For the longest time here in Dallas-Fort Worth, the primary question a beer lover got to answer was "domestic or import?" Thankfully, the explosion of tap-heavy pubs expertly tackling both quality and quantity has made decisions much tougher once we belly up to the bar.
Hoppy or super hoppy? Stout or pale ale? Bottle, can or draft? How about a local cider?
Drinkers are also paying higher prices than ever for such local luxury. Upon a recent visit to Liberty Burger in Addison, a Bitter Sisters IPA, brewed only a couple miles from our barstool, required a $7 investment. Yet that same pint may only cost a single Abe Lincoln way over in West Dallas. And now that we're blessed with dozens of breweries complete with taprooms, paying $5 or more a glass (or plastic cup in certain cases), isn't unheard of either.
It's difficult to contain our curiosity sometimes. Is it fair to chalk the price hike up to inflation? Are bars price-gouging on the heels of a hot trend? Or are consumers simply paying for quality?
It will surprise few to hear there isn't one easy answer.
LUCK in Trinity Groves opened in 2013 in West Dallas and instantly became a marquee craft beer destination. While the prominent local focus from the 42 tap wall offerings fostered loyalty, an aggressive, drinker-friendly pricing format has unquestionably done its share of the work in floating keg after keg.
Jeff Dietzman, owner of LUCK at Trinity Groves, says that an affinity for the local craft beer industry led his team to adopt a model that provides a relatively even playing field for breweries within a 75-mile radius of the restaurant. By charging $5 for a local draft beer (with the exception of the occasional, more costly cider or sour beer), LUCK has practiced a steady, if unorthodox, methodology.
Dietzman gets that most craft beer fans accept the logical conclusion that higher quality beer typically demands a higher price, but his business model depends more on thriving in a happy middle-ground where quality, value and appreciation come together.
"We want our customers to try new beers and to learn about our local breweries and to love craft beer as much as we do," says Dietzman. "The best way we can do that is by taking price out the equation. Our hope is that our guests will order a few rounds of something new, and stay for our signature smoked pastrami sandwich and homemade beer ice cream."
Aside from special or rare and seasonal local offerings, craft beer from other states tends to run higher in price in bars and stores. That's because it costs more to bring beer into D-FW from Colorado than it does to simply drive it down the Dallas North Tollway. According to the Huffington Post, beer distributors benefit from a "legally-mandated monopoly" derived from post-Prohibition laws and "generally mark up beer drastically." Many factors affect the price for distribution for out-of-state brewers that don't apply to local ones; for example, paying for refrigerated trucks to cross state lines and marketing beer to retailers.
While drinking at a bar can transfer expenses to the consumer, going directly to the source should eliminate those costs, right?
Not quite, according to industry experts.
Kat Thompson, founder and CEO of Texas Ale Project in Dallas, maintains her taproom incurs many of the same costs as a traditional bar, such as staff, furniture, rent, supplies, cost of products and event coordination. Drinkers are ultimately investing in the future of the company, which could mean better beer.
"We keep it simple; almost all of our beers are $5 per pint, or $5 for a responsibly-sized pour for very high-ABV beers," says Thompson. "Revenue from the T.A.P. Room goes straight to paying our brewery expenses and into research and development of new beers so we can afford to offer unique, small batch locally crafted beers," she says.
Kevin Carr, founder of Community Beer Co. in Dallas, which has won a carboy full of medals for its ever-growing list of beers, agrees that factors beyond the basic costs of brewing are a part of the in-house pricing equation when it comes to his brewery's buzzy taproom.
"Nearly all of our beers in the taproom are priced at $5, sometimes less, which is lower than average market pricing," Carr explains. "If anything is over $5, it's a rare beer, such as a limited small batch or barrel-aged beer, and we think the reasonable price increase is understandable."
And while the recent regional craft beer boom has given us an embarrassment of intoxicating riches, Carr is quick to remind that a craft brewery is indeed still a small business, which has a direct impact on pricing.
"The prices set for craft beer is based on a number of things, including quality," he says. "And it is brewed by small businesses who can only brew a limited amount. Even larger local craft breweries are small compared to the macro operations nationwide."
Whether you're sipping on a $5 pint during a brewery open house, grabbing a seasonal bomber or maybe filling your $150 ceramic growler with a rare wine barrel-aged strong ale, there's a reason the local brews of North Texas are typically well worth the price.
"Ultimately, locally-brewed beer is the freshest quality one can find," says Carr. "So, local beer lovers get a tremendous value for their money, while drinking a beer that has fairly limited availability in the grand scheme of things."