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. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


This is not the entry I had promised, that is still to come, but one I had to get down in text while still fresh in my mind.

The rain stopped and the clouds parted, making for a really nice day. I had to go for a walk, that wasn't all that voluntary, along the state highway that goes through town. With nothing else to occupy my thoughts, I started to examine the flotsam and jetsam at the side of the road. When I was younger, this scene would enrage me and this posting would be an environmental rant against the lazy bastards that can't bother to place their rubbish in the trash can. But my brain started to catalog and analyze what I was seeing, looking for patterns, trends and the ultimate causality.

I noticed that a good portion of the trash discarded along the side of the road was empty water bottles and cigarette packs.

I wouldn't expect smokers to respect the land around them, since they don't even respect their own bodies. Too often I see the still-lit butts of cigarettes go bouncing off the road after being ejected from a smoker who is fine filling their lings with tar, but declines to sully their ashtray. As one of my friends is fond of saying, "The world is their ashtray." And it's also their trash can, presumably.

At first the water bottles surprised me, thinking that people who are health-conscious enough to drink water would have a healthier outlook on littering. But then I realized these were the same people that are duped into paying for something that comes out of their tap all due to the "convenience" of the packaging or the "purity" of the water. If you hadn't heard, the term "spring water"doesn't mean that it has to come from a spring. It's been proven that some of these bottles are filled at a tap, just like yours. Do yourself a favor, get a hard plastic or aluminum reusable bottle and a water filter. You'll be fine and can turn all that money you save into beer funds.

But this wasn't supposed to be a rant about smoking and bottled water. It was what else I saw amongst the soda bottles, energy drink cans (I lift things up and throw them out...out my window), gum packaging and empty CD cases. There were just as many beer cans and bottles as there were cigarette packs and water bottles. Okay, not very surprising but there were two things that came out of examining what was being chucked out of the vehicles that frequent this road.

First, that people drink AND drive at the same time! I doubt people finish a beer at home and then take the empties to throw away along the roadside. That would be too much work when you can throw them into the neighbor's yard just as easily. Well, unless you're trying to hide your drinking from your spouse or parents. I guess shouldn't be shocked that some people will pop open a brewskie on their way home from (or to) work.

The second point didn't really shock me either as much as reaffirming what I had always suspected: macro beer drinkers are slobs. Not ONE bottle or can was from a craft beer...unless you count Yuengling Black &Tan, which I don't. I know that craft beer is a small percentage of the overall beer sales, but with the amount of bottles and cans I saw, there should have been at least four or five, if you do the math. Nope! Not a one! And does anyone want to hazard a guess as to which two brands dominated the bestrewn landscape? I'm betting everyone can get one of them, but probably not the least not as their second or third guess.

The easy one to guess is Budweiser. It IS the best-selling beer in the country, so statistically it should have the most. But neck-and-neck with Bud, scattered amongst the budding crocuses (croci?), wildflowers (weeds?) and grasses (more weeds?) was bottles and cans of Heineken. It must be very popular with a local group of drunken litterbugs since the quantity seemed out of sync with its market share.

Miller, Coors and Keystone all had representation, but not nearly to the numbers shown by the top two. Oddly enough, I didn't see one Corona container.

This reaffirms my pride in being a craft beer drinker. So many craft breweries are doing their part to make their facilities green and drive awareness of social issues like the environment, the homeless (people and pets), disease research and historical preservation. It's gratifying to see that this sense of community trickles down to their consumers.  

Cheers! Prost! Sláinte!

Saturday, March 10, 2012


You will eventually come to a point where the local avenues of beer procurement have been exhausted. Your favorite beer stores no longer hold wonder for you, as you become so familiar with their selection that a quick perusal of their craft beer section alerts you what came in that week. You've pretty much tried it all or at least the offerings on the shelf that you're willing to try. Your favorite watering hole continues to rotate their taps with great regularity and even though they're bringing in some great, hard-to-find stuff, it's starting to repeat. But there are brews you hear about in the pod casts or in the beer forums that you can never find. What's up with that?

It's a function of national beer distribution; not every state will get distribution from every brewery. Although I am lucky enough to live in the state with the best distribution of American craft beer, I still need to employ other methods to attain bottles from some of the best breweries in the country. I am fairly new to some of these methods, but I will share what I have learned...and I'm a pretty quick learner. 

In 1983, New Jersey raised the drinking age to 21. Although Pennsylvania had the legal age at 21 since Prohibition was lifted in 1933, New York didn't raise it until 1985. For three years, young people from the Garden State would drive across the border to purchase beer or drink at bars in the Empire State. And then the Federal government stepped in and passed the Federal Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984, forcing all states to raise their minimum drinking age to 21 or risk losing Federal funding for their highways. The days of the interstate beer run came to an end.

Well, until the craft brew movement hit. Back in the day, people would visit Grandma in Pittsburgh and come back with a few cases of Iron City because that's what dad drank when he still lived with her...or something similar with a different city. But it's not the same as today. Many beer hunters frequently cross the borders into a neighboring state to take advantage of better or different distribution. For me, a 25-minute ride to a well-stocked beer store near Nanuet, NY scores me Cigar City, Clown Shoes, Lost Coast, Goose Island, Pretty Things and Two Brothers. I can also travel about an hour and a half to a store in Allentown, PA where I can find Bells, Cigar City, Duck-Rabbit, Lost Coast, Pretty Things, RJ Rockers, Russian River and Two Brothers. Will I ever find a Pliny the Elder there? No, probably not. But can I come across a Bourbon County Brand Stout in the one in New York? Yes. Have I? Yes, I have...and it was the coffee version! 

So seek out good beer stores just across the border into the next state, unless you live smack-dab in the middle of Wyoming and the nearest state border is four hours away. A website that will help you decide if it's worthwhile or not is Click your state and at the bottom of the page enter a neighboring state to compare to. Look at the list of breweries under that state and you'll see the ones that don't distribute to your state.

One could argue that the section above constitutes a road trip…and one would be wrong. A beer run involves just what it says: running out to get some beer. A road trip is far more involved and can involve brewery visits, dinner at a brewpub and even non-beer-related activities. Can you do a beer run on a road trip? Absolutely! In fact, I always include a local beer store on the itinerary when planning a road trip. But the point of a road trip is immersion into your destination's culture. Watch a few episodes of "Three Sheets" and you'll get what I mean.

A road trip can be a day-trip or an overnight stay…maybe even a few nights. After that, then you need to skip down to the next section. But however long you stay and no matter how much you intend to do, remain flexible. An itinerary is a good starting point, but all the on-line research in the world won't unearth all the little treasures a city or town has to offer. If you've read my previous blog entries you already know about John's in Mystic, CT or Sláinte in Baltimore. Neither place was on the itinerary but are the places that, when I think back on the trip, make me wish to return the most.

If you're like me, you're a bit of a foodie as well. It typically accompanies being a beer geek. So why wouldn't you also plan to enjoy the cuisine that defines your destination's culture? Could you go to Philly and not have a cheesesteak? Eating barbecue when in Texas is practically the law. There is no way you can go to Maine and not have something containing lobstah. We're planning a vacation to Cape Cod and it will be interesting to see how long it takes before my wife DOESN'T order clam chowdah. So how do you find the best places to go? We ALL know that the "famous" places aren't the best places. The word "famous" is either a marketing ploy or something that was once earned and then resulted in the place resting on their laurels...the Jefferson Diner is a prime example of that. There are exceptions, of course, but not a lot. 

Research all you want, but the best way to find the truly best Chicago dog, Kansas City barbecue or Key Lime pie is to ask the locals. You're going to be in the bars where beer geeks congregate and we know what happens in these places. People drink, they get chatty, they get chummy and you have a new best friend for the next hour or so. These new pals will give you the honest lowdown and may even let you into the "secret spots" that the locals like to keep tourists out of. There are so many instances where taking advantage of a drunk person is SO not cool, but this isn't one of them. Pump them for info and indulge.

If you have a family then your vacations are full of museums, historic sites, beaches, nature trails, scenic wonders, zoos, aquariums and amusement parks. But that doesn't mean they're entirely void of endeavors of a beery nature. A little on-line research will help you locate a decent beer store near your hotel/resort. Once the kids are down, make a beer run and look for those local beers you can't get back home. And remember the brewery distribution mentioned above. While on vacation in Sedona I managed to find Big Sky Moose Drool, Alaskan Amber and a bunch of stuff from Deschutes.

Another way to slake the beer beast inside of you and not interrupt your quality time with the family is to have lunch or dinner at a brewpub. I've only ever been to two brewpubs that were not family-friendly, with one of those being passable during lunch hours or when the college kids aren't in town. If you know of a brewpub near where you will be, go on-line and check out their menu. If there's a kids menu listed, then you're golden. It also helps if your spouse is also a fan of craft beer, as is mine. But even if not, then they don't need to drink the beer and will probably enjoy the food.

One problem with buying beer on a vacation where air travel is required is that you either have to drink it all before you go home or, if there's too much to drink, you have to risk packing it into your checked luggage and hope it doesn't break due to the "tender" baggage handling of the airlines. Make sure you know customs laws or risk having it confiscated. Another option is to ship it home. Some beer stores in popular tourist locations even offer this service. That can be costly, especially if you're in another country. 

But what if you can't travel? You're scared to death of flying or you hate staying in hotels? Your car is unreliable beyond your daily commute to work? Relax! You still have options...which we'll cover next time.