Market Power

Musings by an academic economist on the power of markets and the power over markets.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Beer Geek

I'm a geek. Not just any kind of geek. I'm a beer geek.

When I was a little boy, my long-since departed father, Dr. James Merle Miller Jr***. former professor of History at Morningside College, used to give me small sips of his beer - usually a Falstaff or a Grain Belt.

April 1st's Wall Street Journal has an article entitled "Dear Beer" (paid subscription required) on expensive beer - $15 - $20 a bottle, sometimes even higher. Such beer is often aged.

The concept of "aged" beer itself flies in the face of conventional wisdom that beer is meant to be drunk within a few weeks of its production (and almost all beer is). But aged beers -- many of them brewed with lots of hops and high-alcohol levels, both acting as preservatives -- have become a staple of what might be called the high-end beer market.
Even though I'm a beer geek, I have nothing against the mass-produced lagers such as Budweiser, MGD, etc. Their mass production allows them to produce beers at a low cost that competition allows to be passed onto consumers. Besides, after a game of softball, an oatmeal stout is not my beer of choice. A pale ale is good, but a Bud Light will do in a pinch. But Anheuser-Busch's use of the "born-on date" on their bottles is a little bit deceiving.

Beer is a food product and it will deteriorate as it ages. But the combination of alcohol and hops are natural preservatives that allow beer to keep over a period of time. Indeed, the India Pale Ale style, a beer known for its hoppy character, was a beer style originally brewed in England for the British troops stationed in India a long time ago. The brewers added extra hops to the brewing process so that the beer would keep in the long boat ride from England to India.

I've still got some beers in my basement that I had my sister bring me from Colorado last April (regular readers of this blog know I have an affinity for beers from the Flat Branch Pub and Brewery in Columbia, Mo. and from the various breweries in and around Boulder, Co.). The only one I've had trouble with is this one that, when I pour it, is almost all head in the glass. I'm not sure what causes this to happen with this particular beer, but I have had problems like this with beer that I have brewed.

After I my beers had fermented, I add corn sugar to the fermented brew before bottling. The yeast consumes the corn sugar, making the carbonation. Overtime, needless to say, a lot of carbonation would build up. I've heard of some people who have experienced the "bottle bomb", where so much carbonation would build up that the bottle caps would pop off. I've never had that happen, but I have gotten too much carbonation. But other than that, I had some beers that sat around for two years and tasted fine upon drinking.

*** Yes, nearly 30 years after his death, Morningside College honored my dad by naming their Blackboard system "Miller Hall." I guess that makes up for cutting down the tree that was supposedly planted in his honor after his death.