How Much Is Too Much?

cantillon_zwanzeEarlier this evening, I visited beerbistro, and I purchased and drank the beer in the photograph that accompanies this post. It was Cantillon Zwanze 2008, a limited edition lambic from the renowned Belgian brewery that was made with rhubarb.

Like every other Cantillon beer I’ve had, it was excellent, full of tart and funky goodness, with an interesting hint of rhubarb in the finish. A perfect beer to enjoy on a warm early summer evening.

Oh, and it cost me $25 (+ tax and tip) for a 375 ml bottle, which I believe is the most I’ve ever spent on a single serving of beer.

I’m sure there are a lot of people – including many craft beer drinkers – who will think me crazy for dropping so much on a single beer. Hell, for the money I spent on the Zwanze, I could’ve had three pints of something or other at beerbistro, or even more at someplace a little more down market.

So, why did I buy it? Well, a friend mentioned on a private chat forum today that he’d tried it, and since I love Cantillon beers and really like rhubarb, I decided to treat myself and splurge a little. (The fact that I came into a bit of extra money this week kinda helped me make my decision as well…)

And, was it worth it? Tonight, yes, it was. I thoroughly enjoyed the 45 minutes or so I spent drinking the beer, and given it’s scarcity, I felt the price was justified. Beerbistro is probably the only place in Canada, and perhaps in all of North America, to have Zwanze in stock. When I think what a wine of similar quality and rarity would cost in a restaurant, $25 almost seems like a bargain.

I’m curious to know what other people think, though. Is $25 (or more) ever a justifiable price for a bottle of beer, no matter how rare it might be? Does the “just imagine what a comparable wine would cost!” argument hold any weight, or is it a just a way for suckers to justify things to themselves when they drop too much money on a beer? And like the subject line above says, how much is too much when to comes to the price of beer?

Any thoughts?

(PS: While I was sorely tempted, I didn’t steal the glass. While I’m not a regular at beerbistro, I’m there often enough and know enough of the staff that it would’ve made my next visit a bit awkward. Plus, stealing is bad, ‘mkay? But man, that’s a cool glass, isn’t it?)

13 Responses to How Much Is Too Much?

  1. You may have noted the only circumstance where it might be OK. In addition to the beer, you bought the service, you paid the rent in the core of the city and you supported an excellent bar that has taken many a risk to establish the legitimacy of the fine beer bar in Canada.

    Your $25 at beerbistro should translate to $13 or so off the shelf (could you find it) and I have regularly passed up the Cantillon experience at roughly that price given that I know the beer hates me.

    But if you did it every Friday and brought three? That makes for a man with issues.

  2. stephenbeaumont

    My question for you, Greg, and for everyone pondering this issue is this: Did you enjoy it as much or more than you would, say, a steak frites at an average restaurant, or a lunch of a sandwich and ordinary pint at an average pub? Because either of those would likely cost as much, perhaps more, and, in my view as someone who has enjoyed that beer, offer only a fraction of the pleasure.

    As for the glass, thank you for not stealing. I hand carried those back from Belgium several years ago, via New York, and even I don’t have one today.

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  4. Whenever I decide whether to splurge on beer, I ask myself two questions. What other beer could I buy for the same money? Will I be passing up a great opportunity for a new taste? In this case I could have bought a four pack of Palo Santo Marron. I have also not tried many of the excellent beers on their menu, so I might try something else. Then again I have dropped $20 on a bottle of Scaldis Noel Premium.

  5. Frank McDonald

    I spent about $600 for my three days in Montreal for the Mondial De La Biere. I sampled about 35 beers. That works out to around $17 a sample. Well worth it. I had a wonderful time and tried some fantastic beers. Compared to flying to Belgium to try the beer, which is something I’d like to do, your $25 beer is a bargain.

  6. $25 for 45 minutes of enjoyment seems worth it to me!

  7. Alan: How did I know that you’d be the first person to comment on this? 😉 Yes, taking into account the expected mark-up, $25 is really a more than fair price for a beer of this sort.

    As far as retail goes, I think the most I’ve spent for a beer of a comparable size is the $18 or so I dropped for a bottle of Westy 12 when it was briefly available at Premier Gourmet in Buffalo a few years ago. I think it was around US$12 at a time when the exchange rate sucked, and it was amongst a bunch of other beer that got us pinged for duty. But I felt that it was well worth it at the time. I will likely take a pass, however, on the $45 that is rumored as being the price in at least one Toronto bar that has got some of the grey market Westy 12 that has recently entered the city…

    Stephen: Yes, I definitely feel that I got my moneys worth. It’s a beautiful beer (as I expected from Cantillon), it fit the moment perfectly, and it didn’t leave me with even a smidgen of buyer’s remorse.

    But it also made me ask myself: Would I have bought it if it were $30? Or $40? Or $50? (See Westy 12 comment above.) Again: How much is too much? It probably depends on the beer, and the time, and the place, and how flush I happen to be at the moment – a ultimately, how much enjoyment I expect I’ll get out of it.

    Flavius: You raise good points/questions. I ask myself the same thing sometimes, especially if I’m not sure what I want and I’m scanning the menu for options. In this case, I knew exactly what I was going in for, and didn’t do any calculations about what else I could’ve gotten for the money – but sometimes, it makes sense to do that.

    Frank: Dunno if I completely agree with your math there – weren’t there other things you saw and did and drank and ate in Montreal that should come out of that $600 as well? But yeah, samples at festivals – especially those that you travel to – always have a fairly high unit cost attached to them. In those scenarios, I try not to think about it too much, and just enjoy.

    Vanessa: Yup, ’nuff said. 😉

  8. Frank McDonald

    Greg, Math was never my strong point 😉
    The only reason I was in Montreal was for the Mondial so I figure the whole cost of the trip was just for the beer. I’m hoping on my next trip to Toronto I’ll be able to try the “Deus”(among others) at BeerBistro. I understand its $50 for a 750ml bottle.

  9. To be fair to me (and who better to be fair to?) I was home with a thrown out back this morning giving me that pole position on the comment making moment. It was the exquisite draw of a rhubarb beer that really made me do it.

    And to be fair to relative value, I happily pay as much for 1970s Doctor Who DVDs… though I can hit the button for a replay in that case.

  10. Glenn Barley

    Hey what about those Italian Bruton beers Greg?

    From Tuscany?

    at a rough cost of $15-16 per 750 Ml for the restaurant they would be in that class of costly brews ?


  11. Glenn – yeah, they’ll be up there in price, definitely. Although being larger bottles and more suited to sharing, the price may be a bit easier to handle and/or self-justify for some.

  12. JonasOfToronto

    I follow your gist Greg, and the $35 +tax/tip I recently spent on a Westvleteren 12 at Bar Volo was, I think well-spent.


    Well, if I’m traveling in Europe, I want to be independent and not feel I must waste hours going out of my way seeking one beer. ANY beer. The alternative cost then of any Belgian beer found over here is pretty reasonable, compared to what lost hours on a trip may potentially cost – I’m talking not only dollars, but potential experiences.

    This is not to say I will never travel where the beer AND the experience is good! That would make me a liar.

    But it’s something entirely worthy to enjoy the exotic taste of a rarely-found Belgian beer right here, at a local bar, with friends at home, or curled up on one’s sofa. The sights aromas and tastes can seem to sweep one away to another place, as a break from the usual Toronto work week. For a minute you can feel like you are in Belgium, or Bavaria, or Prague, or Brooklyn NYC. A whole experience is right there.

    Expensive beer is then perhaps just a very well-bottled form of the experience one gets in travel.

    And while it IS bloody hard not to steal the glass, the experience is the real keepsake.

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