Only a few decades ago, the number of imported draft beers available in the United States could almost be counted on the fingers of both hands. Today, however, importers both large and small bring a vast multitude of different kegged brands to the country, from countries as near as Mexico to those as far from the U.S. as Japan.
What these brands bring with them, of course, is the cachet of coming from afar, as well as, in many cases, a uniqueness of style and flavor. And although keg prices can appear high, sometimes almost stratospheric, the positioning of these drafts also can result in very high profit margins.
Keith Schlabs of the Flying Saucer group knows this well, as he demonstrates with the example of Chimay Triple, an 8 percent alcohol Trappist ale from Belgium.
Kegs of Chimay cost the Flying Saucers roughly $225 for a mere 5.3 gallons, explains Schlabs, but such is the allure of the brand that he is able to sell branded 8.5 ounce, chalice-like glasses of the beer for $8 apiece, resulting in a profit of $5.19 per glass or 61 cents per ounce.
Compare this with the profit potential of a well-known and well-regarded craft ale such as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, which Schlabs gets at the reasonable price of approximately $125 for a 15.5 gallon keg. Sold at $4.50 per pint, the Sierra Pale thus generates a profit of $3.50 per serving or 21.8 cents per ounce, just over one-third of that yielded by the Chimay.
Now it is true that customers are unlikely to drink as much of the potent Chimay as they are of the 5.6 percent ABV Sierra Nevada, but at close to three times the profitability and slightly over one-half the serving size, it also can be argued that they don’t need to.