This issue, we ask BeerAdvocate.com users: What do you think “beer trading” has done for the overall beer community?
Devotees of the most rare beers in the world have found a daily meeting place in the BA Beer Trading Forum for discussion and trade of these cherished possessions. It has unveiled a community of collectors, not unlike art, complete with forgers, profiteers and scams. Mostly, and I say this from direct experience, this world is filled with extremely generous and passionate souls. For those of us who choose to seek out these costly, time-consuming commodities, our passion divides those of us who are truly interested from the spectators at the forum. To some, it is an odyssey, a Captain Ahab-like adventure for their white whale, or quest for the Holy Grail.
Along the way, there are many friends who seem like long-lost brothers united by a common desire. It stems from the desire for the mythical. Sitting before a glass of Isabelle Proximus is meaningless to some, but to others, like me, resembles a mystico-religious experience. Though the path is fraught with peril and afterwards we are left speechless, drooling, quivering, and broke … nothing can replace the vision of where human creation reveals divine pattern. This is what occurs in the greatest examples of beer and embodies the mission of art. In conclusion, we only hint (like Captain Ahab) at the mystery of why the Forum has become such a meaningful part of so many of our lives.
The US loves scofflaws and civil disobedience. Whether it’s tossing tea into a harbor to protest taxes, or swapping music, when laws do not reflect the moral zeitgeist, folks find a way around them.
Which brings us to “beer trading.” A quick glance at popular beer websites reveals the existence of a thriving gray market for hard-to-find brews (outdated and prohibitive distributorship laws be damned). While time-consuming, pricey and disturbingly addictive, beer trading has galvanized the niche community of aficionados who drive premium beer sales. Peruse the online reviews for any popular rare beer and you’ll find a good percentage from people who didn’t acquire it through “approved” channels.
For widespread interest in a hobby to grow, there must be a free flow of information and products. For beer advocacy, the internet has provided the former, and beer trading much of the latter.
1. Beer trading is, by-and-large, illegal; shipping of alcoholic beverages is prohibited for private individuals.
2. Beer trading has led to the worship of the hard to obtain, lending value to these beers far outside of their real worth as examples of the beverage.
3. Beer trading has promoted the idea of “what I have” or “what I want” rather than the in-depth knowledge and discussion of brewing styles and methods that used to be more common on beer websites.
4. Beer trading has destroyed many people’s interest in and support of their local breweries and brewpubs. The “need” to acquire new beers means more people only use local beer as “trade bait.”
5. Beer trading has helped promote an interest in fewer styles; limited-release, high-alcohol beers are the currency of exchange on the “beer commodity” market. People think they are “experts” because they have traded for “rare” beers rather than having experienced beer culture and promoted its growth on a local level.
6. Talking about “my haul” or “what is in my cellar” has become more common than solid topics like lack of attenuation, schedules of aroma hop additions or the perceived benefits of decoction mashing.
7. The volume of threads in a trading forum is a poor substitute for the days of meeting people in person and seeing what is up at the local brewpub when they come to town. ■