For those not into the community aspect of beer trading, there are websites that make many out-of-reach beers just a few clicks away. Phil Lowry of BeerMerchants.com (Europe only) describes sites like his as primarily for those who are “beer aware” but don’t have exotic beers at their disposal or may be “cash rich but time poor.” Orders topping £300 are not unheard of. Similarly, LiquidSolutions.biz will ship a three-liter bottle of 2006 Samichlaus and one from 2007 to anyone over 21 in 48 states (sorry Maryland and Wyoming) for over $300.
Of course, legally shipping beer to any state is riddled with gray zones. Caveat shippor—shipper beware. Mailing beer via the U.S. Postal Service violates Federal law (18 USC Sec. 1716) and the private carriers FedEx and UPS won’t ship beer. (They will, as an aside, ship other liquids such as “olive oil” or “marinade,” for example.) eBay, for their part, requires sellers to state that beer auctions are not, in fact, for the beer, but the “collectable container” and that such coveted glassware’s contents “are not intended for consumption.”
Firing the First Shots
I am a virgin. I’ve never traded beer with someone I didn’t know and that was not transacted in person. My first beer mail sent in search of Wooden Hell fell upon deaf ears/blind eyes—as did my second and third. The meaty part of my fourth read: “Hey there. I have a few whales and am trying to hunt down WH. Any chance you’re interested in Anchor Our Barrel Ale (magnum)? Lemme know.”
The pertinent parts of the response from user Hombrepalo read: “Thanks for your interest in my Wooden. The two beers are good but not what I am looking for.” It was suggested that I revisit his list of Wants.
Upon discovering that I’m from California, my anticipated beer trader from Illinois requested trading for “volume.” Volume, in this case, meant trading his ultra-rare bomber of barley wine for 750-milliliter bottles of Russian River Temptation and Consecration (two American wild ales, refermented with Brettanomyces; and Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus, respectively) and two bombers of IPAs from San Diego, AleSmith IPA and Ballast Point Sculpin.
Would nearly five ounces of my beer to his one be worth the trade? I hoped so. We virtually shook hands on it and soon enough we were emailing each other tracking numbers.
For my next whale, my expedition went from national to international. It seems one of the most prolific reviewers on RateBeer had a bottle stashed in his cellar in Copenhagen. I sent him this message: “You’re on the short list of people who ‘Have’ my desired whale, Cantillon Blåbær Lambik! Any chance we can arrange a trade? I happen to have a few from your Wants list, so let me know if a) you are interested and b) what seems fair.”
I rattled off 10 beers from his list of Wants including my only bottle of Ballast Point Tongue Buckler Imperial Red—a one-off from the San Diego brewery—and had every intention of sending him all of the above.
As for my final trophy, a bottle of Ring of Fire would appear sporadically online and communiqués were sent into the void, never to be heard from again until I felt a tug emanating from Maryland. The note on the hook came back and read: “I have one Ring of Fire left, and I could potentially let it go. What other stuff do you have that’s not listed on your Gots that you would be willing to trade? Not auctioning, just looking for the right deal.”
It just so happened my local beer retailer had two bottles of The Bruery’s Papier stashed away the way many liquor stores and bottle shops keep their treasure chest off the shelves. I bought both: one for me, one for a “BT.” The gentleman on the other end of the beer mail said of such a trade, “I would do it in a second.”
It took Captain Ahab his seafaring career, and 135 chapters, to track down Moby Dick. Could I have really landed all three of my desired whales that quickly and easily?
Keeping Up with the Jonesing
It seems every third thread in the forums of the online sites is regarding trading and collecting beers. Top Fives. Most expensive. Ones that got away. One poster wrote about “offering up (my) first born and half (my) cellar, and still nada.” Another said that he’d spent more money on buying and shipping beer than on rent. And to the guy who listed Russian River Deviation, Upland Kiwi Lambic and Flossmoor Station Blue Wax de Wilde Zuedentrein as merely the top of his wish list, Godspeed my friend.
Trading, for many, is an addiction. And what can’t be found FT, some resort to eBay. Westvleteren 12 from the Trappist St. Sixtus Abbey is almost as common as Beanie Babies once were. Three Floyds Dark Lord is available way more often than the once-yearly Dark Lord Day at the brewery in Indiana. Moreover, while a 2005 vintage is likely tastier and certainly more desirable, is the winner who pays $200 going to enjoy it three to four times as much as the person who bids $50 to $75 for last year’s vintage? And let’s not even get into the area of people who obtain a White Whale beer and then don’t even drink it.
Most traders revel in sharing beers they have obtained with friends or take to tasting parties. Nickd717, an active trader on BeerAdvocate and RateBeer who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area invited me to a monthly gathering he attends where friends bring in bottles from that month’s haul. It was a “BT” paradise and included AleSmith Barrel-Aged Decadence ’07 (hand-numbered 80 out of 817), New Glarus R&D Golden Ale, and my personal favorite, one that I’d read about in the forums but hardly expected to find it this far south of the Arctic Circle: Midnight Sun Oak-Aged Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin Porter. As much of a mouthful as the name is, the beer itself is a gorgeous elixir that boasts equal parts silky milk chocolate and spices redolent of homemade pumpkin pie with the spiciness offset by the pumpkin’s creaminess. Then there was the bottle I brought, which garnered the “oohs” and “aahs” I’d hoped for. Gold wax dripping off the crown of the one bottling from 2008 of Bourbon aged barley wine known to traders simply as WH.