What I Miss About You
Running a beer tour business, I am lucky to be able to visit a lot of breweries in a given year. During my brewery travels, I get to see some great run breweries and some that are not so well run. For the purpose of this article, the names of breweries don’t matter. My observations are meant to be more general and not a jab at any one brewery in particular.
I started out my love of beer like a lot of people, in college. I was fortunate enough to have gone to Western Michigan University in the mid-nineties where I was exposed to Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo. They had just opened the Eccentric Café. At that time, locally made beer was just starting out. As a customer, my knowledge of beer and the variety that I had access to was pretty limited. I mainly drank domestic beer and occasionally ventured into imports. In the few breweries that existed in the 1990s, I might see a blonde ale, pale ale, brown ale, red ale and porter or stout. That was typically it.
Let’s jump forward to the present day situation with local breweries. Most modern-day breweries still offer “sampler trays”, but now the trays are called “flights of beer.” Same idea except that most breweries offer a larger variety of beer than the breweries in the 1990s. Thus, since it’s difficult to try all the beers for sale at a specific brewery during one visit, the customer typically picks 4-6 beers to sample in a flight. Most of these breweries price each sample at $2 or more for a 4-5 ounce pour. I get that the raw material costs associated with beer have gone up over the years and that certain beer styles cost a lot more to produce than others. I get that it takes more time for the server to pour a flight rather than a single pint, and since breweries are busier than ever, time is precious and adds to cost. Although there are breweries out there that still price beer samplers at reasonable prices, they are few and far between.
Most brewers have figured out that they can make a larger profit margin on flights. I can’t blame them for wanting to make more money as the local beer industry continues to hum along. As a small business owner and beer tour operator, I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t agree with the notion of earning more money in my own business or for the breweries operating in that fashion. However, I do feel that eventually local, regional and national competition within the beer and alcohol industry will have breweries taking a second look at how they price their products.
As more breweries have opened closer to others, competition with each other is inevitable. I live in the Berkley/Royal Oak/Ferndale area. I have a dozen options to visit for locally made beer, mead and spirits. If you added up all of the beer bars and restaurants that now serve local and regional beers, I now have a much larger set of options from which I can choose for drinking and socializing. As breweries start to compete with other bars, restaurants and beer stores, they will need to recognize that not all consumers will be willing to pay $8 for an 8 ounce pour of the latest and greatest beer. Breweries, like any other business, are going to need to decide who they want to attract and price products and services that match that type of customer. Call me a bit old school, but I long for the days when breweries offered a value based beer sampler and the excitement I felt as I tried everything and still had money left over to buy a pint!
–Cheers from Beer Tour Guy / Motor City Brew Tours