, Cantillon, Goose Island’s Bourbon County series, Hill Farmstead anything, Sam Adams Utopia, Three Floyds Dark Lord, Toppling Goliath Kentucky Brunch Stout, Westvleteren etc…
As with the collecting of anything, the basic rules of “supply and demand” will hold true. As a young kid that collected baseball cards and like most, just stuffed them in a shoe box under my bed or in the closet, what I would have done to know the hidden riches that would have awaited me as an adult. Alas, we all know how this story ends as many an adult of my generation laments the “tossing” of these “untold riches” into the trash. Who could have predicted the rise of the professional baseball card collector that would fuel the craze in the early 1990’s and then the slow decline since then back to “normalcy”.
One commonality to the rise of most collecting trends is when the professional or really rich get involved into what was once just a hobby or only involved a small group of niche collectors–Beanie Babies not withstanding. You look at the collecting of exotic/rare cars, coins, guitars, & wine and the rise and fall of their collectability is often determined by the extremely rich and the crazy bidding wars that ensue between millionaires or billionaires competing with one another to own that Ferrari 250GT spyder, Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, Morgan Silver Dollar, 1956 Fender Stratocaster, 1958-9 Gibson Les Paul burst, any year Domaine Romanée-Conti (DRC), and Château Lafite Rothschild.
Looking at wine is probably the most accurate way to make any predictions if Craft Beer could be the next “collector craze” as they are both beverages, are susceptible to spoilage if not taken care of, they have a sense of terroir, especially for the spontaneous fermentation lambic/sours, to a certain degree one can say there are more prized “vintages” or years that are more desirable due to variances in production year to year or batch to batch, there is a constantly diminishing supply as someone drinks them, and they are living beverages that can age over time and what some would say taste better with time.
Will rare beer collecting ever get to the same hysteria of wine collecting where the top Burgundy and Bordeaux wines command tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars for vintage years and new releases are often pre-sold before they are even bottled at over a thousand dollars a bottle?
Looking at some of the “beer collecting or auctions sites” like, http://www.mybeercollectibles.com/ , https://www.mybeercellar.com/, and http://beerblackbook.com/ you mainly see the lambics/sours and porter/stouts dominating. You do see an occasional IPA from the usual suspects like the Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, & Treehouse, Belgian Quads from Westvleteren, Rochefort 10, & St Bernardus Abt 12, and some saisons & barley wines.
In terms of “aging” the lambics/sours are probably the beers one can age the longest usually around 20yrs from the bottled on date, though we have all heard of people aging porters/stouts longer than three years and the same thing with Belgian Quads. Thus, in my opinion, if there ever will be a beer collecting frenzy the lambics/sours are probably the best candidates due to their ability to age longer, use of wild spontaneous fermentation leading to a sense of terroir or uniqueness giving variations from year to year or batch to batch, and these beers are already very rare and hard to obtain right now from the top breweries mainly from Belgium and the US. For instance, Cantillon only produces around 3000 barrels a year (3500hl) or about 47,000 x 750ml bottles a year of all varieties hence making current year bottles already scarce yet alone beers that are five or more years old being even more scarce due to most people drinking them once purchased.
So what will be the “tipping point” to push lambics/sours which usually go for $10-30.00 to vault into the hundred or even thousand dollar range for current years? Some may say this is crazy, who would pay that much for a “beer” even for some of the best beers in the world? Again, looking at the pricing of the top first growth Burgundy and Bordeaux wines, most people do not realize that even the top brands now like DRC, Petrus, or a Lafite were “affordable” back in the 1970-80’s. Many wine industry veterans can tell you stories of drinking a DRC or Lafite for $40-80 a bottle for a current vintage while now current vintages of the most sought after domain of DRC goes for over $3000 a bottle. I myself remember buying a 1988 Lafite for a little over $100 in the early 1990’s and current releases go for around $1600.
The rise in pricing of the top wines was fueled by globalization and the increase number of wealthy individuals worldwide in the 2000’s in countries like China and Russia in particular where these status obsessed nations were now competing with the wealthy wine collectors from the West. Wine dealers and retailers in Europe and the US could buy cases of the top wines and immediately double or triple the price to sell to the new found rich in China, Russia, Singapore, Thailand etc… This frenzy only got worse when various media outlets started running stories on the shortage of the top wines which in turn only fueled even more frenzied speculation. You even found the professional investment community getting involved opening wine investment funds and indices similar to the Nasdaq or S&P where one can “track” the price of certain wines just like a stock. This in turn caused all of the top wineries to increase their retail prices to get their share of the profit taking leading to the astronomical rise in new release pricing in the mid 2000’s and which continues today.
You are starting to see parallels with Craft Beer. The rise of Craft Beer outside of the traditional markets of the US/Canada, Europe, and Australia spreading to other countries in particular in Asia where the latest statistics show strong growth in China and Japan. Then you are seeing a trend first started in the US with the popularity of sours and a similar resurgence in its native Belgium which is now spreading to the rest of Europe, and ever so slowly to Asia where they are still getting use to IPAs. However, in time I predict that lambics/sours will similarly gain popularity in Asia and similarly put supply pressures on the top producers. Lambics/sours are also a “gateway” craft beer for many wine drinkers as they tend to be more nuanced and reminiscent of wines.
Will this be “enough” to cause a frenzy and the hording of the top lambic/sour breweries…only time will tell if it becomes more like the short lived baseball card or a more longer lasting wine collecting craze.