Beginner's Guide: How to Trade Craft Beer Online • Hop Culture
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When it comes to illegally shipping beer cross country, best avoid USPS.

9.21.17

Your Guide to Trading Beer Online

Want a beer that's only released by a brewery on the other side of the country? You'll need to trade.

Written by Evan Malachosky

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Want to drink a beer that’s only released at a brewery on the other side of the country? You’ll need to trade for it. Luckily, there’s an entire community that does just that.

Most beer trades happen using the internet and a nearby post office. There are Facebook groups, Beer Advocate and RateBeer forums, and Instagram, but Reddit allows for the most explanatory and expansive entry. So, start there. May we suggest r/beertrade?

Glossary

At first glance, the page is definitely daunting. Beer traders speak in abbreviations that look like a different language. Here are the ones you need to know:

FT

For trade — This is what the person who posted the trade has to offer.

ISO

In search of — This is what the person who posted the trade wants.

$4$

Dollar for dollar — The person who posted the trade is looking for something of equivalent monetary value.

BA

Barrel-aged — The beer in question has been aged in barrels.

2:1

Two for one — The beer in question is worth more than the other beers, so it’s fair to trade two beers for the beer in question.

3:1

Three for one — The beer in question is worth more than the other beers, so it’s fair to trade three beers for the beer in question.

Let’s see how you’re doing. If someone posted “FT: Abyss Vertical ’14-16 (2 variants) ISO: One very good BA Stout 3:1,” what would he or she mean?

Here’s the translation:

“For trade: Abyss ’14, Abyss ’15 Rye Barrel, Abyss ’16 Brandy Barrel. In search of: One very good barrel-aged stout – this trade is three beers for one, preferably the three FT for one Bruery Black Tuesday or something similar.”

Did you get that? With the assistance of the aBEERviations guide, this post is manageable. But let’s say you want to move forward with this trade — you have some other questions. When do I send my portion? When will I receive mine? How do I send it? How do I get it there? Etc, etc.

Logistics

The first two questions are for the person you’re trading with. Generally, you’ll reach an agreement, discuss what’s fair, and then send the beer accordingly. The last two, though, can be answered simply by following the advice of more experienced traders. For packing advice, use r/beertrade’s box-in-box guide. Here’s some more packing knowledge you need to know:

1. Shipping laws

We’ll never tell you to break the law. But, if hypothetically we were mailing beer, we’d use UPS or FedEx. There are restrictions on what can be mailed through USPS — alcohol is among them. And if USPS deems your package suspicious — ie. if it’s sloshing around — they can open it without asking your permission. It’s also illegal to send through UPS or FedEx, but they can’t legally open your mail. They’ll just give it back. So, use private companies like UPS or FedEx, and make sure you pack so that the liquid doesn’t slosh around. Some people mask the sound with a handful of pennies or Skittles, but if you’re only sending one or two beers, it’s probably overkill. And if you’re asked what you’re shipping, “artisanal wing sauce” always gets a laugh.

2. Kindness is king

Including something extra like a sticker, another bottle or can, or even a shirt is much appreciated and an easy way to solidify a future trading partner. (And on some forums, an extra beer isn’t just nice; it’s expected.) Trade the way you wish others would — meaning punctuality and communication are key. “While the trading community is far from perfect because unfortunately, some people are always trying to profit off of their trades, I think the spirit of trading lives in trading experiences, not commodities,” says Dave Weiland, Hop Culture’s Social Media Manager and an avid trader. “When you find those people who trade in experiences, you have found the heart of trading and the possibilities are endless.”

3. Mo money, mo problems

No money is to ever be exchanged. Doing this, or even offering it, is a guaranteed way to be banned from trading sites, forums and groups. In most places, it’s also illegal.

4. Know your worth

It’s best to know what you have and what you’re looking for. Don’t offer someone something they’re likely to find nearby, or in a gas station. And, most importantly, if someone seeks a $4$, or trade of dollar amount equivalency, don’t FT a Coors when you’re ISO Cuvee de Castleton. Unless there’s a reason for a lopsided trade — i.e. scarcity, pure adoration, or sentimental value — don’t suggest one.

5. There’s no such thing as a stupid question

When in doubt, ask questions. Most people are more than happy to help.

6. Don’t be a mule

Brewers work hard to service their local fans. For small breweries without huge distribution networks, their neighbors are their lifeblood. So while I won’t knock spreading the good word about great beer, do so in moderation. Don’t buy twice as much as you need just to trade beer online. Buy a few extra cans, and leave the rest for the line of beer drinkers who woke up early to support their local brewery, same as you. And that DIPA you just mailed across the country in the middle of summer after waiting two weeks to find that perfect trade? Probably not going to taste like the brewer intended.

For the most part, the beer trading community is one of the best aspects of the craft beer community. It’s not only about getting cool beers from around the country; it’s about sharing what you love about your local beer scene with the world. But don’t take it too far: No one likes a mule.