I got an email from a reader. It was actually more of a conversation and he said, looking at my Flickr page, there’s no way I am getting great beers legitimately. Meaning, I must be “winning trades” or trading away a lot of beer for one or two whales. His example was, “How many bottles of Hill Farmstead Arthur did it take for you to get Fou Foune?” as if I’m getting world class beers in the mail by sending out hundreds of dollars in shelf beers or something. If was doing that, it would be much easier just to buy beer on eBay or other replacement auction sites that have popped up.
The secret is actually what I do at my day job but before I get to that and review how you can replicate this success in whale slaying, I’d like to reiterate how I trade.
I rarely do ISO:FT threads. I did one today because I have 5 Fou Foune and would like to get more Stille Nacht Reserva ’10 so I did a 1:1 trade ISO. Prior to that, my last FT thread was in August for T25+Cascade Figaro. The guys who have been doing this for a while know having regular trading partners is the secret. After a while, most guys trade with established partners and the sharing of whales commences. I only have 4 guys I trade with that shower me with whales for the fun of it and of course I always reciprocate.
In truth, people message me and half of the time they are asking for Vermont beers and I’ll mule for them and won’t trade at all. Other times, I’ll send them some beer they need and just ask them for a $ value of local beers. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been working out. I did start insisting that people don’t send IPAs because I have too much beer to drink as it is and having 20+ IPAs in the fridge demanding to be enjoyed fresh is too much stress. So, I generally do local $4$ trades with a focus on stouts, barley wines, saisons and wile ales. Some of the beers you see in my beer haul posts are a result of me sending some shelf Vermont beers and asking for whatever in return as long as it’s a tasty beer that I don’t have to rush to drink.
The rest of the hauls that you see where there are some brewery-only release beers, rarer things and low bottle counts are actually just friends who send me beer. Friends who prefer Blue Moon and literally think I’m crazy when they get to the brewery and realize a bottle of beer is $15-$40 and I’m getting 3 of them.
So, this is the point of my post. Don’t trade for whales. The politics, games and huge community of beer lovers on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate that absolutely must try every single release beer is a very fierce area. There are a few thousand people that think they’re entitled to every release beer…releases that may have 200-500 bottles at max. Half of the people in bottle releases don’t trade beer and open it that weekend and enjoy with friends. Some keep those beers, hoard them, intentionally age them and hope the “beer futures” market for that particular bottle improves to a level that they can get the next big beer release with that beer they bought a year ago. Finally, there are people who are in it to flip those bottles immediately for other whales because they don’t want to risk the beer they waited in line for losing value.
In short, when it comes to release beer traders, there are two camps. One camp thinks the height of hype for this release is on release day and they flip their bottles as soon as possible for whatever else is hot like Bourbon County Cherry Rye which is the new hotness right now and there are traders who sit on the release beer thinking it’ll one day become HUGE trade bait like Hill Farmstead Mimosa.
My job has always involved getting things done. I run projects and have worked at companies that ask me to hack together things using the resources we have available. I don’t have a case of King Henry so I use what resources I have to get beers. The key is to have friends all over the world so, any time I hear of a new beer coming out, I have someone go and pick it up for me.
I maintain a public “Beer List” on Facebook which anyone here can subscribe to. Most of it is New England focused. If you add businesses to an Interest List, you see every single post. Whereas, Facebook’s current algorithm only shows you posts from business you like if you interact with their posts regularly. Don’t comment on posts from Stone Brewing enough? You’ll start to see less posts from Stone. Interests lists are more like a customized RSS feed. I highly recommend people create these especially when it comes to knowing about beer releases. Feel free to subscribe to mine if you’re lazy.
So, once per day, I check this list, look at trade forums on BeerAdvocate and then have someone grab the beer for me. But I’m not a jerk about it. It’s a fine line between using people and being nice and making favors worth the time of the friend who is helping you out. The key here is to make friends with people outside of beer. Yeah, I know that’s a challenge 🙂
At breweries like Cigar City, Russian River, Bruery, Alesmith and Alpine, I have regular “mules”. One of my coworkers in Belgium picks up beer for me throughout the year when I ping him about releases and saves a box for my yearly trip there. I have a guy who lives 5 minutes from Bell’s brewery and another who walks past Founder’s on his way to work. Another friend in Indiana who loves craft beer but usually just orders what’s on tap and hits a lot of brew pubs and will ping me once a month to see if there’s anything he should by that’s just released and asks me if I need him to grab something for me. Most of these friends have 3,6 or 12 Styrofoam shippers that I paid for with my UPS account details and they invoice me via Paypal for what bottles they grab for me + a percentage finders fee which is usually about 15% of each bottle cost.
I’m still looking for a friend near Crooked Stave and Jester King. *wink wink*
The short end of this is that you should find friends near breweries you love, make sure they aren’t on BeerAdvocate’s trade forums realizing that the Bell’s Black Note they just picked up for you is worth 4 KHUs (King Henry Units) and then send them a styrofoam shipper because packing beer is hard work and give them your FedEx account number. Make each muling operation worth their time and for most people, I don’t bug them except 2 times per year at max. My friend near Russian River did 2 12-styros this year for me. One for Beatification + others and the most recent one, Framboise for a Cure + others. I pay her a little extra per bottle and I pay shipping.
What’s so funny to see in trade forums is that hysteria about a new beer release followed by a ton of outrageous offers to score one and then ranting threads where ISOers complain that politics and winning trades is more important than sharing beer. Inside the echo chamber, there are a lot of people wasting a lot of time slaying whales. The key here is well placed mules and friendships with people who are willing to hook you up.
I’m not saying that having mules is any cheaper than trading. In fact, without a bit of self control, muling is MORE expensive than trading. I got 6 Framboise for a Cure instead of just 1 and, since it’s a 12 bottle shipper, we added a few more bottles. Just getting Framboise for a Cure could have taken a 1-2 Vermont beers but i chose to buy more than I needed. The same goes for my friend at Cigar City. It’s hard not to send him some Paypal every time there’s a new release and suddenly, a 6-unit shipper is full of beers that you didn’t really care about to begin with but because the hype was so strong you had to have it.
Straight muling is less headache and, with more self control, cheaper than trading. My tip for getting started. Pick your top 5 breweries then search your Facebook friends list for people you know who live within 30 minutes of these breweries. Email them explaining the goal and how you’ll buy them a beer for every package they mail to you and go from there. If your Facebook network is small, find a local forum. City Data’s Forum is full of locals to a lot of top breweries. Local Craiglist want gigs asking for “local artisan crafts” shipped to you will yield a lot of people willing to pick beer up for you…just don’t ask for beer, ask for “craft goods” in your want ad. We should all spend more time curating relationships with people willing to help us out more than trying to fight in the trading game.
Beer trading is fun and I love my regular partners but sometimes, you just want some Bell’s Black Note and my buddy in Michigan said no problem and went to get some for me. Doing an ISO thread for this beer? Forget about it.
Something to think about.