B.C. Beer Blog

The who, what, where, when, why, and how of B.C. craft beer

Tightening the Beer Belt?

with 10 comments

A refreshing Storm Hurricane IPA on a sunny day.

A refreshing Storm Hurricane IPA on a sunny day.

Pacific Western Brewing’s Cariboo “Genuine Draft” is flying off the shelves, according to an article in the Vancouver Sun. It’s because the lager is the cheapest six pack in the province. Given the likelihood that it doesn’t taste much different from BC’s top-selling diluted beer brands — Corona, Canadian, Kokanee, Budweiser, Coors, etc. — this isn’t much of a surprise. Why spend $10.75 on a six pack of Canadian when you can get Cariboo for $7.54? Do you really think paying $11.95 for a six pack of Corona means it’s that much better? Does spending an extra $4.00 for imported swill make one cool? When a six pack of locally-brewed Central City Red Racer Pale Ale costs $10.75, definitely not!

Unlike wine, beer is not so expensive that you have to make sacrifices, unless you drink lots of it. In that case, it doesn’t hurt to reconsider your drinking choices or drinking style, for that matter. If you drink a lot of mass-market light lager, maybe the reason is that its lack of flavour is not satisfying, so you keep drinking and drinking until you’re full or drunk. Try drinking an undiluted, unadulterated, unfiltered, unpasteurized craft beer instead. You might find that you are satisfied with drinking less. So in paying a bit more for a more flavourful beer, ironically, you may actually spend less on your overall consumption.

Picking up a growler from your local brewpub may be another option to save some money and, more importantly, the environment. You’ll have to buy the 2L bottle first. After that, just bring it back for a refill and pay the price of a couple of pints, but get 700ml more beer! Central City Brewing in Surrey, for example, normally charges $10 for a refill, but it’s just $8.50 on Sundays. This is cheaper than a six pack of Molson Canadian, but it produces less waste, doesn’t require recycling, and uses a lot less energy over the life of the container. It’s also the freshest beer you will ever get.

Taking this to a bigger scale, you may also be able to get 8.5L party pigs or 20L & 50L kegs from your local craft brewery or brewpub if you’re having a barbecue or throwing a party. It’s got the same advantages of a growler, only you spread the benefits to more people.

In Vancouver, an additional opportunity to reduce your beer expenses is by joining CAMRA Vancouver. Members receive a 10% discount at the Alibi Room, Brewery Creek, Firefly, Viti, and the Wolf & Hound.

Then there’s a more involved way to shrink your beer budget: home brewing. Pseudo-home brewing is using a brew-on-premises (BOP) shop, especially the kind where you don’t have much direct involvement in the actual brewing beyond choosing the style of beer you want and pitching the yeast. To actually get involved in brewing from start to finish, the easiest and cheapest way to get rolling is with a beer kit. Depending on how well-equipped your kitchen is, you may not have to get a lot of extra equipment. You certainly don’t need any fancy gear to brew good beer, nor really a lot of space if it’s just for your own consumption. It’s not that hard to brew beer; it just takes time. The challenge, however, is in making a great beer. Fortunately, there’s lots of help available in the form of books, videos, homebrewer groups, and your local hombrew supply store. Some home brewers I know still go to pubs and buy packaged beer from stores. Others swear by doing it yourself and bask in the savings.

Another option for the beer drinker is to look at some other expenses to see if you can reduce them instead of having to sacrifice enjoying a quality beer. Coffee is one item that most people will be able to reduce the cost of by simply making it themselves. If you typically buy two cups of coffee every day from a coffee shop, assuming you pay $1.50 per cup for drip coffee, that works out to $1,095.00 per year ($1,569.50 for a small Starbucks Americano, $1,825.00 for a medium). On the other hand, if you buy 1/2 a pound of fresh-roasted coffee from your local roaster every week for $8.00 and make it at home and/or at work, it will cost $416.00 and taste better. You save $679.00 (and a lot of waste if you can’t be bothered to use a travel mug when buying from a coffee shop).

While the economy may be forcing you to tighten your belt, you don’t have to go so far as to drink swill to afford drinking beer. It may just mean taking a different approach.


10 Responses

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  1. Those are some good points there. But, I think it is better not to see wine as mutually exclusive to beer. Personally I enjoy both, and I think that true appreciation of good beer is very similar to appreciate of good wine.

    Lots of people will just buy wine for ratings, price, commercially manipulated flavours that produce sweeter style, more alcohol, more coke-like characteristics, etc. The challenge is to educate the palate and people’s experience of wine in order to change preconceptions. For example, I am sure most would be surprised that the best value bottles of wine are not found in the aisles of commercial wine, but at stores who seek out the best that small producers can make. There are wines out there from $10-$20 that have far more personality and character than mass commercial efforts costing $30.

    As with beer, there is both misperception and lack of information. I opt for promoting the cause of both!


    April 19, 2009 at 11:33 pm

  2. Just to clarify, Shea, I don’t see wine and beer as mutually exclusive. However, beer is cheaper to the point that you don’t have to make sacrifices to the extent that you may have to with wine. You can afford to drink a good beer every night, one that costs at least three times less than a bottle of decent wine. You can get a six pack or a 2L growler of Central City Red Racer IPA for less than one bottle of Yellow Tail. With respect to wine, that is my only point in this post.

    As for promoting both, well the title of this blog is pretty specific. And given the likes of Anthony Gismondi, Juergen Gothe, Sid Cross, Tim Pawsey, et. al., I think wine is very well-covered in BC. If you are calling for equal treatment, which I support, then beer needs to be given a lot more coverage for that to be the case.

    Just to clarify, I’m not anti-wine. I enjoy a good wine from time to time. However, I get my hackles up when I read wine hyperbole, like “Use Beer to Cook and Wine to Drink.”


    April 20, 2009 at 8:38 am

    • Beer is generally cheaper, although that is changing, especially in the US. There are plenty of 22oz bottles down here that go for $20+. Mikkeller is selling 12oz bottles for up to $20.

      But, ya my point is that you can’t compare a good beer to Yellow Tail!

      I definitely agree that beer needs more coverage and I don’t think you should change your blog of course! It’s great. My only point is that I notice a tendency amongst some beer people to decry wine, which I think is the wrong attitude, or to make comparisons that put beer in a more favourable light than wine. That cheapness consideration may matter now, but what about in the future? Wouldn’t it be good for beer to gain reputation and increase prices for special brews? I mean the really good stuff is expensive to make, what with the costs of oak barrels (if you think of what goes into wine you understand why it costs more to buy).

      Personally, I think the best attitude is to draw favourable comparisons between wine and beer. Both can be appreciated equally. California’s micro brew Beer industry, especially in San Francisco, has grown dramatically over the last while, and a big part of that growth has been wine industry types discovering beer. Tap into the dominance of wine and you might find a larger and more willing market than you realize! It will take some effort to get over the stereotypes on both sides, but I think it will enhance both industries.

      That said, there is certainly a lot of wine coverage in BC, but not a lot of good and honest wine coverage. As an example, your post about Juergen Gothe’s comments re: Tiger show poor journalism. And, I can say that his wine writings and picks leave a lot to be desired. And Yellow Tale (the wine equivalent of Bud) is still the #1 selling wine in BC.


      April 20, 2009 at 2:30 pm

  3. I certainly agree with your points above, Shea. It is exciting to see brewers coming out with beer that takes more effort to make, such as barrel-aging, blending, and using the methode Champenoise. Nevertheless, in the context of belt-tightening, a good beer is always going to be the more affordable option. How many people are going to be able to afford to drink a bottle of wine a day as opposed to a bottle of beer a day?


    April 20, 2009 at 2:56 pm

  4. Not many – but I certainly hope they don’t for their liver’s sake as much as their wallet!


    April 20, 2009 at 5:04 pm

  5. Meaning that 1 bottle of wine of average alcohol level is equal to something like 8 standard drinks, so it should last 2 days for 2 people.


    April 20, 2009 at 7:37 pm

  6. Big Ridge lets you fill up a growler for $7 on Tuesdays, which is really the best deal in town. And last time I was at Quails Gate, they wouldn’t let me fill up the jug I brought.


    April 22, 2009 at 11:15 am

  7. Over the weekend, I read a CBC article saying that the BC NDP (if elected) would hike the cost of a 6-pack by about three bucks. Anyone have thoughts/opinions on this (beside not wanting to pay $3 extra? haha). Here’s the article: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/bcvotes2009/story/2009/05/01/bc-ndp-promises-beer-wine-prices.html

    Heather Mitchell

    May 4, 2009 at 11:55 am

    • The NDP is not saying they will hike beer prices. The Alliance of Beverage Licensees are saying they will do this in response to the NDP’s plan to cut the private stores’ purchasing discount from 16% to 10% and raising the provincial minimum wage to $10 per hour. Given the vested interest, I find the $3 increase to be dubious. Nevertheless, this will have no effect on prices in government liquor stores.

      A post on this is forthcoming…


      May 4, 2009 at 12:08 pm

      • ah, thanks for the info. I found the Tyee article via your Twitter RSS feed and read up. complex!

        Heather Mitchell

        May 4, 2009 at 12:10 pm

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