Trading is a great way for beer fanatics like me to get their hands on many fine beers that aren’t available in their area. However, it’s also expensive, time consuming, and requires a great deal of thought before you decide to get into it.
The first step towards trading is to think about why you want to trade, and whether you are truly prepared for what it takes to be a good trader.
Right away you should strongly consider whether or not you’ve exhausted all the choices in your local area before you start trading. For instance, if you’re going to trade for an imperial stout, you should consider whether or not there are good imperial stouts in your local area that you haven’t tried yet! Why spend money on shipping for an imperial stout when you have eight choices in your local area that you haven’t even tried yet! There is really no need to become a beer trader if you have not exhausted the supply of new beers to try in your local area.
If you’re certain that you really need to trade in order to satisfy your palate’s utmost desires, then the next step should be to consider whether or not you can really afford it. Trading can get real expensive really quick, and you’re going to be paying a considerable premium on your beer in shipping costs. Shipping is not cheap! It’s really easy to spend hundreds of dollars in beer and shipping when you get carried away with trading. Consider beforehand whether or not you have enough disposable income to spend that much on beer, or whether you might be better off drinking local choices instead of paying shipping for exotic beers from afar.
If you’re sure you can afford it, and you’re sure you’re ready, the next step would most certainly be to read Alewatcher’s Blog. This is must-read stuff. All new posts about “how do I become a trader?” are immediately answered with this link to Alewatcher’s Blog. I’ve linked to it twice for a reason. Please, if you’re thinking of becoming a beer trader, take the time to read this from beginning to end.
Next up, you’re going to need beers that someone else will want! Someone across the country in a far away state is not going to send you Pliny the Elder in exchange for some crappy, mass produced swill. You’ll need beers that are unavailable on the west coast, yet also in demand if you’re going to try and land some Pliny.
Note that I’ve chosen Pliny the Elder (PtE) because it’s a year round beer that’s not that hard to trade for, yet is highly sought after and is well worth the effort to trade for. In addition, PtE needs to be fresh to be at its best, which brings into play yet another consideration in the rather complex world of trading for beer. More on that shortly.
So let’s say that you have a good selection of beers in your area. You’re going to need a place to find a trader willing to deal with you, and for what you have to offer. Most beer trading goes on in the trading forums on beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com. However, it’s not so simple as to just show up and suddenly you’re drinking Pliny. You need to make an account first, and possibly contribute something to the site / be a member for a certain length of time in order even to post on the trading forums (beeradvocate). It would help if you made some posts and got familiar with how things go at the site before you start trying to trade.
This isn’t really a bad thing, if you ask me. So many new people come on these sites daily that it’s really hard for an experienced trader to know who to trust. So the rule becomes new traders ship first. There are lots of scammers out there who will try to establish a trade with an unwary trader, have them ship, and then never ship their half of the bargain back in return. When they get called out, they simply re-register with a new name and start over. It’s a sad fact, but the internet is full of scammers. Therefore newbies ship first, period. You will have to ship, they will receive and verify the contents and packaging of your box, then you will get your box.
You should not be offended if you try to establish a trade and the other guy, an experienced trader, insists that you ship first. In fact, you should just accept the fact that you have no reputation, no trade history, and no references, and nobody in their right mind is going to send you a box of beer just because you seem like a nice guy on the internet.
In my opinion, you are a newbie until you have five confirmed, verifiable trades under your belt, and you will be shipping first if it’s less than that. Some traders may have more stringent standards, which is fine by me. So if you really want that Pliny so badly, you will probably have to ship first to get it.
How to bargain for the Pliny? You can either post a for trade, in search of (FT:ISO) post, or you can respond by personal message to someone else who has posted. Generally people put the relevant details into the subject line. An example would be:
ISO: Pliny the Elder, FT: Boulevard Smokestack
This is a good ISO:FT post title. It says exactly what you want, and exactly what you are offering in return. Almost. Boulevard has a lot of Smokestack series beers. You may get responses here, but you may not. Here’s a better example:
ISO: Pliny the Elder, FT: Boulevard BBQ*
This is offering a specific beer and asking for a specific beer. Now everybody knows exactly what you want and what you are offering. Hopefully you get some hits (you probably would with this one). Here’s another example:
FT: Boulevard BBQ, ISO: mixed locals
This shows that you have Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad for trade, and you’re looking for a mixed box of locals in return. This post will very likely get replies. Here’s an example of a not so good post title:
ISO, PtE, RR sours, Lost Abbey, FT: see inside
Your title has already lost half its potential readers because you’ve not been specific enough on what you have to offer. People are lazy; much of the time they won’t bother to look.
Enough about that. The next thing that needs to be discussed is how you value the beers you trade for. I generally only trade dollar for dollar ($4$). That means you send me $50 worth of beer, I send you $50 worth of beer, shipping costs are on the sender and are not included in the price. This is very standard and generally accepted. If you are trying to trade for very rare beers like Dark Lord, Hunaphu, Kate the Great etc, you’re either going to have to offer up more than the price the holder paid at the brewery (not recommended, at least not by me), or come up with an equally rare beer to trade for (which is what most holders of rare beers will insist on). There’s basically nobody that’s going to trade you Dark Lord without your being able to get something that’s equally rare. Don’t bother trying, you’ll just wind up frustrated.
Start small. Trade some great locals for somebody else’s great locals. Get your feet wet and get some experience. Build your reputation. You need trade references, which should be listed in your profile (or at least on a link to a spreadsheet or document that lists your trades). I always check the references of someone I don’t know, and plan to trade with. Say I look at their profile and see they’ve traded with Joe Smith. I will send a message to Joe and ask him how his trade went, how was the communication, were there extras, how was the box packed, did they ship on time, did they offer tons of excuses as to why they were late, did they meet the trade agreement etc etc. All you really need to ask is “how did your trade with so-and-so work out?” Most traders will happily tell you all you need to know real quick, and they’re usually very nice about it.
Now you should know that if you’re new, and you’re going to trade with me, that you should check my references too! Just because I’ve got 37 people listed on my profile doesn’t mean I’ve actually traded with all those people! Beware of scammers! If I am going to trade with someone with a lot of references, but I don’t know that person, I look for references that I DO know. If I can’t find references I know personally, I look for people that are highly active on the forums, and obviously have lots of trades, and a good reputation themselves. A couple of replies is usually all you need to evaluate whether a proposed trader is reliable or not. The fewer trades someone has, the more you should check their references. Someone with five references that you don’t know is a much different thing than someone with 110 references, many of whom are well established on that particular site.
And one quick thing… your beers had better be fresh! You don’t want to get old Pliny, so don’t send old beers to your targets. Pliny is best when fresh, same as Hopslam and many other heavily hopped beers. The only exceptions to the freshness policy are beers that are widely accepted as being better when aged, typically high ABV Imperial Stouts and various Doubles. Otherwise, you need to make sure everything you send arrives within its proper freshness date!
Extras – a topic that is often highly discussed but is really as simple as the golden rule. Extras are not required, they are extra. But everybody pretty much sends them. It’s really nice when you make a trade for a six pack of coffee stout and get two extra IPAs in your box! Your trade partners will also really appreciate it when you send them extras too. There is no hard and fast numerical rule for extras, but I try to send about 20-30% of the trade value as a rather general rule. There are exceptions though. I have several times had a 12-pack (or whatever size) shipper that I want to use, and will tell my partner straight up that your box will contain exactly these beers, nothing more, send my box accordingly. There is nothing wrong with this at all, as long as you’re up front about it. But if nothing is said, send some friggin’ extras already! You won’t regret it. Beer karma comes back on you.
Also, get a fedex or UPS online account. You can print your labels and just drop off the box. This cuts down the questions big time and saves you money too. I’ll probably write more about this at a future date.
The final thing I’m going to mention here is communication. This is the most paramount thing about trading! My first trade got a little messed up because of a shipping error (not my fault) and also because of my inexperience (my fault). At any rate, it was all messed up. Only half his shipment got there and the rest was all out of whack! BUT – I kept in touch, almost daily in fact (because I felt bad about it), and made good on my end of the deal. My trading partner was understanding and happy that I kept in good touch. We have traded again since, and I will happily trade with him any day for any beer. I even sent him a freebie a while back because he was so generous with his extras and so understanding when there was a problem on my end. But it was the communication that was key! Keep in touch!
You need to exchange more than just beer mail/PMs, you need to exchange phone numbers and emails too. Without a phone number, I won’t make a deal, and neither should you. Fedex requires a phone number for the recipient, so they can call if there’s an issue, a signature is needed, etc. Get it. Call or text them before the ship date to make sure it’s real. The best traders talk to each other all the time. You can’t communicate too much!
Good luck on trading!
*Note the abbreviation BBQ is for boulevard’s bourbon barrel quad. You’ll need to learn the lingo if you want to get good at this.