Beer Trading is a way for folks to access beer that they can’t normally get. Is there a downside to making a beer trade with someone?
I’ve been to several beer tastings recently and had some wonderful offerings. Beer was flowing, as were the discussions and jokes. Generally these events are a great time and quite positive, with people sharing their beer and love of it.
At a recent tasting though I experienced something rare. People were suddenly quite negative, although to be honest this was quite brief.
So what would turn happy craft beer fans into disappointed drinkers so quickly? The same thing that makes them happy – Beer!
The topic of trading beer came up, and it was certainly interesting to be a fly on the wall as those involved in the discussion expressed their views.
Before going further I should state that I have never formally traded beer with others. I’ve shared countless bottles, and given away many as well. I’ve bought beer for others and had them do the same for me. I haven’t traded bottle for bottle though, with a friend or stranger.
For the record I asked many people their opinions on beer trades before starting this article, and many expressed very positive thoughts and feelings on the subject.
At the tasting in question folks expressed similar views. Specifically that most of the folks that they have traded with were fair and equitable. They generally felt that both parties treated each other well and that it was positive for both and furthermore that they would continue to partake in trades in the future.
Why the grumbling then? Inequality in the trade.
The concern that was expressed for the most part was that some folks trade beers that were not of similar value, thus creating an imbalance and (worse yet) hurt feelings.
Discussion quickly turned to trade the value of beers, and herein lies the problem. Not all beers are created equal, and not all prices reflect the value of the product to the consumer.
Before progressing it is likely best to examine possible inequalities. There are a few factors that determine the worth of craft beer to the beer fan that may or may not be apparent.
Price. Clearly some beers are sold for more, often based on bottle size/ingredient cost. A large bottle of a relatively low ABV beer may have a lower price than a much smaller bottle of an aged beer with rare ingredients
Availability. Many breweries have a limited distribution area and thus people that live in areas that don’t have access to some beers will look to obtain them
Rarity. Some beers are produced rarely, often only once a year. For example Three Floyd’s brewing offers its Dark Lord Beer just one day a year and is much sought after. This tends to have buyers clambering to get their hands on rare offerings at an elevated price. Sellers are often inconvenienced by long lineups and limits to volume purchased. This limited demand has a resultant increase on price. This high demand has even led to a black market for beer that even CNN has taken notice of.
These factors (and many more) thus effect the price or perceived value of beers in trades. Beer fans that are heavily involved in the scene are often quite well aware of these factors and how they come into play.
At the tasting I was at with the less than happy campers, the discussion focused on these factors. People were recipients of trades that had beer of very different values being exchanged. One taster mentioned that his trade with another had bottles of similar sticker price but did not reflect the true value of the contents which greatly illustrates the differing ways that beers can valued.
What Can Be Done About it?
Clearly there are two factors at play here to prevent folks from being burned in trades.
First of all, both parties should communicate which beers are on offer or desired before the trade takes place. Like many things in life, proper communication ahead of time can prevent headaches afterwords. I’m sure in the examples above folks were trusting in the other party, but somehow there was a misunderstanding. (likely due to nothing malevolent)
Secondly one should trade only with someone whose reputation they know, and ideally start with smaller trades first. The first time dealing with someone in personal usually results in a “feeling out” process to assess values and attitudes, but in a beer trade where someone is not known well it only makes sense to start small in order to minimize possible damage. Of course if the trade is taking place from a reputable source (personal or otherwise) it is likely to be far more symbiotic as established reputations are at play.
As a final thought, it really comes down to the Latin Caveat Emptor… Let the buyer beware! A cautious person is far more likely to do well in trade than the under prepared. (no surprise there!)
By the way, the folks at the tasting were over the sore subject before the beer they were drinking at the time was done.
I love craft beer fans. They don’t take much too seriously. Not even themselves.