This post was supposed to be about Heady Topper, the “Flagship Double IPA” from The Alchemist brewery in Waterbury, VT. This 8% ABV, 75 IBU brew is barely distributed outside of its hometown, making it notoriously difficult to get hold of. But Ben managed to find one store within a four hour drive that carries it, so after confirming that they actually had some in stock, we planned a weekend trip to check it out. Yes, there were one or two other attractions in the area, but the Heady Topper was a big draw. Feel free to form your own conclusions about how much of a beer geek that makes me.
Ratebeer.com gives Heady Topper 100 overall and 100 for style, and the beer also boasts a 100 Beer Advocate score. This is about the time when I should give you my review of the beer, right? Only, I can’t. We went to the store that had it, and fetched up in front of a display of empty cans, with a sign that said they keep the beer cold, and to ask for it at the front. All well and good. Freshness is a big part of Heady Topper’s appeal, so that made perfect sense. What turned this fun little trip into a bitter disappointment was the price per can: $15. Fifteen dollars for one beer! In a can! Seriously? Malt liquor comes in a can. I really wish I’d thought to take a picture of that price tag, but I was too busy feeling disappointed and disgusted (hence the photo of the Salmon River Falls area, instead of beer).
Yeah, I will—rarely—pay wine prices for beer, like when we got a magnum of Dogfish Head’s Kvasir, or for a top-notch Trappist beer, like Chimay. But paying that much for a one-pint can of American IPA, no matter how good, was more than I could justify. I tried. Really, I did. We asked the girl at the counter if they sold the cans individually. They did. “But it’s really expensive,” she said. And then she proceeded to explain that the price started out at about half that, and went up as people stood in line for it.* I’d thought the store was price gouging, but from the sound of it, The Alchemist does a fair amount of that themselves. So that’s why this post, which should have been all about Heady Topper, is mostly about The Alchemist’s douche-baggery.
According to their own website, the brewery produces 180 barrels of Heady Topper every week, and they sell it all right away. If me and Google have done our math right, that’s 44,640 pints. That’s a lot of beer. Not nearly as much as, say, Widmer produces, but since The Alchemist has no distribution network to keep up—the stuff that gets into stores is supplied by folks who stand in line for it, apparently—there is no excuse for them to charge those kinds of prices. Beer is not wine. It takes craft to produce a good one, but at the end of the brewing day, beer is water, barley, hops, and yeast. Heady Topper prices are downright apocalyptic; a “…six pounds of barley for a day’s wages,” sort of thing. Unibroue’s La Fin du Monde doesn’t cost that much on tap in Montreal, where everything costs a zillion. And at least as far as getting it on tap, La Fin du Monde is way more exclusive. It’s only available that way in Quebec, where it’s brewed.
Bottom line: I think that treating customers the way The Alchemist does is just…anti-beer. So, yeah. Though I’m still curious about this popular IPA, I’ve been put off by the brewer’s business tactics, and probably won’t be reviewing Heady Topper anytime soon.
Revelation 6:6 NIV
*A commenter claimed that The Alchemist sells HT for $75/case, which, if true, is very different from the situation that the girl at the beer store related.