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High gravity beers gain traction

I just read an interesting article on Time.com. Perhaps I’m a little late to respond, but I will anyway. I’m the one with the blog. The article itself is grossly misrepresented by its title, as E.S. points out here. In fact, the growth numbers aren’t pulled out from the overall growth of the craft industry, so it’s hard to justify the argument with the numbers laid out in the article. Just because craft beer is growing doesn’t mean all subsets of craft beer are growing.

However, it’s not hard for me to believe that big beers are indeed garnering more support. One of the best quotes from the article gets at a possible reason for this shift. From Sam Calagione (founder of Dogfish Head):

It’s a kind of a blue-collar connoisseurship. Anybody can afford to buy the world’s best beers. But if you wanted to buy a bottle of the world’s best wine, you’d have to spend thousands of dollars.

I think there will always be a stigma, albeit a lessening one, that wine is more high brow than beer. Why? It will always be more expensive than beer. And we Americans equate price with quality. But the surge in big beers is turning more people on to the quality to be found in wine-esque beers, in my opinion.

As any self-respecting beer drinker knows, big beers aren’t for chugging. Sipping is recommended. Making the adjustment from a watered-down lager to a nice barleywine takes some doing. Truthfully they shouldn’t even be in the same beverage category. Don Younger agrees:

You’ve got to be careful with them. But they are self-limiting. They are very rich. It would be like trying to drink a quart of whipping cream. Your body will reject it because they are so rich.

I’ve never had the pleasure of drinking a quart of whipping cream. But I have had the pleasure of drinking many a high gravity beer. And I hope that more and more people have that same pleasure in coming years. As an upstart brewery, part of our duty is to educate the consumer. We’re up for the challenge.

5 thoughts on “High gravity beers gain traction

  1. I agree about the self-limiting. On the excellent side-effect of that, not too many calories can be consumed (or carbs, for those who care). That also limits the amount of money one might spend at a given moments on one of these often more-expensive beers. On the terrible side, there is Schlitz High Gravity. I do hope that the higher quality beers draw more people in to respecting beer for the complex product that it is.

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  3. It’s a little misleading to directly compare top quality wine to top quality beer – those wines that cost thousands of dollars are usually from a specific vintage and have been cellared for years. Beer that has had the same treatment can and has cost a lot more than most people would be willing to pay – there was an auction fairly recently, and I think some individual bottles sold for close to a thousand dollars.

    The real comparison is high quality wine when it is first bought to high quality beer, and of course wine still costs significantly more, but the divide is not nearly as sharp. Hundreds of dollars instead of thousands, to tens of dollars for beer.

  4. Aaron, an excellent point. I think we’ll start to see more of the expensive beers as more and more people (myself included) are cellaring some of these gems.

  5. Aaron, your pointing out of the price differential is exactly what I was trying to say, too. Beers from specific vintages, or rare bottles of Westvleteren 12, command higher prices, as do wines. Same concept, and it’s also a little too much to expect wine and beer prices to be the same.

    So many other factors come into play, like ingredients. A rare grape made in a region that enhances its terroir may taste unlike any other wine out there, just as a beer made with esoteric adjuncts could go for a higher price.

    I just paid around $32 for two 11.2 oz bottles of Ola Dubh 30 year (perhaps I’m not that smart). Other places in my area were selling it for even more. The volume of those two bottles adds up to be a few ounces less than a bottle of wine, and some wines that are cheaper than that can still be considered great. Give these bottles several years of age, and who knows how much they’d go for.

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