Micro Beers

I’d like to share my quick thoughts on what I think is becoming the next craft beer trend, though I hope I’m wrong.  Micro beers.  And by micro beers, I’m not talking about a beer made in a microbrewery.  I’m talking about beers that have very low alcohol content.  And I’m not referring to “session” beers that are in the neighborhood of 3.5-4%.  Micro beers are about 2% and change, an ultra-session if you will.  A local microbrewery here where I live has made a micro IPA at 2.3 %.  Now I understand the idea of drinking a finely crafted beer that has complexity and flavor, but isn’t going to make you dizzy after two or three of them.  It’s an extension of the idea that craft aficionados drink beer to appreciate the taste, aroma, and intricacies of a style versus just getting hammered.  Hey, I’m all for that.  But what gets me is the price point.  You’d think that with a lower alcohol content would come a lower price.  But that micro IPA still costs $5 a pint.  The labor for making the batch is probably about the same as other beers but the ingredient bill must be cheaper.  And aren’t alcoholic beverages in general more expensive than non-alcoholic beverages because of the fact that they have alcohol?  And usually, given the same volume, price usually goes up as alcohol content goes up.  Think of the general price ladder for beer, wine and spirits.   So I don’t fully understand this idea of micro beers.  I for one am not going to lay down $5 for a pint of a micro IPA when I can pay that same amount for an equally delicious IPA that has 3 times the amount of alcohol.  ($15 dollars to feel the buzz of one beer but the bloated feeling of three?)  And seriously, if all we care about is the taste of a beer vs how it makes you feel (buzzed), then why don’t we just switch to NAs and call it a day.  Am I crazy?

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8 comments on “Micro Beers

  1. I find this interesting, and I can see where you’re coming from. However the pricing really comes down to the location. I just got back from a big brewery tour through Michigan, a lot of the breweries were pricing at about $4 to $6 a pint. Upon arriving to Keweenaw Brewing Company (KBC) of Houghton, Michigan i found their pints were $2.50! That’s a regular thing for them. The alcohol content is an average 4% to 6%. This is just an image of generosity that KBC maintains all around. So I don’t think it comes down to grain bill or other ingredients, I think it’s just a matter of reaching a higher margin. Business as usual.

  2. Dennis says:

    Frankly I think the ingredient price per pint is pretty minimal to change from 2.5 to 6% ABV. The price of a pint is really more set by the cost of the distributer, retailer, taxes, price of bottles, etc. In fact, in most states, the brewery does not actually have control over the retail price of their product. The price premium for the “special” higher alcohol beers is likely additional taxes, the extra time it takes to ferment and condition the product (ie warehouse/ tank space), and things like that moreso than the ingredients. The exception to that is having to buy special ingredients that they don’t keep a silo full of, so they can’t get the same bulk discounts they are used to. Plus, extraction efficiency starts to fall, requiring even more of the special expensive ingredients. Things like labeling and packaging (and the government approval that goes with them for each individual beer) are also almost the same whether its a huge batch of something regular or a small one-off brew.

    TL/DR: The price of ingredients is pretty minimal in the grand scheme of things, and there is a minimum price point to get a bottle full of anything to market.

  3. mgrob76 says:

    You both make valid points. But what I’m talking about is sitting in a brewer’s tasting room and having two IPAs on their board, both for $5. One at 6.5%, one at 2.3%. But I guess demand for the micro IPA will determine if they keep brewing it.

  4. mgrob76 says:

    Additionally, Dennis, to the first sentence you wrote, I would rhetorically ask “why” then? If the price per pint is so minimal between the two, which I’m sure is a necessity and not a pure overcharge per your explanation, then I question the decision to make such a beer by the brewer, and I question the decision to purchase such a beer by the customer. Just so he/she can drink more of it (and spend more)? That’s the crux of what I’m getting at. Since it seems so perplexing to me for the brewer or consumer to head down this route, I’m interested in where this all goes. Maybe I’m missing something. But of course, as always, each to their own.

    • Dennis says:

      Well for one thing, if there’s a market, the savvy producer attempts to fulfill it (or if there isn’t a market, to create one). I think the fundamental issue is enjoyment. Does one really get any less enjoyment out of a product, just because it has less alcohol, or does sitting around and enjoying that pint with friends the same either way? Additionally, it seems to me the beer is just a different beer at that point, and people like to have different experiences. A 3.5% mild is going to be different than a 6% beer made from the same grain bill, and some might find that, to their taste, the mild is just a more enjoyable beer. I think beers under 3.5 or 4% ABV are trendy right now, but there will always be a niche. Historically speaking, this is where many beer style fell- it wasn’t until the 20th century or so that the “norm” became 5.5%, and not until the 1990s that 6-10% became so common.

      I agree that there is no situation I see myself buying a six pack (I suppose in that regard I have the same mental hang-up as you), but if I’m out with friends and have to drive home, I might order one. And I have been trying to do some lower ABV brews lately, because I enjoy the sensory experience of beer more than say water or tea, but I don’t need to be drinking two or three 10%-ers in a night. And my latest Southern English brown, at less than 4%, is quite enjoyable- I often find myself reaching over Russian Imperial Stouts and other beers in my fridge to grab on. But alas some cannot brew their own, and so must buy the six pack.

      – Dennis, Life Fermented Blog

  5. Nate says:

    The short answer is they’ll charge what ever people will pay for it. So long as they can sell it before it goes bad, that’s what it’s worth. If it sells extremely quickly, then it must be worth more than what they’re charging.

    And of course, if they have to price it so low to get it to move that they’re losing money, then they’ll just stop making it. It really all comes down to supply/demand.

  6. Gilad says:

    As a consumer/maker of lower alcohol beers*, I can understand the appeal of drinking a “micro beer”, but when I do bother buying beer, I can’t see myself buying a low alcohol beer. I’m guessing the choice to buy the low alcohol is a fashion for “quality drinker” fassade without the physical toll of actually enjoying quality beers.

    *Age meant that Ii get hangovers way too easily.

  7. mgrob76 says:

    Thank you all for your comments. It does come down to market demand in the end, whether there is a demand first that the brewer is fulfilling, or the brewer is so forward thinking that he/she is creating a product that they feel the drinking public wants, even before the public realizes they want it (ala Steve Jobs). It will be interesting to see how micro beers develop in the craft industry.

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