Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Portland Beer Price Index: Autumn 2009

Announcing the results of the first Portland Beer Price Index (drumroll, please...): the average price of a six-pack of Oregon craft beer in Southeast Portland is $8.85. A 22-ounce bomber averages $4.90, and 16 ounces of quality draft beer will typically set you back $4.27. Not very fascinating information, but my real goal is to calculate the PBPI four times a year, so we can watch price trends over time. That might not turn out to be very fascinating, either, but from where I sit in the United States of $9 Six-Packs, I wish I could see the trend that took us here from five dollars or less.

Since the PBPI is based on regular retail and non-happy-hour prices, you can almost always get something a buck or two cheaper. In the future, I might also collect sale prices on the same day that I gather the regular prices, but I didn't want to get in over my head on this first mission. Here is what went into the index:
  • Six-packs: Bridgeport IPA, Caldera Pale Ale, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, Full Sail Amber, Terminal Gravity IPA, Widmer Broken Halo
  • Bombers: Hopworks IPA, Laurelwood Red, Lompoc C-Note, Ninkasi Total Domination, Pelican IPA, Rogue Shakespeare Stout
  • Stores: Beermongers (bombers only), Belmont Station, Fred Meyers, New Seasons, Safeway (six-packs only)
  • Bars: Bailey's Taproom, Barley Mill, Belmont Station, Deschutes, Green Dragon, Hopworks, Horse Brass, Lucky Lab, Vincente's Pizza
  • SPE: Six-pack equivalent prices: bombers, $16.04; pints, $19.22
  • Not included: bottle deposits, bartender tips
The retail beers were chosen to be respectable craft brews from a variety of Oregon breweries. It's a little Portland-heavy, but it does include things from eastern and southern Oregon, Bend, the coast, and the Gorge. I also wanted selections that were likely to be widely available. The brand-new Beermongers surprised me with a curve-ball, though: so far they only carry one of the six-packs on the index. I couldn't even choose substitutes from the same brewery, because they didn't have a single beer from Caldera, Terminal Gravity, or Deschutes (?!), and their only Full Sail was 12-packs of Session. Safeway -- less surprisingly -- also came up a little light, with none of the indexed bombers, and a couple of gaps in the six-pack list.

For the pint prices, I took the most typical price of a pint-like serving at the place, and converted it to an SPE price based on the glassware. The average of all of those is the $19.22 SPE reported above; then to make it intelligible, I converted it back to a price per 16 ounces, since that's the most common way for people to think of a pint (even though most of the time you're served a little more or a little less than that).

Notice that the bomber SPE isn't far from what you'd pay for pints in a bar. And that's the average, so it's really just barely below the most economical imperial-pint establishments: Lucky Lab, Horse Brass, and Bailey's. Tips will increase your costs, but some of the best beer specials around town come in way below the bomber SPE: Tuesdays at Roots ($9.47) or East Burn ($9.60), or Mondays at the Lucky Lab ($12.32). You could tip lavishly on top of that and still spend less than on bombers. Support your local pub!

Next quarter's PBPI will be out right around Christmas.


  1. Ok, so it may not be the most fascinating topic, but the research needed for such information can't be beat!

  2. biergut: I guess I'll be able to survive it every three months.

    Belmont Station was the best: I drank my draft beer "research" while I walked around doing the retail research.

  3. Bill,

    Great #s, kind of makes Safeway's 5.99 sale on Deschutes sixers seem like a steal!

  4. joe: Yeah, a $6 six-pack is almost unheard of these days.

    Widmer usually has one beer or another for $12/case at their dock sales (minimum 3 cases).

  5. This is very interesting information.

    I am fairly new to the Pacific NW, Oregon, Salem, and I am a recent convert to being a locavore and, hence, buying only local craft beer.

    I had done the math of the conversion of bombers to SPE and was generally stunned by the markup.

    I am amazed that you can routinely buy good quality German and Czech Republic pilsner for 2/3 the price of the PNW equivalent. But, I am committed to buying local.

  6. You rock, man. This is an excellent idea, and very nicely executed. It would be great if we could go back in time to about 15 months ago and see how the BPI has changed since then.

    So glad you did this--

  7. Thanks, gents. I wish I'd got it going sooner, but better late than never.

    Hmmm... a sympathetic retailer or distributor could go through their records and approximate the retail index for previous years.... Anyone out there like that?

  8. re: a $6 six-pack is almost unheard of these days.

    I am fairly confident that Costco sell 24 bottle cases for $24 + small change.

    There are typically a half dozen [give or take] interesting beers. Eg01, Spaten Oktoberfestbier Märzen for the last month or so; Eg02, a Widmer Bros. or two. Eg03, a Deschutes or two.

  9. re: a $6 six-pack is almost unheard of these days.
    redux; 04 Oct 2009

    In Costco this PM, following available 24*12oz < $23
    Deschutes - Black Butte Porter
    Deschutes - Mirror Pond Pale Ale
    New Belgium - Fat Tire Amber Ale
    Sierra Nevada - Pale Ale
    Spaten - Oktoberfestbier Märzen
    Widmer Bros. - Hefeweizen

    Heineken - Pilsener 24*12oz < $25

  10. Thanks, Jack. I concede the point. I'll admit, I don't ever go to Costco, and it's pretty rare for me to buy a case at a time.

    Can you buy a single six-pack at Costco, or is it only by the case?

  11. Costco sells full cases only, typically with 24 single bottles instead of sixers inside.

  12. When I am in Fred Myer or Safeway, cruise the beer cooler looking for 'Sales'. If there is match with my beer preference or a particularly interesting beer. I purchase.

    I reckon others do the same.

  13. This beats the research environment when I took Economics 101. Great stuff and very interesting to those of us who not only enjoy beer, but also enjoy or follow the business of beer. It may have been mentioned in other commentary or perhaps your wheels are already turning, but it would be good to follow the "sale" prices at the same time you follow the regular prices. Then, you can show the trends side-by-side. And, in doing so, who knows? Perhaps the breweries and distributors will start paying attention to those who are following prices carefully. Anyone old enough to remember gas wars?

  14. Mark: Yeah, I think Jack R. beat me up pretty good on the sale prices :-). Rightly so.

    Anyway, thanks for the compliment, and I certainly will jot down the sale prices next time I canvas the retail prices. Not sure I'll do the same on the pint prices, anyone have any ideas about that?

  15. Re: Happy hour pricing. That is a fairly predictable one, I think. Most places that offer happy hour, I'm recalling a cask Blue Heron at Bridgeport for $2.75 on Tuesday, maintain a regular schedule of days and times when they offer a discounted draft. Whether the prices remain steady I do not know.

    This is important information in these difficult economic times. Perhaps you can create your own version of the WPA and enlist your readers as "price scouts." Ask readers to upload pricing as they purchase their favorite brews. Date, time, product, price. Perhaps you can even get this funded under the economic stimulus plan.

  16. This is a really interesting study and your six pack equivalent calculator is a great idea/tool.

    I'm getting ready to do a similar study in DC. Would you be willing to post or send me the actual data you collected? I'm curious about how DC will compare. My hunch is that it is significantly more expensive.

  17. Hi John: Great! I think it would be interesting to see how prices compare around the country, even if the brands are different from place to place.

    Shoot me an email (the "Email me" icon on the blog), and I'll mail you the data. Excel spreadsheet OK?