"The bigger bottles were initially intended to get placements in different outlets that didn't have the space nor the inclination to carry higher-end six-pack packages," Manley says, referring to such venues as convenience stores and smaller shops. "Since the release, however, we've found that many stores simply prefer the variety -- we often get requests from grocery outlets and chains to stock both our six-pack product and our 24-ounce bottles."
The bomber has a low buy-in price for the beer novice, but that doesn't always mean it's a great deal. The Portland, Ore.-based blog It's Pub Night went bomber shopping last year and discovered that, by ounce of beer, the unit price of 22-ounce bottles carried a penalty for shoppers who picked them over six packs. A $3.39 22-ounce bottle of Anchor Steam, for example, would cost $11.09 as a six-pack given its per-ounce price, but an actual six-pack went for $9.29, putting the bomber at a $1.80 premium. Matt Simpson, owner of The Beer Sommelier and TheBeerExpert.com, says that premium is just the bitter aftertaste of supply and demand.
"The fact is, counterintuitively, these big bottles command greater prices, per unit volume, than identical or similar beers in smaller vessels," Simpson says. "As long as people are willing to pay these higher prices, the breweries will continue marking up their profit percentages."
That small upfront price and big markup is working. The Symphony IRI market research group says that "craft single 22-ounce glass" sales are up 34.4% during the first six months of 2011 from the same period last year.That's creating a healthy buzz within the entire craft-beer industry, which saw overall sales climb 14% by volume and 15% in dollar value during the first six months of the year. That's after an 11% jump in volume and 12% revenue increase last year that took craft beer from a 9 million-barrel, $7 billion industry in 2009 to a 10 million-barrel, $7.6 billion beast last year. But why are beer drinkers willing to pay a premium for a larger bottle and smaller sampling size? Simpson says the answer lies in human perception, buying habits and raw psychology. "The average craft-beer drinker is not only a very social animal -- who typically loves to share his beverage of choice with friends and family -- but doesn't typically compare prices when searching for 'the next big thing,'" Simpson says. "They typically sample whatever beers are on their radar -- no matter the vessel size." Free-spending craft-beer lovers make it tempting to bring in the bombers, but sometimes the big bottle just isn't the best fit for a brewer. When Lakewood, N.Y.,-based Southern Tier Brewing launched in 2002, it shipped some of its beers in six packs and 22-ounce bottles until the market told it otherwise. "We experimented with putting out regular IPA into 22-ounce bottles when we first started doing that in 2004 or 2005 and we were kind of competing with ourselves on that one," Southern Tier spokesman Nathan Aranone says. "We were taking some thunder away from the six packs, so we decided to switch to only imperial beers in the big bottles."