Monday, September 14, 2009

Your Thoughts on Beer Prices?

I'd like your input on an idea I've been kicking around for a little over a year. After I published the map of Portland growler prices, Jeff Alworth suggested the notion of the Growler Price Index, or GPI. He figured that the average cost of a growler around town was $10, so if you saw one cheaper than that, it was a good deal.

Taking Jeff's idea one step further, I'd like to compute quarterly price indexes for beer in Portland, so that we can watch price trends over time. It seems like the following indexes would be interesting:
  • Retail six-pack index
  • Retail bomber index
  • Pub pint index
  • Pub happy-hour pint index
  • Pub pitcher index
  • And, yes, growler price index
The retail prices will be the average of non-sale prices of a collection of year-round Oregon beers, at a few representative Portland outlets. Similarly, the pub prices will be taken from a few beer bars, based on the usual price of a pint. For instance, an imperial pint is usually $4.50 at Bailey's Taproom, though of course some selections cost more. Pub prices will be normalized to six-pack equivalents, using either the fill line on the bar's glassware, or by taking the volume of the glass and subtracting two ounces for head/air.

Ideally I would gather these prices 4 times a year, on the solstices and equinoxes -- the upcoming equinox is what motivated me to finally ask for help. With the caveat that this has to be a doable chunk of work for me, and it can't be all things to all people, I would like your advice on the following matters:
  1. Which beers go into the retail six-pack index and bomber index?
  2. Which retail outlets do I gather the prices from?
  3. Which bars do I gather the prices from?
  4. Do brewpubs go into a separate category than non-brewing pubs?
  5. Is the happy hour price the lowest pint price at the place (e.g. Roots $2.50 Tuesday) or the daily happy hour price (Roots $3.50 happy hour)?
Here are my proposed answers, please comment and let me know what you think:
  1. Six-packs: Bridgeport IPA, Deschutes Black Butte, Full Sail Amber, Terminal Gravity IPA, Widmer Broken Halo. Bombers: Hopworks IPA, Laurelwood Red, Lompoc C-Note, Ninkasi Total Domination, Rogue Brutal Bitter.
  2. Retail stores: Beermongers, Belmont Station, Fred Meyers, New Seasons.
  3. Bars: Bailey's Taproom, Belmont Station, Green Dragon, Horse Brass, Vincente's Pizza.
  4. Brewpubs: Barley Mill, Bridgeport, Deschutes, Hopworks, Laurelwood, Lucky Lab, New Old Lompoc, Roots, Widmer Gasthaus
What changes would you make, either to the details or to the whole scheme?


  1. Alright, I have to interject here because the whole argument of foam has been pissing me off lately. (Note: This is not taking away from the whole honest pint project etc., but merely adding to the argument...) Why are you subtracting foam in your equation. Foam=beer. Without foam you would not get the wonderful aromas you get now in your beer. 14oz of beer plus 2oz of foam still equates to 16oz. Bill, I know you would happily send back a beer that did not have any foam at the top rather than drink it because it takes away from the beer. I definitely would. I see it all the time in pubs everywhere...That and the pint glasses with 2 inch thick bottoms. Excessive foam is definitely one thing. But a nicely poured beer with a decent head on it is what makes the beer so beautiful. With that said, I must go have a pint of ale...Cheers!

  2. @Corey; my problem with your argument can be summed up in one word: Stouts.

    Not all beers are supposed to have 2oz of foam for the head, and even if they were, you cannot drink foam. I can get just as wonderful an aroma off of 1oz of foam-and I certainly don't need my beer to be beautiful.

    However, even if you don't buy that, when you buy a bottle of beer you don't buy 2oz of foam, you buy 16oz of liquid so for accurate calculations of a 6-pack, that ought to be considered.

    @Bill-I think you've got a fairly solid representation of pubs there, although they seem to be an over-representation of SE bars. Perhaps your audience can suggest others?

    And I think you should calculate the beer in accordance with the regular price. Happy hour is temporary, thus less accurate with how much you'd pay for an ordinary six-pack.

  3. Corey: That's why I like the fill-lines. Beer, head, you get it all. My 2 oz. deduction isn't punitive, it's just to level the playing field.

    Grotusque: I definitely centered on SE, because I want all my research in easy bicycle range. On the other hand, maybe I'll gather the pint prices over the phone, so I could expand the territory a little (Saraveza pops into my mind).

  4. I just quit reading It's Pub Night.

  5. Yeah, I knew that solstice and equinox talk would scare some people off.

  6. If you have to worry about the cost, you should probably not be spending the money.

    Want to buy a six pack, pint or growler? If ya have to ask the price, you can't afford to drink it.

  7. *sigh* So much for asking opinions....

    What a dumbass you are, Anonymous. I'm not worried about the cost, I'm just curious about how prices change over time.

  8. I'm reading It's Pub Night again. Dumbass.

  9. I agree with "Dumbass."

  10. Dumbass has something here.

    Want a beer? Buy it! Want a bargain? Go to Wal-Mart or the Goodwill. Oh yuk! I just grossed myself out.

    This appears to be a waste of time or do you just have that much time to waste? Put in this effort at work and make some extra money. Then worry less about how much beer costs.

    If look up the word "redundant" in the dictionary does it say... Redundant?

    If someone can afford a computer to read this garbage, they can probably can afford to buy a beer.

    If not, they should be using the computer to look for a better job.

  11. How did this turn into worrying about cost? Its his free time to do something he finds interesting, why all the hate?

  12. Hate? "Waste of time" does not equate to HATE. I don't HATE the Beer Pricing concept, I find it a waste of time.

    I don't HATE the change in my pocket, but I find it a waste of time counting it.

  13. I like the idea. Unlike some of the unimaginative commenters, I realize that it has nothing to do with affordability and everything to do with wanting to understand the market.

    I agree with the first commenter that you might be making too big of a deal about the foam. I fully expect my beer to have a reasonable head (even stouts should have one, albeit smaller). Maybe just deduct one ounce. To me, the big problem is the false advertising with the cheater pints. I want to know what I am paying for. Have to be able to compare apples to apples.

    My only other thought is that since you are only doing it 4 times a year, why not increase the set of data you are collecting? There are plenty of us out here who are interested that would help you collect it. Either that, or do the beers/pubs/bottleshops you selected on a monthly basis.

  14. What a bizarre moment to spark trollishness. Try to provide a public service....

    First point: whatever you do will be a useful metric, and a huge improvement over the current info vacuum. Personally, I think the SPE should be the baseline. If you have one, single baseline, it helps clarify everything. You can easily do a calc on the fly. Obviously, bombers, pints, and growlers are a lot more expensive, but we know that. We understand that a $5 pint is more than an $8 sixer. But, to use the example of your pub crawl detailed in the post above, the SPEs of pubs can vary widely.

    My two cents.

  15. Thanks, Jeff, that helps me put it more in perspective.

    As tempting as it is to call for volunteers as jfwells suggests, I'm enough of a control freak that I might have a stroke if I couldn't have the data I expect, exactly when I want it.

    On the other hand, I'll share my data with anyone who asks, so if JF or anyone else is interested, they can incorporate what I collect into their own more complete index.

    I had to remind myself that it is an index, not a scale model of the world. The S&P 500 doesn't exactly model the economy or even the entire stock market. It's just a basket of interesting stocks, whose price is tracked over time. So I'll bite off what I think I can chew: about 4 stores, 6 six-packs, 6 bombers; and about 6 pubs for prices.