Buying Craft Beer on a College Budget

October 23, 2017

By Kenny Gould, October 23, 2017

Craft beer can be an expensive hobby. Even ignoring the rare bottles that get bought on the secondary market for hundreds or even thousands of dollars, a good 750ml bottle of craft beer can cost anywhere from $20 to $30. Small wonder most college students can’t afford it.

One of the easiest ways to get involved is to form a “Beer of the Week” club, where you split a six pack or two with a group of five other friends. For most students, it’s not reasonable to spend $24 every week on two six packs, but it’s a lot easier to find $4 and an hour or two to relax with friends.

My own career started like this – interest in a college beer of the week group led to a job as a beer writer.

Throughout its history, beer has been a democratic drink, consumed by people from every conceivable background and socio-economic class. Your last name doesn’t need to be Gates or Zuckerberg for you to indulge.

With a little guidance, anyone who can afford a post-hangover Gatorade can afford a craft beer.

Russian River’s Pliny the Elder could be the greatest bargain in craft beer history.”

Ithaca Flower Power

Before he founded the Hudson Valley’s Industrial Arts Brewing Company, Jeff O’Neil brewed for Ithaca Beer Company. Although the brewery was only founded in 1998, it’s old by craft standards – most of today’s best-known craft breweries didn’t get their start until a decade after the new millennium. In 2012, the brewery purchased a new facility and tripled their production, making their fantastic Flower Power IPA more widely available.

Created by O’Neill, Flower Power is a 7.2% alcohol by volume IPA made with 2-Row Pale and Honey Malt. The beer is characteristically East Coast, favoring a malty backbone as opposed to a hop punch. However, with five different additions of dry hops, Flower Power is still hoppy enough for any IPA fan, and the easy choice for a beginning beer fan to step up their game on a budget.

MSRP: $11.49 for a six-pack

Allagash White

Once you go Allagash, you never go back. Portland, Maine’s hometown brewery has also made a name for themselves since 1995, when founder Rob Tod saw a gap in the industry and filled it with a fifteen-barrel brewhouse that specialized in Belgian-inspired beers. For a country used to British or German exports, it was quite a shock.

Over the past two decades, the brewery has expanded from a one-man operation to one of the most lauded breweries in the country, with many longtime beer professionals citing it as the model of a brewery done right. Their 5.1% Allagash White is a near-flawless American take on a Belgian Witbier, and tastes like the season of fall distilled into a bottle. At $10 for a four pack, it’s one of the more expensive beers on this list, but the splurge is well-worth it.

MSRP: $10 for a four-pack

Russian River Pliny the Elder

You’ll have to travel to California to get it, or make a virtual friend, but Russian River’s Pliny the Elder could be the greatest bargain in craft beer history.

“Vinnie and I come from small, family businesses,” said Natalie Cilurzo, co-founder of Russian River along with her husband, Vinnie Cilurzo. “My parents owned gas stations and tow trucks and Vinnie’s parents owned a winery.”

The family-first mentality means that Russian River still sells the 8% Pliny the Elder – Zymurgy Magazine’s “Best Beer in America” for eight consecutive years and currently number 16 on Beer Advocate’s Top 250 – for $5.00 per pint ($3.75 at happy hour!), or $5.50 per 510ml bottle. And with Russian River set to open a new facility and double their production in the next year, prepare to see more Pliny around California.

MSRP: $5.50 for a 510ml bottle

Most bottle shops have a rack of discounted goodies that they’re trying to move.”

Founders Backwoods Bastard

If you want to drink craft on a budget, the obvious choice is Founders All Day IPA. In many places, you can find a 15 pack for $15 – a dollar a beer.

But inspired shoppers will also note that Founders Backwoods Bastard – an 11.2% Wee Heavy cave aged in bourbon barrels – is much more highly rated, and not that much more expensive if you do a little math. With a can of the All Day IPA hovering at 4.7% ABV, you’d have to drink two or three before you got the same kick as a bottle of the Bastard. If you’re making your decision solely on price, it’s not worth it, but if you want to expand your horizons for cheap, Backwoods Bastard is the answer.

MSRP: $14.99 for a 4 pack

Local and Discounted Specials

Depending on where you live, some local beers might be cheaper than others. For instance, in Pennsylvania, I can often find Troegs' beer for less than I might in Virginia, because the Troegs brewery is in Hershey. At my local beer store, I found six packs of Troegs’ Hopback Amber and Solid Sender for $11.99, which you’ll realize is a steal when you try one. Walt Wit, an unfiltered Belgian White-Style Ale made by Philadelphia Brewing Company, is only $9.99. However, I can’t in good conscience recommend this one. 

In addition to the local section, most bottle shops have a rack of discounted goodies that they’re trying to move. At my local store in Pittsburgh, I found six packs of Victory Summer Love and Cage Radler for $6.99… at just over a dollar per beer, the price point competes with even the cheapest light lagers.

MSRP: Varies

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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