I don’t whip out the soap box often. In fact, I haven’t done a post like this since April 25th when I came clean about selling beer on eBay, squashed rumors and attempted unsuccessfully to bring the conversation full circle that we are the problem for inflated demand for “rare” beers and we should only look at ourselves when blaming those who capitalize on eBay when a beer becomes rare. That was a post that was read by thousands of people. The bulk of the positive feedback was delivered privately and it was a 50/50 mix of positive and negative thoughts on eBaying beer. Ultimately, I’m an asshole but it affects the beer market very little to sell 10 bottles of beer on eBay and, “who gives a crap”.
Unfortunately, my talking points about the state of the beer market releases, trading, hype, ratings and eBay sellers who capitalize on this demand ceased to be talked about after the dust settled.
Hill Farmstead and the 2012 release of Ephraim
Shaun Hill and the folks at Hill Farmstead Brewery are attempting to do something about the eBay problem. The latest quote from the Brewery’s Facebook page:
Our Statement Regarding eBay and the illegal reselling of our beer… as well as the Ephraim Release:
At Hill Farmstead, we honor eight generations of Greensboro ancestry by thoughtfully engaging with our heritage and with the spirit of our artisanal farmhouse ales. Decisions that we make are not the sole representation of Shaun Hill – they are the synthesis of Dan, Phil, and myself. We all agree that our decision to try a draft only release of Ephraim is the best thing that we can do for the beer.
Rather than criticizing our brewery for this decision, we encourage beer enthusiasts to look within their own community – the community of enthusiasts – stare at the folks that are hoarding beer until it is far beyond optimal, scowl at the people that are disrespectfully and illegally reselling beer on Ebay in order to gain a significant profit. The detractors from our decision seem to fail in recognizing the quintessential essence of our brewery. If a community (“craft beer”) is unable to police themselves, or an individual (or individuals) is incapable of introspection, we believe that it is in the best interest of our business’s mission statement to continually alter the rules governing our enterprise and commerce in order that our beer (which, in essence, is also quite literally our entire “life”) is representative of our vision. A community is only as strong as its weakest link.
This is the only thing you should read when trying to figure out exactly what all of the hubbub is about. For some reason, in the last 12 hours and with every Hill Farmstead statement in the last 10 days, the beer community misses the point. I’m not sure why there are individuals who can’t just read the original statement but there are some very angry people out there and I’ve seen some insane statements. Maybe I should help translate this?
- Hill Farmstead will be offering Ephraim draft only with no growler fills (DONG) and there is a good possibility Ephraim may show up at various bars and restaurants that are on the brewery’s accounts list. A trek to the hill may not even be necessary to try this great beer.
- Hill Farmstead will continue to do special bottle releases of beers 4+ times per year. The next one is coming up in August / September.
- Hill Farmstead will continue to fill growlers of beers every day at their brewery of beers that are intended to be consumed fresh. Growler fills at the brewery are generally pale ales that shouldn’t be aged and are thus suitable for growler fills to encourage the buyer to enjoy it as soon as possible.
For some reason, the community took this statement in another direction. From this statement, one can infer that the only Hill Farmstead beer that won’t’ be put into a growler or bottle in 2012 is Ephraim and you’ll have to drive into Vermont to get it but places like Three Penny Taproom and Skinny Pancake may get it as they are regular accounts of the brewery and serve the beers on tap for their patrons.
For me as a local to the brewery, I will get to enjoy Ephraim. I still haven’t had Pliny the Younger because that requires flying to California and driving to Russian River’s Brewpub or finding a bar like Toronado during release week and waiting for the beer to be tapped. So, where Californians get Pliny the Younger, I get Ephraim. I feel it’s a fair trade. A lot of breweries have done this with their special beers that are best consumed fresh so this statement is disappointing for non-locals but not a new concept. As with Pliny the Younger, there are folks who are within their right to drive / fly to Vermont and rent a car to get the beer fresh. They’re insane but I wouldn’t be surprised if a few do it.
Any other beer plans Hill Farmstead were not discussed and there’s no need for the community to make assumptions. Stop making assumptions. You’re making us all look stupid.
The eBay Situation:
A small minority of beer geeks sell beer on eBay. All of them are among you in the community but more people have bought beer on eBay than have sold on it. The average eBay seller, puts on 15 auctions per month of “rare and collectible” beer glassware. The average eBay beer buyer may buy only 1-2 items a month or 1 per year. It’s not a huge number so, there are more eBay buyers among us than sellers. The legality and morality of the eBay beer economy has been beaten death on forums and podcasts. It’s a community dividing topic.
However, there is one side to this argument I can get behind. It’s that a very microscopic number of beer bottles end up on eBay compared to the amount of beer sold. Even if you only look at special bottle releases of barrel aged, spontaneously fermented, fruit added, limited number, signed and corked bottles that are sold to consumers, one or two of those may ever end up on eBay. So, why should a brewer or, we as a community care about these 150 bottle a month economy of auctions that take place on eBay?
There are a lot of reasons to care or not care given the scale. Why does Hill Farmstead Brewery care or any brewer for that matter? We all have our reasons. Ultimately, if eBay were to not allow any alcohol sales unless a seller were to prove they are a licensed alcohol seller and only ship to states that legally allowed alcohol shipments, the rogue sellers would simply move to other means. In the past, I posted on two occasions to beer forums that I was buying from independent guys doing “cellar cleanings”. In short, a guy shows up on a forum, usually with no past trade history and, both times, I sent these guys money and received multiple boxes of beer from them. Some of the bottles were eBay prices and some were retail prices. The majority of my cellar (aka air conditioned closet) is from guys who have sold me their cellar outright. Is this as morally and illegally wrong as eBay? Of course. What about the guy last week who received a ton of beer from me. I sent him multiple 3 Floyds bottles, Goose Island Lolita and a few other things for one Founder’s Canadian Breakfast Stout. In short, I paid about $150 in “trade value” for one bottle of CBS. Later, I realize I could have just bought CBS for $75 on eBay and still had my bottles that were sent across the US to some guy who will probably re-trade them. Actually..he did. I sent him an ’07 Dark Lord (among the other bottles above for his CBS). He immediately posted to a trade forum “FT: 07 dark lord. ISO: CBS” Guess he won on this deal. He gets another CBS and only gives up one beer. Good for him. I feel burnt and it wouldn’t have hurt so bad had I just went on eBay and paid $75 for a CBS.
A lot of frequent traders run into this internal conflict a lot. None of us talk about it publicly. We should but we don’t. Special Releases, Trades, Hype and the Pokemon mentality (gotta catch ’em all) leads to smart people doing insane thing for a liquid that’s just going to get you buzzed / drunk. “…but look at all my bottles of beer in my closet! I’m so cool!”
I’m talking about myself here. Trust me, I’m completely in this realm of insanity. A lot of people make fun of me for this and, for good reason but, the guy making fun of me on Beer Advocate also has a closet full of beer. The thing is, I’m not afraid to admit I’m addicted to this Pokemon game. We should all come clean.
What Options do Brewers Have?:
I have a solution for brewers. Send me an email or reach out to Shaun Hill (maybe he’s not okay with that so I’ll ask him and update this). If you’re a brewer that has found people selling bottles on eBay illegally and you want to do something about it, I have a workflow set up with eBay. It’s not some brewer dashboard for getting sales removed and identifying exactly who is selling your beer (beyond just their eBay alias). it’s a single point of contact within eBay who is keeping a list of breweries and their contacts. If that person sees an auction go up for that brewery and knows the brewer doesn’t allow these sales / makes a statement to eBay that, “None of my bottles are rare or collectible”, the auction is taken down. The brewer also has the ability to email one person with an auction link and have that auction removed within minutes. It also puts internal strikes against the beer sellers so, after a few take-downs, that person’s account is gone.
I have been working on this since my last blog post and think it is slowly a way to limit what people can sell on eBay when it comes to “collectible sealed beer bottles”. eBay has no plans to ban the sales entirely so this is our best solution. Cellar cleanings, For Trade threads that actually turn out to be sales and 1:1 sales among friends will never stop. eBay is not the problem but, this is a solution for brewers upset with eBay sales. All other beer swaps / sales will continue as long as the hype train is rolling.
How are brewers identifying WHO is selling the beer? My personal work flow is find a seller who is doing multiple sales of beer. I message them asking if they would combine shipping if I bought both. They always respond yes or no (who doesn’t love a customer buying 2 of your auctions?) and I use their email address and name to find them on social networks like LinkedIN or Facebook or their BeerAdvocate username. I then send that info to the brewer and that person is officially banned. Don’t like eBay sellers? Do it yourself or start randomly flagging eBay auctions. You have all day to sit around on a beer forum, spend 10 minutes a day finding out who among us is selling beer and put a stop to it.
Rumors and Misunderstandings:
While I have you, let’s clear up some misunderstandings. I’ll go bullets on this one to keep things as brief as possible. Thanks for your time in reading this far.
- I don’t mind the nicknames. AJ, Edam Jackson, etc. They’re fine and I appreciate the creativity you guys have toward cheese humor. Please no more death threats against my girlfriend’s dog. It’s cruel and hurts more than the most severe cheese joke.
- I listed beer on eBay in a one hour time frame on a Saturday in March. I listed 21 auctions, took 11 of them down and sold 10 of them. Each auction started at 99 cents with no reserve and a very low shipping estimate. The auctions went to those prices on their own. I sold beer on eBay and I take the blame for that but the market set the prices so let’s look inward for a change and find out why these beers are worth hundreds of dollars per bottle.
- I disagree with how Shaun Hill handled my eBay selling situation and had expressed that to him privately. To publicly say something in a tweet that was not very accurate in formatting (he helps me THEN i sell beer on eBay) was not accurate. I sold one bottle of Hill Farmstead Damon on eBay a full month before ever speaking to him and finding out his story and what the brewery means to him. I believe the tweet made things sound worse but, if you read my first post, you’d know the timeline of events and I’d encourage people to read that if they have time. I never sold multiple bottles of Shaun’s beer. This is false. I also shared Damon with more friends who came to see me than I sold. My GF and I had 6 bottles. One ended up on eBay. I regret selling it. It’s an amazing beer.
- I have not sold any beer on eBay since that day and won’t sell beer on eBay ever again. To be the poster child for eBay sales is unfortunate but that’s what I get for not trying to hide behind fake names and aliases. I’m fine with being an example but every day that I don’t sell on eBay, the monicker I’ve received becomes less valid. There are dozens of others among you selling on eBay right now that you can make fun of. I’ve uncovered about 5 of them. It’s pretty easy to find out who’s doing it. I suggest you do that.
- For why I never apologized for selling beer on eBay…I did. I apologized to the two guys who traded beer with me that ended up on eBay. I also apologized in person to Shaun Hill for selling his beer. I’ve sent notes to some of the brewers who’s beer I sold on eBay but no response. I only apologize to the people that matter and are affected. I won’t apologize to the angry mob and to the people who inflate trade values, hype up releases and have the arrogance to make fun of you because they taste vanilla in this beer and you don’t. I’ve done trades with the two guys for which I sold their beer since the eBay thing and they’ve moved on. So has Shaun Hill and so should you.
- I won’t comment on why I’m not banned from Hill Farmstead. Shaun can do that if he chooses to. I told Shaun recently in an email, “I’m just glad we’re on speaking terms.” and I mean that. To the people who have spent time at this brewery, enjoyed the beers and experienced Shaun’s passion and kindness, you understand. Those that haven’t don’t and just see him as some guy who brews good beer. It’s more than that and I’m very happy to be able to enjoy Shaun’s beers and help him out when he asks.
- There was a rumor that I don’t complete trades, don’t make things right when bottles break and ISO very unbalanced trades. This is bullshit. I’ve always been a local4local or $4$ trader. If I send you a bottle of Lawson’s Double Sunshine, I do it for one of your local Double IPAs. People have sent me nice beers but I have never done an ISO thread on something completely insane. I don’t believe in that and I still insist on shipping first no matter what. I have a full list of traders I can give anyone who has heard otherwise. If you heard I’m an asshole trader, please message me with the names of which users I’ve screwed over. I can assure you it’s BS.
- I still trade regularly, I still review beer and blog here. Absolutely nothing has changed since the ordeal of April. In fact, the situation gave me some great perspective to try more local beers, I haven’t sold beer on eBay since then and won’t again and I’ve started home brewing. I’m on my 8th batch and am brewing a honey saison this weekend. I spend more time brewing beer than hoarding it and I’ve really drank a great deal of my cellar and shared bottles with tons of BeerAdvocate and RateBeer users who have stayed at my cabin. Maybe my beer hobby is still out of balance but I’m spending less time on forums and more time with beer and that’s a good thing.
That’s all I’m going to say on this nonsense. There are tons of rumors I didn’t cover but, if you hear something that makes me sound like a murdering idiot, I probably am an idiot but I’m not a murderer. #RespectBeer.