Tales of a beer trader

First it was G.I. Joes, then baseball cards, followed by ripped copies of video games, notes to try and pass that high school or college exam; perhaps even at some point a little bit of “advice” was traded between my friends and I.  However as I sit here a few days after my 30th birthday, I have realized one thing, the enjoyment and the art of the trade never really dies.  It morphs and adapts to your current hobbies, it changes with you as you change, and in the case of this particular hobby becomes more expensive.  However, without a doubt I can attest to the fact that the desire to trade for the unattainable, those things you want but don’t have, does not die down as you grow older.  In my case my passion for beer and love of brewing introduced me to a new form of trading, one that opened doors to regions of the United States and beyond that I thought previously impossible to explore.  Yes the world of beer trading allows you to find and taste those long sought after beers from different corners of the country and the globe.  Yes, trading allows you to hunt down those rare white whales, and find those beers that you had heard about but never in a million years thought you could taste!  Yes, all of that sounds amazing, but what most people miss about beer trading is the often unsung accomplishments that come with the territory.  The feeling of success when you complete that trade (It feels damn good), the opportunity to share with other beer enthusiasts beer that they cannot find and introduce them to what makes your corner of the globe interesting in regards to the world of beer, and perhaps most importantly the friendships and connections that are forged throughout the trades.  I never thought I would say this but trading has given me the opportunity to not only try great beer, but meet some wonderful people with like-minded hobbies while doing so!

An example of fantastic trade.  This one coming from the heart of Texas.

An example of a fantastic trade. This one coming from the heart of Texas.

I’m not sure exactly when I decided to get into beer trading, but I do know it was after reading an article in Draft Magazine about trading and seeing a couple of beer cellars that truly made me jealous.  I remember sitting there and saying “How hard could it be,  I like beer”.  Little did I know the patience and tenacity it would take to really break into the beer trading world.  The first thing I realized when I began taking my first baby-steps into this amazing beer culture was that, people want to trade for things they want and can’t get, and as someone new to the trading world with no sort of collection under my belt, this left me at a huge disadvantage.  I spent time on the “big” beer sites, such as beer advocate flipping through forums and looking at post after post of “ISO’s”.  For me, the first thing that came to my mind was…”what the hell is an ISO?”

Obviously I eventually figured out that ISO simply stood for in search of, however that led me to my next reality check when I started reading ISO: 2011 or 12 vintage GBS or ISO: 2x Lawson’s Double Sunshine and JK Atrial Rubicite.  Not only did this feel like trying to understand a foreign language but again, I sat there wondering how anyone who has nothing more than a handful of quasi-unique local brews in their basement can get the attention of, nevermind pull off a trade with people looking for such specific, unique and generally hard to find vintages of world-class brews.

Nervous yet?   Have I successfully convinced you to stick to what you have access to and avoid at all costs joining the nerve-racking world of beer trading?

Clearly this is not my intent, however I think it is important to understand the realities and the end game, prior to jumping into the deep end.  Understanding what you could eventually work your way up to (i.e. those types of ISO’s previously suggested) allows you to better understand and better plan out your path when it comes to trading.  For what it is worth beer trading can be as simplistic and casual, or as intense and specific as you want it to be.  Many people trade simply to get local beverages from different areas so that they can experience what is out there for the everyday drinker.  This type of casual trading is fairly simple and requires only your own local brews of equal value and quality and a group of trustworthy traders.   On the flip side casual trading can quickly lead to an addiction or a want to expand past trading local IPA’s to the point where you are searching for specific beers, vintages and variants.  Either way cracking the beer trading world requires patience, knowledge and of course a tapering of expectations.   My hope with the remainder of this post is to help you configure ways to get started,  explain the do’s and don’t’s, and of course inspire you to become a part of a growing hobby.

I can still remember the first trade I made.  At that point in time I had a total of 4 beers in my up-and-coming “beer cellar”  I had made up my mind that I really wanted to get involved with trading and I took a minute to reflect on breweries and beers and unique beers I had access to.  In my opinion this leads to the first important step in successful beer trading.

Know and understand what YOU have access to.

A look at one of my shelves in the beer cellar

A look at one of my shelves in the beer cellar

This may seem rudimentary but it is more important than you may think.  One of the most amazing things about the craft beer world of today is that everybody has access to something unique and different that other people cannot access but would love to try.  Your first step to successfully becoming a trader is to identify these gems and to a degree exploit them.  One element that there is never a shortage of in the craft beer world is “word-of-mouth”.  If a small brewery is making special beer then the news will spread.  If you are lucky enough to be the person with access to it, then your stock just rose.  Sometimes it is pure luck, but more often than not it is simply keeping your ear to the ground and keeping on top of what is going on locally and what is deemed desirable.  Once you have identified and attained these local gems, then its time to become a salesman.  I use that term loosely because your job is not to become pushy and try and convince others to trade for your beers.  However, if you do have a beer people want from your area, or you have come across what you believe to be a top-shelf beer from a little-known local brewery it is your job to make sure people know about it and understand it is available via trade.

This is the first and easiest step towards creating leverage and procuring tradable beers in order to complete trades and begin building a collection.  You would be surprised how effective having access to local brewery’s one-off beers, reserve series, limited release etc, can be in the world of beer trading.  Plus, you can successfully begin trading for a variety of unique beers simply by taking advantage of people’s desire to try beers that are local to your region.

Returning to my first trade, I was both excited and nervous.  I was excited that I had agreed upon a trade with someone, but nervous that the beer I was providing in the trade was of high enough quality.  The trade focused on me making a deal for a pair of 2013 Lindley Parks from Olde Hickory Brewing in North Carolina along with a hodgepodge of common yet excellent Westbrook Brewing beers.  The Lindley had been a beer I had wanted to try for awhile and clearly I was excited to have found the opportunity.  In exchange I identified several local beers that were very limited releases to offer in exchange.  These included beers like Jack’s Abby’s Babymaker, Treehouse Brewing’s Julius and even a couple cans of Heady Topper (more on that beer in the next section).  Both the Babymaker and Julius were beers native to Central Massachusetts, that were special releases and extremely tasty.  I got wonderful feedback from my trade partner in regards to what I sent to him, and knew right then that I could use local breweries to complete trades for beers I desired.

Again, knowing what you have access to, is a sensible place to start.

Accept that your the Noob!

Nobody likes to get “burned” on a trade.  Not only in terms of the quality of beer, but also in regards to the fact that there is no worse feeling then sending out a great package of beer and getting nothing back in return.  I wish it wasn’t true but sadly these things do happen.  As a new beer trader with little to no trading reputation you have to deal with the fact that you have to earn other, more established, traders trust.   While there are many traders out there that will give you the benefit of the doubt and will agree to a trade where both parties ship their beers at the same time, I offer this little piece of advice.  First whether you are using big beer sites like Beeradvocate.com, or are trading using trade groups on facebook or other similar sites, observe the site and the people on it for a little while first.  You can learn a lot about what people have to offer, which traders are the most reliable, and who you can trust just by watching the traffic on the site for a little while.  Once you have identified a trustworthy trader that you are interested in making a deal with, reach out to the individual, but acknowledge the fact that you are new and that you are willing to ship your package first in order to prove that you will be an honest trade partner.  Not only does this quell any fears the person you are trading with may have, but it also goes a long way in regards of building a relationship with that individual.  When I first started I believe I shipped first 7 or 8 times, and to this day I still trade with the majority of those people.  Not only do I still trade with them, but I have even received random packages from them because they came across something special they figured I would want to try and they know that I will hit them back at the right time.  Of course by shipping first you are taking on the risk, but again if you did your homework and identified active traders that have a good reputation the chances of anything going wrong are slim to none.  Always remember the key to beer trading is your reputation, and no beer trader who takes the hobby seriously wants a black mark on that reputation.  If you send a legit beer trader a package YOU WILL get one back.

Package Carefully, and ship smartly…

The only thing worse than being “hosed” on a trade is shipping out $100 of amazing beers to your trading partner only to get a call, or a slip in the door saying that your package was damaged during delivery.  While this sort of thing does happen to even the best and most veteran shippers out there, there are many steps that can be taken to ensure your packages have the highest likelihood of arriving safely.

#1 – Package each bottle individually first.  There are many different ways to do this, and many people even prefer to put each bottle in its own ziplock bag so that if one bottle breaks or leaks it doesn’t soak the entire box and thus result in a damaged box that doesn’t reach its destination.  While that is a good idea, for people who trade often, the number of ziplock bags that you would go through would be quite pricey, especially when you already have to account for the beer, shipping materials and of course shipping.  When I package each individual beer I make sure I do two things. First, using either saran wrap or electrical tape, I wrap around the cap/cork/flip-top of each bottle.  Even if a bottle doesn’t physically break, the stress a package goes through while being shipped could easily knock a cap slightly ajar and cause it to lose its seal, resulting in uncarbonated beer or perhaps even worse a small leak that damages the entire package.  By wrapping around the crown cap, or cork you can provide support and help ensure that no unwanted leaks occurs.  The second thing I make sure I do to each individual bottle is wrap them in coat of bubblewrap (or something equivalent).  While there will be plenty of other packing materials separating the beers in the box, this individual coat of armor does wonders when it comes to protecting your prized beer.

#2 – Stagger your bottles – This should be common sense, but make sure you don’t cram your bottles close together and all point in the same direction.  Treat your box like a puzzle.  The bottles will fit better, and you will fit more if you strategically place the bottles to maximize space and more importantly to make sure you won’t have bottles clanging or rubbing together.  Of course, you will have packing material between each bottle, but once you seal the box and give it to the shipping company, everything is out of your hands.  By taking every precaution while packaging you can eliminate the anxiety of what is going on during the shipping process.

#3 – Pack it tight – One of the neat things about shipping is that it is NOT a beauty contest.  Perhaps I’m in the minority but I don’t care what your packing job looks like, simply that the beers make it to me safe and sound.  Therefore use whatever soft packing-like material you have at your disposal to make sure the box is filled and that the bottles will have no opportunity to move around.  By making sure there is limited space in the box once packed you know that the bottles shouldn’t shift and have the opportunity to shatter.  Again anything soft and pliable works, so do what is necessary to ensure safety.

Make friends, ship extras

Creating new friendships is one of the best parts of trading.  Often they result in rare beer tastings such as the one pictured here.

Creating new friendships is one of the best parts of trading. Often they result in rare beer tastings such as the one pictured here.

 

Just because you agreed to ship 3 bottles of one beer for 3 of another doesn’t mean the trade has to end there.  Extras or “throw-ins” are almost as exciting as the actual beer trade agreed upon.  I’ll say this, unless you have money to throw away or more beer than you know what to do with, throw-ins are generally cheaper local favorites that you think the person you are trading with should try.  Do you have a local brewery that has a great house IPA or Pale Ale?  Extras give you an opportunity to share with your trade partner a little insight about what you might drink while at the bar watching a football game.  While these aren’t the sought after “trade-makers”, the surprise that comes with getting a couple of throw-ins when your box arrives is always enjoyable and makes your trade partner very happy.  I generally throw in 2-4 extras based on the specific trade each time I send a box out.  While not everyone sends extras, it is a good practice especially when you are new to the trading world and trying to build up your reputation.

Understand the laws of shipping beer!

Remember it is illegal to ship beer via USPS (United States Postal Service).  Yes, I understand that many people still ship this way, and I have received many packages through the post office.  I also understand that it is cheaper and people have claimed that even when they have gotten caught there hasn’t been any significant penalties other than losing their package and beer.  Even if that is the case why risk it.  Both UPS and FedEx are much safer options as they are private companies.  While nothing is a guarantee you’re much more likely to find out your package has arrived safely by going with one of these shipping companies.

On a side note, keep in mind that shipping is expensive.  Furthermore a package containing two beers may cost $20 to ship.  However you will learn quickly that a larger box containing many more beers will only cost a few dollars more than the price of a 2-beer package.  In other words, whenever possible ship as much as possible at once.  It will ultimately save you money on shipping down the road.

Be realistic, trade within your means, and have fun!

Remember that beer trading is not a cheap hobby.  Make sure that your trading like any other hobby, remains just that, a fun hobby experience.  Too often I hear of people becoming so engaged in trading that they begin making trades, that are so expensive, or make so many trades a week that financially trading starts to become a strain.  This doesn’t have to be a weekly endeavor, trading should be budgeted and it should never cause problems with paying bills or anything else that is above all, necessary!

Also, don’t expect your first trade to be Dark Lord’s and Mocha Wednesday’s.  Remember it is a gradual process building up your collection and finding rare beers.  It’s supposed to be a process.  If it was easy everyone would do it, and the art of trade would be nullified.  Accept the challenge, steer the course and eventually those beers will be appearing on your doorstep.  It took me at least 15 trades to get to the point where I was finding those hard to find sought after beverages.  This was partially because I needed to build up a trade stock, and partially because I needed to learn the ropes.  Irregardless it took time, expect it to take time for you as well.

Finally, remember beer trading is meant to be fun.  The minute it becomes aggravating and frustrating you need to take a step back and realize your only trading for beer.  Yes, it is somewhat competitive, but in a good-natured way.  Have fun with the hobby, share your beer with your friends and never take beer trading to the point where it doesn’t become fun!

So there you have it!  My basic primer for beer trading.  I will at some point share with you some of my favorite trades that I have made over my time as a trader but for now I will leave you with a couple of key terms that you will see out there in the beer trading world.  Again, good luck and enjoy a fascinating hobby!

ISO: “In search of”  beers a person is looking for.

FT: “For Trade” beers a person is offering up for trade.

BIF: “Beer it Forward”  A sort of beer trading game, where the host ships a beer package to a trader, who then in turn sends a package to the next individual.  Often continues until a package returns to the individual who began the trade.

LIF: “Lottery it Forward” Even more of a game than a BIF.  The host will typically ask some sort of question to a group, such as how many songs in my iTunes library.  The winner then will receive a package from the host.  More often than not, the winner then starts their own LIF continuing the process and ultimately turning it into a sort of formatted BIF.

Whale or Walez: “Rare beer/vintage”  I would assume this is a reference to Moby Dick, but irregardless a whale is a very rare or hard to find beer or vintage of a particular beer.  These are the beers hunted for and treasured by traders.  Hard to come across but so fulfilling when you do!

IP: “In-person” Many people prefer trading with others in person.  If you see this abbreviation you’ll know that is that individuals preference.

BA: “Barrel-Aged” Beer that has been aged in barrels for an extended amount of time.  You may also see BBA which simply means Bourbon-Barrel_Aged.

Drain Pour: “Boooooo” Beer gone bad, one you can’t finish and finds the drain at the bottom of your sink.  Most unfortunate.

Categories: Beer

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