When the hell did beer become $7 a glass?
“Why are things changing? I don’t like it! I’m scared!” - Old man yelling at clouds
I’m going to get shit for this post, I just know it. And that’s probably fair. Them’s the rules of the internet: If you build your hill on a topic of which you know nothing, you should expect to be called out.
But one cool thing about the internet is they just let you post whatever opinion you want. And what I lack in smarts, social aptitude, judgement and hygiene, I make up for in opinions. I have tons of them! At least four or five by my last count, all of which are correct.
So here’s my latest correct opinion:
Draft beer is too expensive.
When did it become common for breweries and bars to charge $7 a pour? And that’s the low end—based on personal drinking experience (and let me remind you that I’m a writer so I have a lot of it), it’s not unusual now to find a beer in the $8 - $10 range.
But first, let me share a memory.
When I was 20, my friends and I took a road trip from Salt Lake City to Vancouver. At the time, I worked as a pizza delivery driver and was paying $300 a month in rent. During the weeks leading up to the trip, I set aside my cash tips for spending money, and I think I accumulated something like $350 by the time we set off to Vancouver. This amount of cash seemed insurmountable to me. How could I ever spend $350 in a week?
I was not yet old enough to go to bars in the states yet, but Canada was a different story. In fact, going to bars was one of the main reasons we set out for Vancouver.
We got a room in The Cambie Hostel, which may have been nice or trashy—I can’t really remember. You see the hostel is right above The Cambie Pub. For a degenerate in training, The Cambie was paradise, a Wonka Wonderland for dirtbags. The beers were cheap (their current menu lists most of their draft pours at 5.25 CDN which is $4.20 USD. I can’t remember what they were 20 years ago, but I bet it was less than 5.25), the floors were dirty and the crowd was rowdy. We lived like kings.
But of course, not everyone wanted to spend the entire trip in The Cambie, so on our final night in Vancouver, we ventured out to some nice bar whose name I can’t remember. It just felt like something we should do. So, we drank. I think we even had Irish Car Bombs (20 years old is a hell of an age).
And then when we got the bill, my eyes went boing and my mouth went hoozza wuzza.
We each owed $60.
Nearly twenty percent of my vacation budget, gone in a few hours. I felt like a sucker. I remember looking at the person whose idea it was to leave the Cambie, and saying: “If I drank $60 worth of alcohol at a party back home, I’d be dead.” I swore to myself that I’d never pay that much to drink again.
Cut to now. I’m standing at a bar at my first show post pandemic shutdown, running my debit card for $50. I’m world-weary, haggard, and with way more experience in losing money.
And then cut to a few nights later, where I’m doing the same thing again.
Apparently, I did not learn my lesson in Vancouver, and even though I feel like a sucker whenever I drop that kind of money at a bar, I’ve grown numb to it, and there’s always that little 20-year-old Ryan in the back of my head saying “if you drank $50 worth of beer at home, you’d probably end up dead or in the hospital, at least.” As if that’s a noble achievement to strive for.
Of course, this reasoning ignores a ton of factors that add to the appeal of bars and breweries—the social aspect, the service, the ambiance, live music, etc. But if you’ve gone within the last five or so years, you’ve undoubtedly seen the slow creep in beer prices, too.
I’m hesitant to call out specific breweries and bars here because, at the end of the day, I still like them (sort of a “love the sinner, hate the sin” sort of thing), but you probably know which bars and breweries I’m talking about. I’ve noticed it at dive bars and fancy breweries alike.
This is where the experts will call me out on my shit, because I only have a consumer's perspective. I have absolutely no idea what goes into beer production. And I’ll be the first to admit that my griping closely resembles the CHUDs who rally against minimum wage increases because fast food burgers will get more expensive. There’s no getting around the hypocrisy of condemning the price of goods while advocating for fair pay. But I have to wonder to what extent San Diego’s cosmopolitan prices benefit the workers. Like, if they didn’t have the perks of drinking for free, how many would still be able to regularly drink at the establishments for which they brew?
I know this is oversimplification, and that there are distribution, taxes, wages, and other hidden costs that I’m not aware of. But, still: what makes a beer cost $7 in San Diego?
“Some styles of beer require that price margin. Others don’t,” replied my friend and beer writer Beth Demmon when I texted her about my beer grief. “It’s completely dependent. Really it’s just we’re lazy and cheap and have been lied to as consumers about the true cost of goods and now everyone’s crying about it.”
Lazy and cheap?? Why I oughta... I was about to respond but then realized doing so would take, like, a lot of work.
“But the broad scope of it is that it’s not crazy to pay that in many cases,” Demmon continued. “That’s often a pretty accurate and reasonable price to pay for a luxury good in an industry that pretends to be (and only occasionally lives up to being!) a good industry for employees.”
Chris Leguizamon, a beer educator in San Diego, offered this valuable insight: “One thing is for certain is that the bigger you get, the more financially friendly a bulk pricing becomes versus what a small brewery has to pay (grain silo vs 55 lb bags).
And when I posed the question on Twitter, industry professional Andrew Snodgrass replied with this sharp thread:
These are all enlightening points, especially for a plebe like me, but no one seems to know the specifics of what makes a beer in San Diego $7 when you could probably find that same pour for $5 or $6 in Portland or Seattle (and it’s especially frustrating to see at breweries, where they don’t need to pay for distribution).
I don’t think this is due to ignorance, but it’s just such an arbitrary amount that most people don’t think about it. At that point, I imagine it’s just aesthetics. So why do I get hung up on it? Why does $6 feel like an acceptable price for a beer, but $7 feels absurd. When I think too much about it, I feel the self-loathing that comes from being a cheapskate.
But then I think: devil’s in the details and all that. This is especially true when it comes to aesthetics. I have no doubt that some establishments inflate their prices just because they know people will pay for the “craft” treatment, thereby manufacturing perceived value and luxury.
Truthfully, I don’t even know what craft means anymore. If a brewery is large enough to be poached by Anheuser Busch, does it still count as craft? Or are they just banking on people embracing an artisanal craze which allows the market to charge whatever it wants? This is the same phenomenon that allows places to get away with charging $10 for toast or charge exorbitant prices to flip your own pancakes. This is how we got $14 cocktails and chode bars with $2,000 annual membership fees.
Side note: Whenever this subject comes up, I always think back to Ian MacKaye’s response regarding people buying $28 Minor Threat shirts from Urban Outfitters: “Do I think it’s absurd? Yes, I certainly do. Motherfuckers pay $28, that’s what they wanna pay for their shirts.”
In this case: Motherfuckers pay $10 for a triple IPA, that’s what they wanna pay for their beer.
And let’s not forget that the craft beer industry is currently facing a reckoning when it comes to harassment and sexual abuse in the workplace. For those that care, the luxury and exclusivity should no longer be a factor in determining beer cost—but proof that we’re buying beer made by decent people. It’s now the brewers’ responsibility to earn back their patrons, and enthusiastic transparency about equity, respect, and justice would do a lot more for me than high-falutin, artisanal small batches.
Anyway, this long-winded rant is just to say I think beer is too expensive, an argument that—when boiled down—is really just a fear of a changing world. And I don’t like it. I’m not saying all beers have to be cheap, but would it hurt for each bar and brewery to offer a single $5 lager? That’s all I want. And then I’ll shut up.
THE WEEKLY GOODS
Remember that brief moment in 2021 where it felt like we were getting back to normal? Ahhh, June, and July—the halcyon days where we could go naked-faced to grocery stores, travel without fear, and pack ourselves like sardines into bars. Such was the case when Pants Karaoke returned Til-Two for four nights in July. But then buttholes refused to get vaccinated, and the delta variant came along and forced Pants to shut down in-person karaoke yet again. This happened right after I turned in an article for PACIFIC Magazine about Pants Karaoke’s triumphant return, so reading this now feels very bittersweet and also menacingly prophetic. I hope you enjoy, and please get vaccinated if you haven’t so we can have nice things again.
Go to this
There are a lot of great shows this weekend. First, there’s a killer Three One G showcase at Soda Bar on Friday featuring the mathy-hardcore bruisers Deaf Club. Bring earplugs for that one. The next night, Glass Spells are having a record release show, also at Soda Bar. Their dark synth-pop is simultaneously romantic and spooky, the perfect soundtrack for night-driving. But you’d already know that from reading AWKSD friend Julia Dixon Evans’ excellent KPBS profile on them, right? Also, Soda Bar is taking new measures to keep everyone safe (thank you Soda) SO IF YOU GO TO EITHER OF THESE SHOWS, REMEMBER TO BRING PROOF OF VACCINATION OR A NEGATIVE COVID TEST. Finally, garage punks Come Closer are putting on an all-ages matinee show at Green Flash Brewery on Sunday at 4 p.m. I know I just spent an entire newsletter talking shit on breweries, but still, this sounds super fun. Worriers are one of the opening bands and they’ve been one of my favorites for a while.
It’s been a long time since I smiled as much as when I watched these two chaps perform Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” on medieval church bells in The Netherlands. Just goes to show that the power of Lemmy is eternal, and we should all be thankful that he existed on this planet.
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Julia Dixon Evans edited this post. Thanks, Julia. Go follow her on Twitter.