by Rick Kempen Beersommelier at Het Bierplein
Is beer expensive?About beer prices
How is the price of a beer decided? And how is it possible that the price of the same beer varies by country? What is the most expensive beer in the world? Has beer become expensive - or is it still 'an affordable luxury’?
If it weren’t for the government, we could be very brief about the price of beer. Of course a brewery has purchasing costs (water, grain, hops, yeast, packaging material), even though a larger-scale producing company can stipulate better conditions here.
Then there are other fixed costs (employees, rent, etc) and the shareholders also want their piece of the cake. Finally, depending on the size of the brewery, as well as on how much effort it takes to actually sell the product, a lot goes to the marketing peeps.
Certain beers are more expensive to brew than others. Especially, if the brewery makes extensive use of aromatic hop varieties, it can make a significant difference in costs: you do not need much hops, but it is by far the most expensive ingredient. Some hops are as pricey as caviar!
The longer it takes to make beer, the more expensive the beer will be. If a beer has to mature in oak barrels for two years, that’s reflected in the price. It has value, but it cannot yet be converted into cash and that can make the difference. Borrowing money costs money, which is in turn stuck in oak barrels.
Tax affects the price
So far, the biggest costs are still in the production: these are, when it comes to the influence on the sales price, still reasonable in the absence of external factors. The government awaits around the corner: for every beer you enjoy in the Netherlands, one sixth of the price (aka VAT) flows directly to the treasury. In our neighbouring countries that can be up to a fifth, while 25% VAT is already the rate in many European countries!
That is where the tax office comes in again. Each country uses its own method, but there is always an incentive tax on alcohol. In the Netherlands, for a 33 cl bottle the excise portion varies roughly between 10 and 15 cents. Beers from small breweries are less taxed, while those with a higher percentage of alcohol are more heavily taxed.
Unlike VAT, this is a fixed amount, but there are large differences between countries. Germany and Luxembourg use the European minimum rate, while The Netherlands is in the European mid-market with Denmark and France, which is almost four times higher than that minimum. On the contrary, England, Finland and Norway have it up to three times higher! Apparently, one euro in excise duty per bottle is becoming the rule rather than the exception.
The world's most expensive beer
What the world's most expensive beer is, we will never know for sure: bottles are sometimes bought for astronomical amounts. Vials of Westvleteren, for example, can raise hundreds of euros on auction sites. In the Brussels Delirium café, two Japanese people at a table presented the sweet little sum of € 999.99 for a bottle of Westvleteren 12 from 1968. When it came to light that there was one other bottle available, they chose to buy that one as well.
Commercially, Jacobsen Vintage is the most expensive regularly available beer: a 375 ml bottle is priced at around € 450. Utopia from Samuel Adams (more like a beer liqueur) “only" costs € 250 for 700 ml.
Incidentally, other ridiculously high-priced beers have been available, such as Sapporo Space Brew: this beer was brewed with barley germinated outside the atmosphere. For six bottles you paid about 100 euros at the time. Or what about "The End of History"? BrewDog brought this ice-bucked beer on the market, the bottle of which was put into stuffed animals. You could buy the result for prices between 500 and 900 euros.
But all this aside, for a few euros you can buy explosions of flavours in all kinds of colours, with insanely varied scents. If you compare that with other drinks, beer is by far the most affordable luxury on the market. And now it is also delivered to your doorstep, for free!