Why are some beers cheap

and others so expensive? Is it just marketing, or do some brews have ingredients that cost more? I’ve seen Grain Belt for $4.99 a case, and Miller Genuine Draft for $13.88 a case, in the same store. Yet my 'buds can’t tell the difference between the two. Does Miller cost more to make, therefore it cost more, or does it cost more simply because they can get more for it, and no other reason?

It costs a lot to buy tv ads during NFL/NBA/etc. games. You don’t see Grain Belt advertised during these games, do you?

If you want beer that tastes good, go get yourself some good microbrewski, like Widmere Hefeweizen.

Marketing is important. Beefeater Gin seems to be considered pretty regular stuff in England and seems priced that way. In the U.S. it’s marketed as premium and is priced that way.
There will always be a market for people who want to get a buzz on and don’t have much money. Into that niche falls all the stuff you don’t see expensive ads for. What you do see is the price in the store. Beer like this seems to be regional (Grain Belt is one of 'em…but with all respects, eccch!) PK, are you telling me you can’t tell the difference between Grain Belt and, say, LaBatt’s Blue?
If you really can’t taste a difference it could be a blessing or a curse.
You might never enjoy a really good beer, but then you wouldn’t care, would you?
Here are three brand names that fill a niche. They aren’t beer, but I’ll bet you’ll recognize 'em, since they have national distribution: MD 20/20, Thunderbird and Night Train. If you can find as much happiness with those three as you would a good Cabernet Sauvignon you may gross out your host but you’ll be easy to please.

Because they taste like s**t.

You can bet that MGD and Budweiser are the cheapest beers to produce with their economies of scale and enormous sales. And ingredients? They can command huge discounts based on volume alone.

They get grains from all over and invest much time and effort in testing and measuring and blending of their batches so for the most part, regardless of ingredient sources, each batch from every brewery results in a consistent product. My local Hero Brewmaster worked for many years at AB.

Compare that to your local microbrew, who has to use ingredients that are near by or incur travel costs to find good stuff and freight it home. And then have to fight the big guys for shelf space. And try to squeeze in some marketing.

Taste? I’ve resigned myself to the fact that many, if not most people can hardly distinguish one beer from another. They’ll drink what they like, yet often what they like isn’t really the taste. They like the commercials or the T-shirts or the posters or the colors on the race car; and want to be seen with that particular bottle in their hand.

Don’t forget the cost of importation necessarilly added to foreign beers. Makes them more expensive.

It’s funny, but Budweiser’s more expensive than Guinnes in some places in Europe.

Urine is cheaper, more plentiful, and easier to transport than hops.

Personally I like Heineken & Samual Adams best, but I tend to buy something different every so often. I just can’t tell much of a “quality” difference between Grain Belt & MGD, not so much to warrent the extra price for Miller. I kind of figured the price was due to pure marketing. As for your suggestions of malt liquor and “Mad Dog” 20/20, Doug, Blahhhhhhhh! No thanks!

So, are we saying that there are NO real differences in ingredients or brewing techniques, but rather marketing gimmicks only that reflect the higher prices? I am talking about your standard brews here, like Bud, Miller, etc. Obviously, these beers taste at least a little different… but why such a difference between the price of Budweiser and Busch, both made by the same company? Is there $7 worth of quality in that case of Bud, or is that just to cover the advertising? No chance that they are using better yeast or hops?

Speaking of cheap beer with a bad marketing gimmick… Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer… “Voted America’s Best in 1893” That is one long dry spell, if you ask me. I don’t think I’d be bragging about it.

(My dad drinks the stuff… and the truth is, when you are thirsty for a cold one, it goes down as well as most others.)

“Heineken? Fck that sht! PABST BLUE RIBBON” --Dennis Hopper

I think one of the more notable scams in the beer world include the following:

  • Rolling Rock. Cheap Pennsylvania swill whose marketers decided that dumping it into green bottles and raising the price two bucks a six would make it more palatable. It worked.

  • Ballantine. In the early 1960’s, Ballantine changed to a cheaper brewing process. Sales fell through the floor. Marketing came up with the bright idea to run a series of commercials showing the owner returning to the brewery after a leave of absence, trying his own beer, and being revolted. The scheme failed, and Ballantine became a second-rate local brew again.

  • Schlitz. Same deal as Ballantine. Once they commanded almost a third of the American Beer market. Changed the formula and lost almost all of the market virtually overnight.

  • Samuel Adams. Once a reputable brewery with high-cost process and ingredients. Prior to their IPO, Sam Adams was brewed in microbreweries around the country by contract and with strict adherence to the standard recipe. After their IPO, they contracted the Iron City brewery to make most of their corporate swill for the East Coast. I hear you can still get the real thing in Boston, but most of the time nowdays Sam Adams is panther piss, despite the fact that it is just as expensive as it ever was. Result: Sam Adams can now be found as the “good beer” on tap in bars that don’t give a shit, to the detriment of microbrewers and beer drinkers alike.

Note: in the post above, I used the lesser known definition of the term “one,” meaning “several.”

What’s the difference between drinking good beer and drinking cheap beer? Time will tell…time will tell.

Let’s face it-most Americans like their beer cold-so most of the taste is killed anyway!
Mass market beers like AB and Millers are made well, with quality ingredients (actually Bud meets the standards of the German rheinheitsgebot law)!
The real suprise to me is that the large breweries often market the same beer, under a different name, at a substantially lower price!
For example, COORS sells something called “extra gold”, for about 1/2 the price of regular coors-and its the same stuff!
Conversely, many low-quality european beers are marketed over here as premium brands-like Bass Ale (England)-in the UK, it is considered real swill-but sold at a huge markup in the USA.
Go figure!

Acutally, Bud doesn’t, but that doesn’t say much about Bud’s quality.

The rheinheitsgebot is * purity * law, not a quality control law. All it says is that beer must be made with, and only with, barley, hops and water. Doesn’t say anything about how good the ingredients have to be, nor the method of brewing.

Bud doesn’t meet the standard b/c Anheiser-Busch uses rice in brewing bud. If you do a taste comparison, you will notice that Bud has a relation to Kirin and other Japanese beers for that reason.


It’s amazing what gets passed off in the US as a premium beer. I spent a few years in SW Germany and drank many a bottle of Bitburger Pils while there. It was a fairly inexpensive brew (~DM30/rack of 20) and quite palatable. Now when I can even find it here, it’s almost US$10/6pack. I’m not too sure where the Mark stands against the Dollar (2:1?), but back then it was ~1.6:1, making Bit about twice as expensive here. I still remember the ads: “Eine Bit, Bitte!”

As far as other so-called premium German beers available in the US like Beck’s, St. Pauli Girl, and Lowenbrau, I don’t remember seeing many Germans drinking them (The Lowenbrau sold in the US shares little more than a name with the stuff served all over Bavaria, IMO).

Actually, rheinheitsgebot, the German purity law of 1516, allows four ingredients, not three. You forgot the yeast.

My wife’s best friend is German. When she visits, I always learn how strangely different things are over in Europe.

For instance, Beck’s is considered pure crap. Heineken, though, has the same high status there as it does here. She says Lucky Strike cigarettes are incredibly chic in Germany. Weird people.

We also had a confusing exchange when she saw a very old Budweiser sign hanging on the wall of this old man’s bar in NYC. To make it look more authentic, much of the writing was in German (that rambling block of text in the center of the label that talks about quality, etc.).

“Budweiser,” she said. “Now there’s a really good beer.”

I had a tough time explaining to her that Bud is NOT a good beer, and most likely has no relationship to the beer she is thinking of. I assumed she was drinking what we call Pilsner Urquell (if anyone can elaborate on the whole US/European Budweiser trademark battle, I’d appreciate it).

I don’t really understand the whole concept of imported beer. Beer isn’t wine. It doesn’t improve with age and a trip across the ocean. Drink it fresh, local, and not too cold, and the world will be a better place.

The big US brands are OK for what they are–consistent taste, wide availability–kinda like Coke and Pepsi. I think these beers are designed to be taken in quantity so the quality isn’t really an issue. Heck, I lived on Hamms and Old Milwuakee in college and I didn’t think they were worse than Miller or Bud. They were, however, half the price.

Alas, my college days are gone and I have since become a beer snob, turning my nose up in disdain at anything not microbrewed. But I’m not complaining. Give me a New Glarus Uff-Da Bock and the Packers on the tube, and I can die happy.

There are economies of scale to be had by brewing in Anheuser Busch quantities vs. Sierra Nevada quantities, but one of the main ways that the big commercial breweries get off so cheap is the significant use of non-malt adjuncts such as corn, corn syrup and rice.

“Traditional” beers, which are the styles which are made of barley malt, hops, water and yeast, don’t derive any fermentable sugars from anything except the barley malt. AB and Miller get up to 30-40% of their fermentables from corn or rice(Budweiser) because plain old corn & rice are much cheaper than barley malt, and don’t add too much in the way of undesirable flavors, colors or haze. Some lower end beers and malt liquors use corn syrup, which is even cheaper than corn.

These adjuncts also lighten the body, lighten the color, and raise the alcohol content of a beer when compared to a beer made with an equivalent amount of barley malt. Since most consumers want rather weak beers, this isn’t seen as a problem.

** UncleBeer **

– Using yeast to brew beer is plain cheating!!


I remember the tale, which I absolutely believe, of a little local beer we had back in Texas, by the name of Shiner Bock.

It was run by a family or at least small town group and they were doing all right, and they made really good beer, but it seemed like no matter how much they underpriced the competition their sales just weren’t taking off.

So they finally broke down and brought in a professional marketing guy. He ran over all the charts and figures and marketing info and came to his conclusion. He finally told them “if you double your price, I can guarantee you’ll double your sales.”

Well, sure enough, they tried it and it worked. When it sold cheap, people figured it must be lousy. Once a six-pack of Shiners sold for equal or even more money than the big name brands, people just assumed it must be good premium beer and started buying it in droves and it was once of the first successful microbreweries.

Of course, I can’t get it here in New England, but if I see you when I’m back in Texas next month, I’ll gladly split y’all a pitcher.