Photo by Mike Arellano
These are the craft beers you're looking for, found at a Tastes & Trades bottle share
So you're into craft beer. Well you're also in luck. In the last three years, Richmond has inarguably become a hot spot for craft breweries, and with this boom comes beer trading: a practice not unlike swapping baseball cards, except that it follows the state-mandated legal age requirement. Perhaps you bought far too many bottles of Enlightened Despot, Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery’s cult-followed Bourbon Barrel Stout, but now you're itching for a hoppy and fresh IPA. It's time to hit the trading sites.
But trade (and tread) carefully.
Through message boards on Reddit and Facebook, beer enthusiasts get together to collect and trade. Beer trading is a growing pastime with passionate followers, and hundreds of trades happen with mostly positive results; the more exotic, the better, and the more “profitable” it makes the trade. (If you are looking to crack into the beer trade business, keep in mind that it’s illegal to ship alcohol across state lines through the U.S. Postal Service; Fed Ex and UPS allow it, but with a permit that typically only wine, beer and liquor stores have.)
Ben Steelman, the creator of RVA Beer Tastes & Trades, the first Richmond beer trade group on Facebook, gave us some pointers on how to trade for your next beer.
Richmond magazine: How did you get into this?
Steelman: I started RVA Beer Tastes & Trades and am still the only admin to date, nearly 900 members later. The group has been around since at least January of 2013; that's when the first picture posted is dated.
RM: For those who aren't familiar, how do you define beer trading? What is an example of a trade? How should it look?
Steelman: Essentially you just list what you are in search of, and what you have for trade (ISO:FT). People can trade based on set ratios, or they can aim to trade "$4$," dollar for dollar, for equal approximate retail cost.
RM: Why did you start Tastes & Trades? Did you model it after another group?
Steelman: I began trading on Reddit's r/beertrade subreddit initially. I've also had a Beer Advocate account for a very long time and sometimes would reference the listings on there to get an idea of trade value. The format of ISO:FT trading I did learn from those sites. There are a ton of ways you can list a beer trade, but ISO:FT is at the core of any trade you list. I started the group because I saw a niche. I had friends who were much more serious traders than I was, who had beer from all over the country. I thought it would be very convenient for them to be able to perhaps swap bottles in person, and it took off!
RM: Were you a big beer trader before? Or has this made you one?
Steelman: I was not the biggest trader when I started Tastes & Trades. However, I did complete a great local trade for some 3 Floyds Brewing Co. beer with a guy that was visiting there, who wasn't able to get his hands on Hardywood's Gingerbread Stout. I found his listing on Reddit and it turned out he lived in Fredericksburg, so we met halfway. I really enjoyed the relative simplicity of an in-person trade as well as being able to meet someone new. Many in-person trades occur at bars and breweries, so you have the chance to share a beer with someone new.
RM: There is occasionally drama around trading, and people can get a little miffed. Does that contribute to the value of the trade or does it turn people off?
Steelman: There is drama at times in beer trading, as well as beer in general. Craft beer aficionados oftentimes have very big personalities. This is typically fun, but once in a while can reveal some misunderstandings. This can occur with trading because it's really the kind of thing you get better at with experience; there are some unwritten rules and ethics that go along with it as well.
Sometimes a newer trader, not knowing these, may annoy a more experienced trader who doesn't know the other guy is relatively new to trading. Sometimes more experienced guys can get a bit of an ego and like to try to one-up each other. Beer trading groups generally have a lot of joking around and guys messing with each other, and if a new trader doesn't know that, they may take a joke a little too seriously. The key is to remember that beer trading should always be about meeting new people, being generous and sharing beer with folks who may not have had a chance to otherwise try it. If you keep that in mind and don't take yourself too seriously, everything will turn out just fine.
RM: What are some of the best trades you've seen? What happens if someone doesn’t follow through on the trade? How do you guarantee you get what your trade states you will receive?
Steelman: I have seen some really interesting stuff. It's one of those unwritten rules that one should almost always include "extras" with a trade that they complete. This could be just good local stuff off the shelf or something a bit more valuable or highly regarded. Some people agree on a certain dollar value of extras to include, others just surprise people; that is one of the most fun things about trading, in my opinion. Sometimes you will see traders agree to no extras, but that is very rare.
Some of the best trades I've seen typically have to do with these extras. I've saw a guy the other day throw in a Cheech and Chong vinyl LP with his trade. I've gotten homemade beef jerky and a can of Surge soda before. I've tossed in a puck of Abuelita Mexican hot chocolate in with my trade; I actually added it into the trade listing to help close the deal, and I think it worked just because people found it humorous. I've also seen guys trade for three bottles and include nine or 10 as extras. Just off the wall, crazy generous stuff. Extras really embody the spirit of beer trading, and they are often a very good indicator of the quality of trader you are dealing with.
The worst trades are ones where one person will not come through with their end of the bargain. Word gets out quickly. These traders are quickly blacklisted; most trade groups keep a list of "bad traders" for reference purposes even after banning them from the group. One particularly infamous trader (not in Virginia) recently was caught drinking beers, refilling them with beers similar in appearance, recapping and even re-waxing the bottles. He went through such detail as to melt the wax off of opened bottles of the same beer so the wax would be the exact same color as legitimate bottles. That was definitely an extreme case.
RM: What would you suggest to someone who wants to get into trading? How would they go about it? Whom would they talk to?
Steelman: For someone who wants to get into trading, I would suggest they join Tastes & Trades! Definitely don't be scared to ask questions and for advice. I always try to strive to let new traders know to please shoot me a message or ask me when they see me in public, if they have any questions. Befriending the vets is always a good idea, and they will reciprocate the generosity because chances are they didn't get to the level of trading they're at from being stingy. One trader I know who has endeared himself pretty well despite being relatively new has been very forthright in offering to pick up bottles for others at releases that they cannot attend. Life doesn't allow us to attend every release we want to go to, so help in that regard is very much appreciated!