Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Cost of a pint of Pliny: $7.50

By William Brand
Friday, January 23rd, 2009 at 10:48 pm in what's on tap.

Just got this email note from a blog reader..

  • William, Faithful blog reader here – I encountered an oddity tonight that I cannot help but pass by you: Barclay’s, 5940 College Ave., Oakland, CA. has raised the price of one Imperial Pint of Pliny the Elder to $7.50, claiming that keg prices have risen by $40! Though this did detour me to the Shastafarian Porter (yum!), being a Russian River fan, I’m quite curious if this is to become the norm or a temporary situation?

It’s certainly food for thought and I’ll check it out. What’s going on? I know craft beer prices are jumping really fast, but…Ideas anyone.

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  • http://www.brewedforthought.com Mario (Brewed For Thought)

    Prices at the brew pub have held steady since I checked last. Pliny the Younger hits taps a weeks from Monday…

  • EastBayBeerGeek

    Thats insane. There are plenty of other places to get a good size Pliny for a VERY fair price.

    For Example: Dublin Sports Pub or The Englander in San Leandro —> 1/2Liter is only 5.50!!!!

  • Chris

    Since we can’t get it down here on the Monterey Peninsula, I’d be happy to pay $7.50 for a pint.

  • http://eddiepapas.com Ed

    Pliny did jump from 150 to 180 a keg, we raised prices but its still only $6 at Eddie Papa’s American Hangout-Pleasanton

  • Tasty

    Do the math. There are 120 pints on a 15.5 gallon keg. A $40 increase is .30 per pint. Since craft beer by the pint is apparently marked up 350%, that .30 turns into 1.05 increase per pint. Tip not included. For me, it’s all about selection, so I’ll pay Barclay’s prices because I know I’ll find two tasty pints there. Three if I’m not driving.

  • Antonio

    To continue doing the math…if a keg is 180 and yields 120 pints, then that is $1.50 per, and if it sells for $6, then it’s a 400% markup.

    A quick look on the web puts the hops in Pliny at about three or four times the amount of a typical IPA, which must push up the production costs, particularly when hop prices have been so volatile in the last couple of years.

    The larger issue is that beer prices do seem to have increased considerably in the last few years. Both at stores and bars. The store issue would seem to be more straightforward; prices are presumably much more closely tied to actual costs, where brewers most likely have a target markup, as do distributors and stores, with all having a vested interest in keeping the prices down so that they will be able to sell more.

    For bars, though, it’s more complicated. For a start, costs can vary much more widely. Add that to the fact that ambiance, service, and location may be more important factors thyan price, and the issue becomes much more complicated. The most glaring example around here is probably The Monk’s Kettle v. Toronado. The price disparity is quite a shock (particularly to those of us accustomed to the Toronado), but I bet the cost disparity is as well. We can safely assume that the Toronado is not spending a whole lot on either remodeling or daily cleanings, whereas the Monk’s Kettle is undoubtedly still carrying the cost of the remodel prior to opening.

    So, assuming that there are real cost disparities, it becomes a question of experience. Does the experience of one place differ significantly from another? Absolutely. The Monk’s Kettle does seem a bit pricey to me, but that’s influenced by the fact that I’m comfortable at the Toronado. My wife, on the other hand, refuses to sit too far back, convinced that she can smell the bathrooms if we get too close to them. For her, it’s worth a couple extra bucks to not smell pee while drinking her beer.

    I guess this is very longwinded way of saying that as beer goes more upscale in both it’s ingredients (and therefore costs) and environs, the prices are bound to go up. I admit to feeling a tug lamenting this trend, while in reality, it’s also coinciding with my personal, um, maturation, where I would now rather pay more each for three quality beers than less for 5 mediocre ones in an evening.

    That being said, I remain very happy that the price of Pliny seems to have held steady at $4.50 at Toronado.

  • http://beerobsessed.com 22oz Bomber

    Too rich for my blood. This consumer will drink Pliny somewhere else. No diss to Barclay’s though. I “shop” there all the time!

  • craig

    tasty and antonio..have it right..400% mark-up is tooo much..(criminal if it were a food staple) most of the pubs in the bay area have it wrong…lure the customer in with cheap beer…and make the money on ordered food…but in my travels most of the pubs offer horrendous food..at least in danville they get it right…cheap happy hours and not great…but decent pub grub..

  • Bill

    At Barclay’s you’re certainly not paying extra for the atmosphere. I like the place but it’s not exactly homey or interesting.

  • Jake

    While picking up a 22 oz. Moylan’s Double IPA at Plaza Bottle shop in San Leandro last Friday, I noticed they had it priced at $8.99.

    Are we in another hops shortage?

  • http://www.ibabuzz.com/bottomsup William Brand

    Wow. Some good math posted here.

    I’ve talked to brewers, who say yes — hop prices and grain prices and the price of bottles and the cost of shipping, have all risen through the roof in the last year. I believe they’re raising prices enough to cover the uncertainties.

    For years hops were dirt cheap, but no more. And barley prices have risen steeply as well. This was all big news a year ago, but there was some lag time in the supply line. Unfortunately, it seems to have ended.

    About Barclay’s I don’t know. I’m going to ask the owner Monday. But compared to the price of some Belgian kegs, $180 isn’t so bad. Chuck and Aaron at The Trappist told me they paid $495 for one keg of a Belgian Christmas beer. Forget which one. Fortunately, they aren’t all that costly. I believe Bud Lite is well under $100 a keg, but who in hell wants to drink it. I don’t believe I would bother if they wre giving it away. I’d rather spend the 100 or so calories on a chocolate shake.

    About the Toronado. I love the Toronado. I always try to stand near the wait station at the back closest to the restrooms, because there’s not such a crowd.

    My wife, however, has never entered the establishment. She loves Monk’s Kettle, so does my daughter, who is 22, although she, too, frequents the Toronado from time to time. However, never thought of this before, but she never joins me at the end of the bar near the restroom.

  • http://www.ibabuzz.com/bottomsup William Brand

    About luring in patrons…. great pubs — and Barclay’s is definitely a great pub — “lure” people in with great beer. Their food may not be awesome, but it’s excellent and I think Barclay’s has a lot of atmosphere. Warm, friendly place, where people talk to you and kids are welcome.

    Their beer selection changes a lot and I can always find something interesting.

  • Derrick

    In addition to all the math, there is simply a supply and demand issue. If Craft Beer blogs (like this one) rave about Pliny the Elder, which cannot be found at most bars, the bars that have this scarce item may be in position to charge more for it. Seeing that we already pay way more for high-end craft beer anyway, the craft brew crowd is very price elastic. (That’s fancy talk for “if the price of craft beer goes goes up, we do not immediately turn to drinking stuff like Bud Light”).

    And the good news is, if the price of Pliny the Elder goes too high, there’s always great stuff like Shastafarian Porter. Perhaps this bar underestimated their patrons understanding of substituting an equally satisfactory for a lower price.

    By the way, there are plenty of industries where a 400% mark-up like this is common.

  • craig

    i wonder if “ben & nicks”(just up the street & closer to bart) upped thier prices…i consider it more of an “ale house”..anyways..

  • Justin Horner

    Ben and Nick’s is still $6, I think, and $3.50[sic] at Happy Hour.

  • http://destroy.net Nathan Smith

    Increasingly bars seem to be creating multiple price lists based on popularity of the drink and price of the kegs. Makes sense, based on the wide range of keg costs these days. Monk’s Kettle in SF is one of the most complicated examples of this I’ve seen. Either way, compare to what wine or fine spirits can cost in a bar or restaurant and beer is relatively cheap. And for really excellent and unique beers like Pliny, the premium price here and there is well deserved. Justin, allow me to do a take off on part of your haiku:

    “See the red dot, the price matters not.”

  • Chris

    my input about Toronado prices…as I understand it, Dave owns the building and has owned it for a number years. Since so many bar/restaurant owners are just trying to cover rent at current market values, they need to react to the current value of their merchandise. Nothing pushes a bar’s prices up quite like the owner needing to cover this month’s rent payment. If Toronado only needs to cover a mortgage payment (assuming they even still owe on the building, which they may not), they don’t need to raise their prices at every little bump in the road. You really shouldn’t expect Monk’s Kettle and others to offer the same prices as Toronado if they’re pay so much more per month in rent.

  • Tasty

    No matter if you’re at your local pub, the airport, or the ballpark, you’re going to pay what the market will bear. There’s no elaborate calculation of overhead or multiplying of cost time four or five, it’s just raising the price until there’s a drop in demand or some other indicator it’s starting to hurt. It could be time to start the Bay Area Beerdrinkers Association. There are many more of us than them and we’re the ones with the money.

  • easong

    At the HP Pavillion in SJ (aka the Shark Tank) you will stand in a long line to pay $8.50 for a 10 oz cup of Sierra Pale dispensed through a dirty hose. And you will thank your god you don’t have to drink from the Tied House hose.

    I will be happy to pay $10 for for an imperial pint of Pliny at any drinking establishment in Santa Clara County.

  • Antonio

    For the record, I was not passing any judgment on the 400% markup. If that’s what it takes to cover costs, then it’s by definition not exorbitant. My sense from frequenting these establishments (the pubs and bars, that is – the brewpubs are a whole different economic animal) is that the owners are not making a killing at the expense of the patrons. If they are, they’re by and large hiding it well.

    Derrick’s point of price elasticity is interesting, particularly when applied to bottles in stores. I have been struck by how much the prices for 750ml bottles of beer have crept up in recent years. Perusing the shelves of Healthy Spirits or City Beer Store, it seems as though the average price is over $10. I have definitely found myself thinking, “jeez, should I pay the $12 for that beer, or would I be better off with a $12 bottle of Cab?”

    Applying the ideas of elasticity and substitution, I am only willing to go so high, in general, for some beer or wine, let’s say $15 unless it’s extra special. If that’s the case, then I may be willing to substitute wine once the beer price starts getting close to that ceiling, given that there is a perceived differential in value because a bottle of wine will yield more glasses than beer will (in general).

    There is the issue of what I want, or am in the mood for, but I can certainly have my mood swung by a perceived differential in value that is too great.

    The whole dynamic is very interesting. For me personally, I do end up having an internal hierarchy, where the best value is a six pack, such as a $10 Stone IPA, followed by a $10 Cabernet that tastes like a $15 one, then the well priced larger bottles of beer such as Lagunitas’ Maximus for $4 or RR Damnation at $7 or Le Merle, then the over $10 bottles of beer and over $13 bottles of wine. Of course, I do on occasion consume at all of these levels, but my economic situation at any moment definitely comes into play.

    I happen to live a couple of blocks from the Toronado, so my bar drinking choices are highly influenced by their seemingly somewhat quirky pricing. The vast majority of beer seems to be either $4.50 or $9.50 these days. If Pliny were to be priced $6, it would definitely curtail my Pliny intake (as I almost always make my last one a Pliny), but not eliminate it. If all double IPAs were suddenly $6 while IPAs stayed $4.50, I have no idea what I’d do…

  • http://www.ibabuzz.com/bottomsup William Brand

    It’s a confusing world, isn’t it. I’ve gotten used to paying quite a bit for Belgians, for example. But I’ve grown increasingly cautious. And if a bottle has turned, is old, I take it back.

    American craft beer prices have shot up sharply in the last few months. Damn shame. The 3.99 22 oz. bottle of great beer has almost disappeared. I never buy wine, except, we stock a red and a white for company. I’d choke and die before I pay $15 for a bottle of wine. Guess that makes me a lowly beer geek. But a happy one.

  • http://www.ibabuzz.com/bottomsup William Brand

    We gotta do something about the Shark Tank. There have been lots of complaints about dirty lines.

    Some good news about Tied House San Jose: Peter Licht, long the head brewer at Coast Range (which sadly closed last year) is now head brewer at Tied House in San Jose. That means the beer quality and range and variety’s going to improve radically. He’s already started putting out a new cask ale every Friday, See you there.

  • easong

    On the $3.99 bottle of great beer, I recommend our local product Santa Cruz Aleworks IPA (also Pale and Hefe). It’s a no-brainer when the Stone Ruination sitting next to it is $5.99, and the Moylander is $6.99.

  • craig

    the “tank” is not the only place with dirty lines in the bay area….i can think of 4-6 without trying very hard….”happy new years”..china town was a blast last-nite…

  • http://www.ibabuzz.com/bottomsup William Brand

    Gives new meaning to the “drink locally” slogan, doesn’t it.

  • Steve

    Haven’t heard anyone mention Pete’s Brass Rail in the comments, but they have Pliny and the server told me a couple of weeks back they were probably going to increase the price due to the higher keg price.