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I’ll admit it, I’ve sometimes stared at a retailer’s craft beer shelf in amazement and wondered if some of the beer was mis-priced. You know, like 4-packs north of $18 for a standard strength beer or even a single pint can of hazy IPA for $8.50.

Yes, I too get sticker shock. However, when I stop and think about it logically, the realization always hits me that even high-dollar craft beer is still pretty fairly priced.

True, the primary ingredients of about any beer are malt, hops, yeast, and water, but it’s not a level playing field for craft. Here’s why.

Malt: Craft brewers not only use more expensive malts than those in standard, mass-produced beer, but the beer styles they brew tend to require larger quantities of malt to produce a barrel of beer.

The high proportion of specialty and boutique malts used in craft beer are several times the cost per pound of basic bulk pale malts, which are used in standard beer. Then, some craft beer styles (think imperial stouts, barleywines, triple IPAs) require up to five times more malt per barrel than does a light beer.

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Hops: Hop-heavy IPAs and hazy IPAs have become the largest selling craft styles, and with that style comes a much higher ingredient and production cost. Flavorful newer hop varieties with names like Citra, Azacca, El Dorado, Mosaic, Idaho 7, Vic Secret, Galaxy, Cashmere, and on and on, were bred especially for the craft beer market and come at a higher cost.

But there’s more: As craft brewers search for more distinctive and more flavorful beers, those beers often contain many times more hops-per-barrel than do traditional beer styles, and that’s a huge cost increase. Another factor is that large brewers contract ahead directly with hop farmers to ensure supply and best pricing, while small craft brewers purchase their hops on the secondary spot market, a practice that often comes with higher prices.

Yeast: Larger breweries propagate their own yeast in-house, keeping cost low. Small brewers do not have the capabilities required to entirely produce and maintain their own yeast programs. Small brewers end up purchasing a much higher proportion of their yeast from specialty yeast producing companies at a higher cost.

On top of that, small craft brewers also require many more of the specialty and exotic yeast strains so they can make the widest range of beer styles. That costs more too.

Flavorings: Think of all the fruited and spiced beer styles you see today. These have become staples of West Virginia craft beer brewers. Those added ingredients come at a high cost. Our West Virginia brewers use real fruit purées, and not cheaper industrial fruit flavorings common in other beverages.

Charles Bockway is a craft beer blogger and podcaster who writes, blogs and talks about West Virginia’s craft beer industry. Send questions and suggestions to him at wvbrewnews

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