Trading Beer Tips
by Thom Andrews
No matter how beer friendly your city or state may be, there’s always something you want to
taste that’s just out of reach. Whether it’s an offering from Russian River, The Alchemist, Three
Floyds, or Cigar City, the geographic and production limitations of most breweries can serve as
a stumbling block.
That generally leaves you with three options: You can make the trip to that brewery’s home
town and try to get your fill there – but that’s a hefty price to pay for a beer that may not live up
to the hype. You could also attend the Great American Beer Festival. Again, though, it’s an
expensive way to get a taste. Or, you could simply set up a beer exchange.
Beer trading is technically a gray market, but it’s one that’s growing at a phenomenal rate as
more and more people discover the many options of craft beer. The concept is simple: Find a
quality beer in your region and trade it for something of equal value in another part of the
The best trading partners, of course, are your friends who live scattered around the country.
But there are plenty of strangers who are just as happy to make an exchange on message
boards such as Reddit, BeerAdvocate and RateBeer. Getting started, though, can be a bit
intimidating. Here are a few things you need to know expensive way to get a taste.
You’re going to see all sorts of alphabet soup abbreviations like ISO, FT, BB and IP when you
venture onto these message boards. Before you attempt to make a trade, it helps to become
fluent. ISO means “in search of.” FT is “for trade.” BB is shorthand for “bourbon barrel.” And IP
is “In person.”
Get familiar with what brands are already available in the area that offers your desired beer.
Good trading manners preclude you from offering something your trading partner can pick up
at his or her bottle shop. In other words, if you’re hoping to get your hands on “Sip of
Sunshine” from Lawson’s Finest, don’t offer up something from, say, Against The Grain, since it’
s already distributed in Vermont, the state where you’re most likely to find Lawson’s products.
Forget about offering cash for these beers. Traders aren’t in this to pad their bank accounts.
They’re genuinely interested in trying new beers. (There are also potential legal ramifications
that are best avoided by making a cash exchange.)
Be prepared to take a leap of faith. Reputation is important in the trading community and if you’
re just getting started, you don’t have one. As a result, you’ll likely be expected to send your
beers first. Trading forums are self policed and word will get out quickly about people trying to
scam others for free beers.Search for a trade partner with a proven record. Finding a trade
partner can be easy, but finding a reliable one is another story.
Don’t buy beer on eBay. Don't EVER buy beer on eBay. It’s basically like scalping, which is
totally counterproductive to the breweries traders are looking to support. It’s also illegal to sell
alcohol on eBay, so sellers list bottles as “empty.” If you actually get an empty bottle, good luck
trying to get eBay involved — you’re pretty much out of luck.
When you send your beers, be sure to pack them carefully. Very carefully. Taping the bottles
in bubble wrap is a good idea and shipping them in a box designed to transport bottles is even
better. Keep in mind that should your beer be shattered in transit (and it happens all the time,
regardless of how many times you write ‘fragile’ on the box), you’ll be responsible for sending a
replacement. Don’t ship via USPS. That’s a legal no-no. UPS and FedEx allow it, but often try
to tack a surcharge on. To circumvent this, most traders describe their shipments as sauces or
olive oil if asked. (Note: Do so at your own risk.) Expect to pay between $15-30 per box, so
make it count. Ideally the trade is "valued" at double the shipping. It’s about the same as if you
ordered from an online retailer.
Trading beers can be great fun. Follow these tips, use caution, have fun, and most importantly
enjoy some great beer you haven't ever had before.
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