Which Brewer Makes Costco Beer?

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I was reading my monthly Costco Connection magazine and saw that they had an article about their in-house Kirkland Signature line of craft beers. At $19.99 for 24 bottles (12 oz.), that is about 1/3rd cheaper than most brand-name ales.

I’ve tried a few of them, and they seemed fine to drink, but it was interesting that the article kept skirting around who actually brews the beers for them. They only say that they meet the criteria of the Brewer’s Assocation that they be small (less than 2 million barrels a year), independent (less than 25% owned by some big corporation), and traditional. Also, they follow the German beer purity law of Reinheitsgebot where the only ingredients allows are water, barley, and hops, and yeast.

There are two contract breweries, one on each coast. Some quick online research turns up both of them:

West Coast Brewery

On the bottle, it is printed as:

Hopfen und Malz Brewing Company in San Jose, CA

The brewer is better known as Gordon Biersch (Wikipedia page ). Best known in some areas for their line of restaurants (good garlic fries), they also make beer for Trader Joe’s.

East Coast Brewery

On the bottle, it is printed as:

New Yorker Brewing Company in Utica, NY

The brewer is better known as Matt Brewing Company (Wikipedia page), the fourth oldest family-owned brewery in the United States. They are also known for their Saranac line of beers.

Consumer Reports reviewed the beer in August 2010 and said:

Great price, decent beer. On average, our untrained panelists liked the Costco beers about as much as the same-style name-brand beers. Our consultants said that although the brand-name beers were more flavorful, clean-tasting, and complex, the Costco beers were quite quaffable and, to use the consultants’ technical term, “party-worthy.”

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  1. Contract brewing is very common in the craft brewing industry. Trader Joe’s does the same thing as Costco and much of Samuel Adams especially their signature lager, is contract brewed by others. The actual Samuel Admas company just doesn’t have the production capacity to meet all of their demands. They do their own brewing as well but on a smaller scale. Given a competent brewhouse and quality ingredients, end product-wise it is more important that a brewer’s recipe’s and procedures are followed than the size or location of the brewer.

  2. The Costco beers are a great value. In my opinion, they are better than the mass market stuff like Miller or Coors, but for about the same price.

    Costo is also a great source of reasonably priced wines. Check out the


    They have lots of great wine suggestions and reviews.

  3. Gordan Biersch contract brews a lot of stuff on the west coast and they are all pretty bad in my opinion. Trader Joe’s does use them for their TJ brands. Firestone Walker also contract brews for Trader Joe’s under the Mission Street label, and those are about 100 times better than the Gordan Biersch brews.

  4. Gordon Biersch *brand* beer is a first-rate German style product, and far and away the most prominent west coast micro lager. I’d happily pick it before any other common US lager. [The vast majority of west coast beers are ales.]

    Still, as said above, it doesn’t matter who brews it so much as how much stuff goes into the beer. If you make a $3 per 6 product then you can’t afford to use $4 worth of ingredients. Mainstream Bud is watery and horrible, but Budweiser American Ale (at microbrew prices) is quite acceptable.

  5. Sounds like if you are having a party, have a couple of decent microbrews and then after a couple of hours bust out the Kirkland Signature.

  6. I tried the Costco brand, but I didn’t really like it. I was all over Spaten beer though, which they sold during Oktoberfest. Why settle for a beer which claims to be brewed according to the German Reinheitsgebot, when you can buy a true German beer from Munich?? 😉

  7. I have always been a big fan of Matt Brewing Company in Utica. If you ever find yourself in Utica, don’t miss the tour- two fresh beers await you at the end. Thanks for the tip!

  8. I am NOT a beer drinker per say but after trying the Costco Amber I thought is was very good and looked for another bottle and they were all gone. if I could find the amber only I would be a happy camper.

  9. Just bought my first case of Kirkland Beer today. This is definitely a great deal on Ales, however, the ABV is lower on these than comparable brews. The flavors aren’t as distinct as comparable brews as well. The Belgian White could use a higher ABV and more citrus, I would rank it a 75/100. The IPA definitely has a better balance and pours amber with a thin white head. It could use a touch more hops during secondary fermentation, but overall is a solid IPA. I would rank it about 85/100.

    To those trying to compare these ales with lagers (BudMillerCoors), you are trying to compare apples with oranges. Though they are similar they are brewed very differently, therefore have different flavors. Brewing 101 Ales vs. Lagers

  10. SRW OLYMPIA WA says

    I have had so many ales that the distinction between them has gotten a touch fuzzy… The Kirkland ales are not world class but certainly drinkable… Good value at 20 bucks for a case… after the first two IPA’s, it is a moot point…

  11. Gotta disagree with David on the IPA. I eagerly tried one at a party and was disgusted. There is a very off flavor that is not hoppy but more like turpentiney. First time in a loooong time that I put a beer down and had no intentions of finishing it. The amber ale was fine if a little sweet.

  12. I tried Costco’s beers, brewed by Hopfen and Malz brewery , not to bad,
    but every time I open a bottle , the beer comes shooting out like an oil well
    the beer is cold and not shaken or disturbed , straight out of the fridge. I wonder, why it is doing that. Especially on the India Pale Ale type .
    I live in 8000 feet elevation and wonder, if this has anything to do with the spurting like crazy. It acts like it is not completely fermented . any thoughts to that?

  13. Helly you are right on! Ours came shooting out too and worse, foamin in the gut kinda burby after a swig or two (sorry my verbage isn’t more descreet)….we are 3100 ft so I do not think it is altitude. Anyone?

  14. The Costco ales meet a certain price point and I think they’re fine tasting for the price. Costco also has pricier ipa’s ales and imported beer for purchase, it might be best for some ale drinkers to stick with those. Like most things beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it certainly pertains to ale and beer. there’s a whole group out there that swears that PBR is the best stuff on the planet. But you & I know better, right?

  15. Gordon Biersch also made (or makes – haven’t seen it in a while) a private label beer for the Grocery Outlet chain.

  16. It’s refreshing to see some quality craft beers at reasonable prices. As it stands now, the market is being flooded with “crap craft” with extremely poor quality. Every Tom, Dick and Harry with a 5 gallon carboy is calling themselves a brewmaster nowadays….Wikipedia trained and all.

  17. OMG I love Kirklands Light Beer. It just became my favorite and what a terrific price. At 105 calories I can drink three (most of the time). Crack one open and enjoy.

  18. Don Brightbill says

    Tempted by the price, and relearned the lesson that you get what you pay for. The blonde was pathetic, pale sub-average, and the IPA did not seem anywhere near the claimed 77 IBU. Have not tried the brown ale yet, but do not have high expectations. I will return to the Bridgeport brewers box next time, with four great ales.

  19. On my second case of Kirkland variety pack. It’s not the finest, but it is eminently drinkable. In fact, I prefer the IPA to many top craft brands…when it comes to hops, more is not always better.

    All in all, I’m a buyer and a drinker of Kirkland.

  20. CarpeJugulum says

    I’m with John above. Eminently drinkable. Over here in Japan the missus picked up a case that had Kölsch, Pale Ale, India Pale Ale & Session IPA, in approximate order of preference, at a very Costco price. The Kölsch is nothing like Kölsch (me mum’s German and I’ve spend a fair bit of time there) – too heavy, too much head. The others are perfectly drinkable (the Kölsch too, but not if you’re expecting Kölsch), especially the IPA and Session IPA, and I speak as an Englishman who really likes a decent IPA, though not all of the super skunky American ones (technically double or triple IPAs) now becoming popular.

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