Sunday, March 25, 2012


After a while you'll exhaust all the places in your immediate area and you'll find that you don't travel frequently enough to slake your adventurous beer spirit. Where to turn to next? The internet, of course!And you've got a few options.


There are many websites that sell beer from around the country and the world. Some of these can lead to grave disappointment. I know of one site that advertises Westvleteren, but they NEVER have it in stock. But if you do find a good website, you have to check to make sure they'll ship to you. Some of them are overly paranoid about each state's beer shipping laws, but some are not as timid since the laws are rarely enforced and there's a lot of room for interpretation. Once you've found a reliable source you can usually find many beers that you'd have to put in some serious effort to find.


This is what beer traders call eBay. The reason for the nickname is that it operates in the gray areas of the law when it comes to beer. See, what they do in these auctions to keep from running afoul of the law is to throw up a little phrase to cover their asses. It usually reads something like, "The value of the item is in the collectible container, not its contents. The collectible container has not been opened and any incidental contents are not intended for consumption." This was an actual line in an auction for a bottle of Dark Lord de Meurte.They're not fooling anyone and they know it. The verbiage from one auction is listed to the right. Click on it if you care to read it, but believe me, it essentially says what I just quoted.

Despite the questionable legality of this, you can get a bottle of Pliny the Elder, bottles of Westvleteren XII or a flight of Dark Lord. Ohhhh, but it will cost you. I've seen mark-ups of over 2,000%. Sure, the bottles mentioned above are pretty damn rare, but in the auction pictured to the left, they're asking $850. $850 for the "collectible containers"!? You've got to be effin' kidding me! Don't believe me? Click on the picture to the left to enlarge since it's kind of hard to read the price at this size. I have not doctored the image in any way and, to be fair, the auction is for six bottles that have been collected over the past six years. Still...

I have resorted to this method one or two times, but it is a last resort and I made sure I wasn't taken too badly on the price. However, I have ceased this practice now that I know how much it pisses off the breweries. And when you really think about it, by getting extras for the express purpose of resale, takes bottles out of the hands of those who just want to drink it...and they do it for the profit. What they do is akin to scalping and is as "rigidly" enforced. Then again, eBay has never had much use for legalities and what's right, unless of course there's a public outrage and then they dust off halos and profess ignorance of the practice. They're kind of like a government agency in that respect.


Another, more rewarding method for attaining beer that you can't get in your area is to find someone who can get what you want and offer them stuff that they want that you can get. Simple enough and finding people who are willing to do this is easier than you think.

There are Facebook pages dedicated to connecting beer traders and many forums out there. One of the most popular and active is in the BeerAdvocate forums. You can really target a trading partner by pulling up the beer that you're looking for through the BeerAdvocate search feature. Once it pops up, check the right side of the screen and you'll see a hyperlink titled "Gots". This lists everyone who has it and has listed it as available for trade (Note:At the time of posting, this feature was disabled). Check their profiles and you can find the link that brings up their Wants, so you can see if there's anything you have to offer. Once you've found someone, send them a message to suggest the trade.

Or you can enter the forums and look for the beer trading section and then the ISO:FT portion. ISO stands for "In Search Of" (the beer you want) and FT means "For Trade" (what you're willing to give up for it). Wait for replies to the posting thread or for messages with offers or counter offers.

Getting off the ground with this is really that easy. The hardest part of it for "noobs" is the etiquette this subculture of beer geeks follows. There are many things you'll need to know before starting off:
  1. Trades are value for value, which means the retail cost of the beer at time of purchase. Some really hard-to-find beers MAY fetch a higher price, but don't count on it. And NEVER quote the current going rate on eBay for a hard-to-find beer (or "whale"). The response you get will probably be pretty icy if not downright rude. 
  2. Even though a trade may be Beer A for Beer B or for multiple bottles, traders almost always include an "extra" or a "throw-in". This is typically a beer from a very local brewery, one that may not distribute out of state, and in some cases it could be glassware or other brewery swag. Only send swag if you know the person is into collecting that kind of stuff. Extras are not agreed-upon during the trade and it results in a nice surprise for both parties.  
  3. Do NOT offer to purchase beer. This IS illegal, despite what eBay thinks, and the vast majority of people will point this out..rudely or otherwise. 
When you're ready to start your first trade, don't be afraid to admit that you're a "noob". Do NOT think that you can make it successfully through the process just because you read this post. Your honesty will be respected and your potential trade partner will help you through.


This is a type of beer trading that I just stumbled upon and it's a lot of fun. You'll find that much of the trading that goes on in the forums are for "whales". A whale? It's a reference to Moby Dick and is used to mean a beer that you can spend your life trying to hunt down, much like Captain Ahab and the "great white whale".

Seeing nothing but nearly impossible-to-find beers in the trade forums can be disheartening since not everyone has the ways and means to acquire these "gets". Traders who wanted to just trade beer from their state for beer from another state needed a different outlet, so a different type of trading cropped up as a method to trade beer the way it was meant to be. The Beer It Forward almost assures this and is more commonly written as BIF.

The concept is pretty simple. One person decides to get one going and puts up a forum post with the particulars of the BIF. These are:
  • The Theme: This can be as simple as "locals" or can get as complicated as mimicking a fantasy baseball league or the NCAA basketball tournament.
  • The Minimum: This can be a dollar minimum or an ounce minimum and is used as a lower range to make sure everyone gets a fair amount. Most people blow right by this to showcase their generous natures. That last sentence was NOT sarcasm...people can really go overboard! And that's a good thing and in keeping with the spirit of beer trading.
  • Number of Participants: Having too many participants can make these impossible to manage and someone has a lot of work to do when they start this up. More participants = more work.
What work do they need to do? They need to inform all of those who requested to participate if they're in it or not. It's usually first come, first served, but some of the more complicated or valuable BIFs may need references first. Noobs are almost always excluded, which is a good thing for all.

Once the list of participants is set, they need to gather all of the participants' shipping info: real name, address, e-mail address and phone number. The phone number is necessary since a lot of people like to use FedEx and they require it. And then, depending on the type of BIF, they get the ball rolling on who sends beer to whom.

In a normal BIF, the person who started it off picks one person from the list and ships beer to them. Once the box is received, that person's name comes off the list and they choose another one. This continues on until the last person receives their box and then sends one to the person who started it off.

The "haul" from my first BIF
I've only participated in a lightning BIF, which is where most noobs should start due to its simplicity. The organizer assigns "targets" to each participant, attempting to keep geography in mind. Everyone is given a deadline date for shipping their boxes. A new forum thread opens so that people can give hints as to where they shipped their box and then, as the boxes "land", the "hauls" are revealed by picture and word. This part of it builds quite a bit of camaraderie between the participants and is a great way to develop some future trade partners in many regions throughout the country at once.

Finding an honest, reliable, patient and generous trading partner requires that you exhibit the same traits. Get a few under your belt and you'll find this a very rewarding way to taste beers that you'd otherwise never have a chance to purchase.

Next time I'll get back to writing about the New Jersey Beer scene. I'll post up the first part of a beer excursion to central Jersey made by the Senpai, the Duck and me. Four brew pubs, two breweries and two beer stores made for three exhausted, but happy kohai. 

No comments:

Post a Comment