The beer market has never had more quality beverages available to choose from. However, bringing home the best brews can often put a dent in the budget. Here are 10 strategies to keep your fridge stocked with great beer, while keeping your money in your wallet.
10. Watch for Specials
A few of the local distributors in my town run specials on cases that are out of season, or just past their freshness date. I am not a big fan of drinking beer that’s past its prime, but good beer that’s just started tapering off is still better than [insert name of garbage domestic brand here]. Here’s a special I found at Pletcher’s last time I stopped in. The salespeople are usually really helpful and will tell you why these products are on special if it’s not indicated on the price tag.
9. Host the Party
I live in a major college town, and every fall a parade of friends come stay with us for football weekends. Go State! This has been so consistent that next year we’ll probably rent the place out during football season. But since all our guests have always been friends the going rate for a warm bed and breakfast has been Beer. At this point most of the guests even know which kind of beer to bring without asking. On a busy weekend that’s as much as 4 to 5 cases of top quality beer.
Don’t have an air bnbeer style pad? Try another angle. I host an annual informal holiday season beer tasting. Everyone brings a six-pack, and no one ever leaves with their leftovers. It’s the party that keeps on giving.
8. Go to the Source
If you go directly to the brewery, and they sell on site, most times you can buy at a discount as compared to purchasing from a distributer. It just makes sense. If you cut out the middleman you can save a few bucks.
Many breweries also have mug clubs or other programs that can earn you some discounts on on-site pints. Founder’s Mug Club entitles you to a $1 discount on brews and $2 off growler fills http://foundersbrewing.com/mug-club/.
North Peak Brewing Company in Travers City, MI, offers $1.50 off pints to mug club members and $5 discounts on growler fills. http://www.northpeak.net/np/beer/mugclub.htm. That’s a pretty nice savings!
7. Place a Wager
Last season I bet my friend Sean that the Rangers would beat the Flyers in the first round of the playoffs. They did, and he owes me a 12-Pack. A friend of mine routinely bests a co-worker of his on an annual baseball bet that scores him a free case of Mt. Nittany Pale Ale. Obviously all wagers are risky, but when the wager is a case of the victor’s choice, unless you are facing off against another quality beer connoisseur, you’ve just made a favorable bet.
6. Join a Brew Club
You don’t have to brew to be in most brew clubs. You just have to be interested in brewing and want to get at least moderately involved. So you join the club, and add some value by being an organizer, record keeper or doer of some other non-brewing function. Maybe you even get your hands dirty in the malt with some of your new friends. In return when they are looking for someone to share a new batch with you get to play taste tester. As long as you bring value to the club it works out for all.
Check out the American Homeberewer’s Association website to find a club in your town. – www.homebrewersassociation.org/community/clubs/find-a-homebrew-club/
5. Know and Love Thy Brewer
My wife is likely the #1 Southern Tier 2XIPA fan on the face of the earth. I think if she could only have one beer the rest of her life this would be it. We were fortunate enough to meet the Head Brewer of Southern Tier recently through a friend. Our friend informed him how much my wife appreciated his work. Because brewers are usually super awesome folks, and he is, he showed up with a case of very fresh 2XIPA as a gift. How cool is that? Free Southern Tier! So get to know the folks that make your favorites, and let them know you appreciate it. Thanks Dustin!
4. Buy in Bulk
If you are really dedicated to one brew buying in bulk is the way to go. If you’re a D’fish Head 60 Minute fan and you spend $31 every time you buy a case you could start bringing home kegs for $155 (before deposit) and save a bunch of money.
Cases usually yield 2 ¼ gallons of brew. A standard ½ keg is 15 gallons. So if you switch to a keg, as opposed to purchasing approximately 6 ½ cases, you save around $50. This doesn’t take into account any upfront expense for securing a kegerator, but there are plenty of ways to do this on the cheap (that’s for another post). Even if you factor in Co2 refills on every couple of kegs, you still save $40.00 or more.
3. Work For It
When I do a favor for someone and they want to compensate me, I love to use the phrase “Buy me a case of beer and we’ll call it even.” From dog sitting to helping with a move, friends usually go for this. I let them know going into the deal which tasty brew I expect to receive. Founder’s Breakfast Stout is a good choice. Even though a case runs about $62.00, this is still a fair trade. My time is valuable, and I don’t mind helping a friend paint their house, but 4 hours of “buddy labor” still has a reasonable price. Most folks even appreciate that you know what you want so they don’t have to guess.
My wife checked in on a friend’s dog a few times while they were at the beach last summer. In return for knowing the family hound was in good hands while they were lounging in the sun they were more than happy to drop off a case of Lagunitas IPA. On the flip side I’ve compensated friends with growlers of brew on numerous occasions for giving me a hand with various tasks.
2. Work In It
Awesome companies like Dogfish Head are known for providing their employees with a free case every payday! That’s a freebie worth about an extra $40.00 a week in beer money savings.
New Belgium Brewing Company lists right in it’s benefits that employees can enjoy one free brew after clocking out, and get to bring home an additional 12 pack per week! http://www.newbelgium.com/brewery/company/benefits.aspx.
Maybe this benefit plan isn’t enough to change your career path, but small brewers often need some extra hands when it comes time to bottle, and they usually pay in beer. Check to see if there’s a nano or small batch brewer in your hood. They’ll probably be willing to let you clean a kettle or crown some bottles for a healthy beer discount. Plus once you get to know the brewer just about every strategy on this list is accessible.
(If you are in the Pittsburgh area check out Beaver Brewing Co. The Brewer/Owner, Dan Woodske, is a one man operation, but he knows the local brew scene as well as anyone.)
1. Partner With a Homebrewer
This is number #1 because it’s a fairly accessible and consistent way to get really good beer at a healthy discount. Here’s how it works. Find a good homebrewer. Considering you are already scouring your local scene for good beer this shouldn’t be too hard. We hang out anywhere good beer is found. If you need extra direction search online for the local homebrew club, stop in and ask at an LHBS (local homebrew store), or next time you stop at the brewpub you frequent ask there. They will know these folks.
Now that you’ve located these individuals find the right one to approach. To get the most bang for your buck you are seeking an all-grain brewer with what the other brew nerds will be referring to as a “drool system.” This means he/she has invested enough time and money in his/her homebrew set-up that the rest of us beer dorks are in envy of it.
Next, get a sample. More than likely this individual would love to share some of the libations he/she has worked hard to craft. If the brew is good, this is the partner you want. Now strike a deal. HE/SHE CAN’T LEGALLY SELL YOU BEER WITHOUT A LICENSE. Your new potential partner loves what he/she does and is not likely interested in going rogue. But he/she might want to partner with you to keep the supply lines stocked. There’s nothing wrong with you helping out with the homewbrew op by sourcing ingredients and being around to help when your super efficient partner cooks up a batch. Your brewer friend will know the state regs on how much the two of you can legally homebrew. In PA it’s less than 200 gallons per year. That’s approximately 40 cases for your side of the operation if you brew the max!
Here’s an example of how the math works out.
I brewed an outstanding Rye IPA last summer sourcing all my ingredients through standard retail. Here’s what my cost was rounded up to the nearest dollar
Malt = $35.00, Yeast = $15.00, Hops = 16.00, Shipping= $15.00, Total expenditure =$81.00
Yield= 10 Gallons (after shrinkage and waste) of 8% ABV awesome rye brew.
Cost per case or 2 ¼ gallons = $18.25.
Here’s a comparable brew you could buy at the distributor
Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye (average case price before tax)= $43.00
Hop Rod is a good brew, but that’s about a $24.75 savings per case I gain by brewing my own! Even if I bottled instead of kegging, my expenses on caps and cleaning bottles wouldn’t make much of a dent in my savings. I could have saved even more if I bought my ingredients locally and didn’t pay shipping. If you do this right your average savings should work out to $15 to $20 a case!
That’s our top 10. Leave a comment with your strategy for getting good beer cheap. Best comment wins a free Puck Off.