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Why Joe Six-Pack Pays $11 a Beer Bottle

When it comes to high-ABV beers, bombers aren't just a small-volume selling gimmick but a big help to brewers trying to move a big beer. Unlike standard, lower-alcohol beers, high-potency brews require lots of ingredients and lots of time. Southern Tier's Pumpking imperial pumpkin ale, for example, has 8.6% alcohol by volume and takes 16 to 18 days to ferment. While production of the beer has grown between 50% and 80% each year since its introduction in 2007, it's still brewed in a relatively small batch of 4,000 barrels.

Southern Tier puts 19 imperial-style beers in 22-ounce bottles and shelves its 10 remaining beers in six packs. Given the $8 to $9 cost of Pumpking and imperial flavors such as Java, Chokolat and Creme Brulee, those beers would average out to $26 to $29 per six-pack at the price Southern Tier fetches per fluid ounce.

"If we were trying to do those all in six packs, we'd be looking at a really expensive six pack," Arnone says. "Also, the shelf space of the 22-ounce bottle means you can get three brands in the same space as a six pack."

At Shipyard Brewing in Portland, Maine, which began brewing 9% ABV Smashed Pumpkin imperial pumpkin ale and releasing it in 22-ounce bottles last year, founder and brew master Alan Pugsley plans an entire Pugsley Signature Series line of big beers that even includes a barley wine.

The not-so-hidden secret about high-alcohol bomber beers such as Smashed Pumpkin, which Pugsley likens to a port, is that they're looking to compete less with the Schlitz in the six-pack cooler and more with the sherry in the wine section.

"That's really meant to be shared at the dinner table or wherever as opposed to a bottle of wine," Pugsley says of the high-ABV 22-ouncers, "and you see a lot of people sharing a bottle of fairly high-alcohol beer and replacing the wine."

An $11, 750-milliliter bottle of Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head collaboration beer Life and Limb may seem exorbitant compared with a $9 six-pack of either brewery's IPA, but put the 10.2% ABV maple-flavored brew up against an $18, 750-milliliter bottle of wine such as Lagrima Vinho do Porto and the booze-soaked after-dinner playing field looks a bit more favorable.

"Boutique brands, like Hill Farmstead, Evil Twin and Stillwater Artisanal, and bigger breweries like Sierra are coming in now and pricing at $7 to $30 at the bomber or similar size -- like 750 milliliter -- and getting what they're asking," RateBeer's Tucker says. "The converted wine enthusiast is still getting happy about these prices -- these world-class luxuries are quite affordable."

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.



>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.
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