$12,800 for a Bottle of Beer!?

Written by Jeff Bean

One great thing about beer is that it offers incredible value for money. Compared to wine or spirits, tasting the best the world has to offer beer-wise is pretty cheap. Retail prices of the most expensive beers seldom exceed $20, and beers in the $30-50 range are exceedingly rare. Some beers, however, have demand that far exceed their supply, and thus bring much higher prices at auction.

One such beer is Three Floyds Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout, made in Chicago’s south suburbs. The beer is uniquely complex and viscous, even among imperial stouts, and its appeal has been greatly enhanced by its extremely limited availability. It is only sold one day each year at a special release party at the brewery.

Dark Lord Day, as it is known, has turned into a huge outdoor beer extravaganza and will be held this upcoming Saturday. Thousands attend to share beer, eat barbecue, and purchase coveted bottles of Dark Lord. Lines can be long, but spirits are high and beer talk and camaraderie abounds.

But you don’t have to stand in the long line at Dark Lord Day to witness the hype surrounding this beer – a visit to www.eBay.com is enough. Last week, one 2010 bottle apparently sold for $12,800. This event incited a significant amount of discussion and debate in beer forums, and the consensus seemed to be that it was a sham. The 2010 DL doesn’t go on sale until Saturday, and if it was in fact a leaked bottle, $12,785 is a high premium to pay for the chance to drink it a week early. More likely is that it was a bidding war in which the top bidders had no intention of paying. It may also be a complete sham item, with photoshopped wax. I guess we’ll have a better idea on Saturday, after we see the color of the wax. Real or not, it’s evidence of the tremendous hype surrounding this beer.

Other sales on the site look more legitimate, and are still high compared to the $15 per bottle price tag at the event. Currently there are two bottles on eBay that have multiple bids in excess of $120, and given the fact that these are both rare vintages (2004 & 2005), are probably real. Even more ridiculous is that sellers are asking between $50-150 for the tickets that guarantee the right to buy the beer, and appear to be getting bids. This opportunism goes against the spirit of the event: Three Floyds sells the tickets for $10 and donates the proceeds to charity. Also, keep in mind that tickets are not required to attend, they only guarantee the opportunity to purchase bottles. If you’re determined to get a bottle or two for yourself, my advice would be to go without a ticket. I’ve always been impressed with the generosity of the attendees, and I bet someone would be willing to sell you a bottle for retail price or a slight markup (or trade beer).

I can’t see myself ever paying $100+ for a bottle of beer simply because there are so many extraordinary beers available at a fraction of the price. Still, this is an indicator of the growing popularity and progress in changing public perception of beer. $120 pales in comparison to the prices paid for rare wines or whiskeys, and is likely minuscule in comparison to the travel expenses incurred by Dark Lord Day’s many out-of-state visitors. Fortunately for Chicago-ans, the event is only about 30 minutes south of the city and DL will be available on draft for very reasonable prices.

The beer is phenomenal, but for me, it’s the event surrounding it that is the real draw. More on that to come. We hope to see you there!

For more information on Saturday’s event, check this out.