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The continuing eBay problem

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Last Wednesday was arguably 2012’s most exciting day for beer. Not only did Stone officially launch its 12.12.12 Vertical Epic Ale, the final chapter in the long series, but gift packs of Westy 12 also hit the shelves. Chances are you were either talking about those beers, waiting in line for those beers or, if you were lucky, sipping those beers.

Hopefully, you weren’t posting those beers to eBay.

Selling rare beer on eBay has long been a divisive issue for beer drinkers. It wasn’t uncommon to find bottles of Dark Lord, Kate the Great, or any other limited release beer up on the site within hours of its release, usually posted with a ridiculously inflated price tag. The major argument basically boiled down to this: Some thought it was unfair to profiteer at the expense of craft beer drinkers while others felt it was normal free market practice. I use the past tense because eBay announced it would remove beer and liquor listings earlier this year after a 13-year-old boy purchased vodka from two different independent vendors in a sting operation on ABC’s “20/20.” That was bad press.

But, rare beer continues to pop up on the site.

This weekend I noticed about six different listings for the Trappist beer, as opposed to just two today, so I’m assuming eBay’s following through with its ban on liquor and beer listings; unless they’re selling that quickly. But, that clearly hasn’t stopped people from trying.

I’m all for the sale of rare beer online. The Beer of the Month Club’s Rare Beer Club is a great way to stock up on hard-to-find beer: Each month, club members receive various quantities of two different styles, depending on their level of membership. I also think there should be a regulated online market where independent vendors can sell vintage bottles from their cellar. But, stocking up on limited releases for the express purpose of turning a quick profit online is a different matter. Sure, it’s a free market and the demand is obviously there, but it’s actually putting the entire beer community at a disadvantage.

Earlier this year, Hill Farmstead announced its release of Ephraim, an imperial IPA, would be draft-only as a result of profiteering on eBay. Similarly, as The Lost Abbey released its Ultimate Box Set series throughout this year, it required bottles be consumed on the brewery’s premise—those who turned up for the releases were only allowed to leave with empties. This is a growing trend, and it’s limiting your access to exceptionally good, rare beer.

Beyond the measures already taken by those breweries, education and further cooperation from sites like eBay, there’s not much that can be done to stop beer flipping—that is, until there’s no longer rare beer to flip.

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