Where to Start
The concept of beer trading is, on its face, really simple: You have awesome Beer X; you’re looking for awesome Beer Y; you’re willing to trade. The best place for making and arrang-ing beer trades is within the forums at ratebeer.com, beeradvocate.com and talkbeer. com, where users post their “wants” and “haves” and then negotiate deals within the thread or via private message. But there are rules for each site; definitely read them (last year, beeradvocate.com instituted a slew of new ones regulating exactly what can be included in posts). There’s also lingo; you’ll have to quickly learn a language where PtY is Russian River Pliny the Younger and DONG means draft only, no growlers.
The vast majority of trading posts are about limited-release, barrel-aged, sour and wild ales (particularly from Belgian breweries Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen) and highly rated IPAs. Beer from celebrated breweries with extremely limited distribution (like Vermont’s Hill Farmstead Brewery) are also super popular. That said, unless you’ve got a pretty deep collection that you’re willing to part with, start small; your best bet is to find something solid from your small, local brewery and trade it for a solid brew from a small, local brewery somewhere else. Offering a bunch of “shelf turds” (beer that can be purchased at any time at a local bottle shop) for a beer from a 500-bottle release that included a three-hour wait at a brewery will automatically earn a newbie a pile of scorn from trading veterans.
Partially to avoid such instances and also to eliminate sorting through dozens of low-ball of-fers, high-volume traders graduate their beer swapping to closed groups on Facebook. That’s how Dustin Roberts, a Phoenix-area resident, facilitates the majority of his trades, which number about a dozen each month. He prefers dealing with experienced partners who are familiar with the intricacies of beer trading.
“They understand the whole concept of ‘If you help me out, I’ll help you out,’” Roberts says.
There’s no sure-fire way to get tapped into one of these exclusive groups, but building your reputation in the trading community is a start. Most forums have feedback areas where members can research a user’s trading history; frequent trades and the ability to score hard-to-get bottles are looked upon highly. So are reliability and generosity, like adding a few choice bottles as extras in a shipment. A trader once unexpectedly gave Roberts a bottle of Drie Fonteinen’s prized Oude Geuze Armand & Tommy without asking for anything in return, simply because he knew Roberts would reciprocate with a loaded thank-you package. Gestures like this make trading lore, and such benevolent traders quickly gain high status.
The concept of sending a box of beer to someone you’ve just contacted online is probably a bit uncomfortable; it’s not like you can complain to customer service if something goes wrong.
Back in 2014, the online trading boards were awash with reports of fake bottles of Toppling Goliath Brewing’s sought-after barrel-aged stouts, including Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout (It’s the highest-rated beer in the world on ratebeer.com). Outraged traders told tales of receiving KBBS bottles that had already been consumed and then filled with another, lesser beer. Many suspected the ersatz bottles were the work of one rogue trader who heated the wax scraps from opened bottles and re-coated the tops after refilling the vessels.
Roberts was one victim: He knew as soon as he pulled the 12-ounce KBBS bottle from a box received in a 2015 trade that it was fake. While the original silver wax applied by Toppling Goliath was uniformly smooth, the reapplied coating on his bottle had a clumpy, uneven texture (see comparison at left). The trader swore ignorance and returned the beer Roberts had sent him, minus one he claimed he’d already drank.
While the incident was disheartening, Roberts says it had a happy conclusion. After he posted about the fake bottle on beeradvocate.com, several traders not involved in the exchange sent him unexpected packages of free beer as a gesture of good faith for someone who’d been wronged. Roberts says the gifts demonstrated the overall generosity of the lion’s share of the beer trading community.
In the midst of retelling his counterfeit experience, Roberts receives a text from a trading partner that he says further displays the benevolent mindset of many in the scene. The message read, “Heading to Hill Farmstead. Send a list of what you want, money and [shipping] label. Cheers.”
“Granted there are those rare things that suck like with the KBBS, but for every one person that’s like that, there are 99 others who are amazing,” Roberts says.
Not sure where you can find your favorite beers? SeekABrew.com is a good place to start. The site includes a map that displays a brewery’s distribution footprint, and users can compare distributions between two states.