Posted by: Scott | October 24, 2009

Budget-Beer Bible | Chapter 1

(I know the Bible doesn’t use chapters this way. I’m hoping God’s OK with it.)

Ground rule numero uno: Avoid beer on sale. My reasons? Well, there’s a chance the beer was marked down because nobody wanted to buy it, which probably means it tastes like sparkling canal water. Second, even if it tasted fine in its prime, that beer’s sale-priced for some reason. It could be old, light-struck, oxidized, etc. Beer can spoil (although drinking a spoiled beer typically won’t hurt you), and most merchants dislike losing money on fresh food.

Many grocery stores now carry a bevy of inexpensive craft brews and imports: New Belgium 1554, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Hoegaarden Original—each for $7–8 a six-pack. You won’t find any 300-cans-for-$30 blowouts with those on your shopping list, but you’ll get a more complex, satisfying beer, which often means stopping at one or two instead of 20. The costs level out once you’ve mastered the chug reflex!

But if you really crave experimentation, I recommend finding a specialty store that lets you mix and match bottles to build your own pack. Many chains like Total Wine encourage this, as do some small liquor stores. Local joints tend to provide a better selection (and you get to support your local economy!), but even Google can suffer a meltdown trying to sift through all the liquors store in a metro area. Just remember, you can find good beer on a budget. Earlier this week, I built a tasty pack o’ ales for $6 and change, and that’s including tax. Now go and enjoy the beer hunt!

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Responses

  1. Thank you Scott for the sound advice. Old beer is well… old. I know about all that vertical vintage stuff promoted by Stone Brewing etc. The age beer thing goes back awhile, ever hear of King & Barnes?
    As you mentioned light-struck, there is also heat-struck, where beer has been improperly store in a room that is too warm.
    But you can find good beer on sale at times. Not because it is old, or damaged, but simply because it is not moving fast enough for the distributor. But his is somewhat rare.
    Thanks again.

    • Thanks for the comment, beerdoctor!

      To be honest, I considered a disclaimer saying that not EVERY beer on sale is bad, but I thought my “try to avoid it” and “well, it could be…” approach would get the point across.

      You’re quite right. Some beers age well, and heat-damaged beer can happen (though, if I’m not mistaken, only at extreme temps and over a long period of time … it won’t go bad during the trip home in the backseat–unless sunlight hits it). But beer can spoil other ways, too, and I wanted to save some material for future articles! 😉

      I know a bit about King & Barnes. Didn’t they stop producing around 2000? I remember hearing that you can still get some of their beers from Hall & Woodhouse, though.

  2. Thank you again Scott. The main point I gather from Budget Beer Bible is that freshness is best, and I most certainly agree. But as far as the vertical aging thing, I did once set aside a few bottles of Goose Island Christmas Ale for two years and noticed the chocolate notes in the profile had given way to a more citrus dry, old English style ale. Was it worth the wait for the change of palate? I guess that depends on who is drinking it and what they are exactly looking for.
    As far as aged beer is concerned. I remember having a lively discussion with Mathias Neidhardt of B. United International, who got me hip to Schneider & Sohn’s five year old Aventinuus, where the magnificent hefe-weizen dopplebock begins to take on port like iron notes that are very smooth and strong.
    But when it comes to beer generally, freshness is best.
    peace to you.

  3. The Aventinus is a pretty spectacular beer. Good call!

    As for freshness vs. aging, I think it also boils down to the storage environment. A store shelf usually isn’t the best environment for aging. But it definitely depends on what you’re looking for (and, regarding my last point, it also depends on the store!). It’d be fun to buy a beer, age it for a year, then buy a fresh one and compare the two.

    Thanks again for the comments, beerdoctor. Hope you’ll stick around! I look forward to future stimulating beer discussions.

  4. don’t forget that first runs of new brews by established breweries can also be discounted. widmer bros. and another one i can’t remember did that for their new beers earlier this year. i stocked up and cleaned up.

    • I actually haven’t tried that. Good tip!

  5. Speaking of fresh beer, you might want to check out Mendocino Brewing’s Imperial IPA winter seasonal. This arrived before Sierra Nevada Celebration this year. Stronger and slightly lower in price, it is the epitome of west coast hop obsessions, incorporating the idea that hop heavy beer can be a holiday selection. Mendocino Brewing not only has their brewery in California, but also in Sarasota Springs, New York. This week’s arrival is wonderfully fresh, copper coloured, with plenty of citrus notes.


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