To satisfy beer geeks, trading is on the rise

There are now more than 2,700 breweries in the United States (probably 2,800 by now, given the almost daily brewery opening). We could easily pass the all-time mark of 3,286 (from 1870) this year or next, given that there are more than 1,700 breweries in planning. Since breweries are popping up like dandelions in the spring, eventually every mid-sized city will have a brewery and local beers will be available anywhere in the nation.

This unbelievable growth makes it near impossible to try everything. There are simply too many options, and too many breweries and brewpubs that are only available in a few zip codes. Rare beers, and the booming online beer culture, has led to a rising tide of beer trading.

I recently completed my first trade, with a beer geek from outside LA. He really wanted to try Spencer Trappist Ale, which is only available locally. Since it’s prohibitively expensive to ship one beer (via FedEx, as it’s illegal to ship alcohol through the USPS), we arranged a trade of multiple local-to-the-region brews from here for brews from California that we can’t get here.

Beer trading is an expensive proposition. Heck, shipping the box of beer back to him cost $38! This cost really makes sending cheap beer pointless, so beer traders typically send 22-ounce brews (“bombers”) or rare releases. I know the beers I received from Los Angeles weren’t cheap, and most of what I sent were higher-expense beers like the $18/four-pack Spencer.

Of course, great beers aren’t necessarily expensive beers. My LA trading partner’s favorite beer from my package was Berkley’s Coffee Porter, which can be had locally for small money. Go local brews!

There’s a whole brewing culture out there. Go to Reddit, BeerAdvocate’s forums, or Facebook trading groups and you’ll find a vibrant beer culture, one with its own terms and norms. For example: a whale (or white whale) is a rare, much-sought-after release, often a sour or barrel-aged version of another highly respected regular.

It’s through word-of-mouth, or word-of-Internet, that obscure beers become highly sought after brews. Vermont is home to many of these highly tradable brewers, like the Alchemist, Hill Farmstead (brewer of seven of the top-10 New England beers at Beer Advocate), and Lawson’s Finest Liquids. The breweries are all small, local places that aren’t available far from the brewery, yet beer geeks everywhere know about their offerings and are eager to trade for them.

Some folks become — how to put this delicately? — certifiably insane about the craft. They have beer cellars with literally thousands of obscure beers that they’ve acquired through trade. They spend massive amounts of money and mental energy tracking and getting their hands on all the top beers, and often never even drink the beers to know what the fuss is about.

I really enjoyed the beers I received in my trade from California. They were delicious, especially Drake’s Hopocalypse, a big, boozy, hoppy imperial IPA that was so balanced, one wouldn’t even notice the 9.25% ABV. But with so many amazing local and quasi-local beers to seek out here and when traveling, I don’t feel the obsessive “must have it” yearning that others do. Trading is fun, and I may do it again, but it’s definitely not going to be a regular thing. My bank account, and Mrs. Good Brew Hunting, appreciate this restraint.

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Posted April 25, 2014 by natescape in category Beer background, Columns

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