Are We En Route to $100 Beer?

When it comes to beer, I'm into Belgian tripels and triple IPAs. What I'm not into is the thought of paying triple DIGITS for a single bottle. Yet, much like the cost of gasoline, the value of my favorite liquid fuel is on the rise. And, to further pump this analogy, octane appears to be the main driver — the higher the alcohol content, the higher the price.

Case in point is Samuel Adams Utopias, an annual special-release blend of numerous barrel-aged beers that comes in at 27% alcohol by volume (ABV) and an even more staggering $150 a bottle (and a lot more second-hand...Google the beer and be prepared for a shock). When you consider that the beer comes across more as a liqueur — something uncarbonated with a smooth, brandy-like flavor and mouthfeel that's sippable in small quantities — the price tag seems justifiable. It's something you can keep and drink over a long period of time, much like a fine cognac. But will people pay $100 and up for a single sitting experience?

"I think we're definitely on the way to $100 beers," says Peter Zien, owner and head brewer of AleSmith, which was mobbed by over 600 beer fans yesterday (including many who camped out and were in line by 8 a.m.) looking to get their hands on newly released barrel-aged versions of the brewery's 2009 Speedway Stout and 2008 Decadence English-style barleywine. The price of those offerings was just $25 (a mere pittance), but similar releases from other Southern California brewing companies go for much more, such as San Marcos' Lost Abbey, which puts out beers at $35 (Veritas 009 bourbon-and-wine barrel-aged ale) and $45 (Duck Duck Gooze gueuze and Veritas 006 "sangria-style" sour ale) on a relatively consistent basis.

That's nothing compared to Tactical Nuclear Penguin, a 32% ABV imperial stout, produced by Scottish brewing company BrewDog, which retails for over $100. Thankfully, it's a bit of an anomaly for the moment, but creations like this raise the ceiling for the entire market and — as much as I hate to admit it — America's blue-collar everyman adult-beverage industry is going the way of wine and spirits and gunning for Benjamin Franklin in a big way. Hopefully, local varieties (including creative, aged, and outlandish releases from the breweries in America's Finest) will remain under $50 for some time to come. I'll for sure drink to that!

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