Back in June I finally decided to make my first beer trade. It was something I had considered on and off for years, but had never fully explored for a variety of reasons – laziness, weather (winter may just freeze your beer and create an ugly scene), and a number of moral issues (What does this say about my feelings towards Ontario beers if I’m actively trying to use them to get different beers? Don’t only beer raters do trades? Will these make me someone who just wants to tick another beer off?). But I finally gave in because I realized it was the best way to try a lot of beers from across Canada without spending a lot on an expensive plane ticket. (No offense to Alberta or British Columbia, but my wife doesn’t really want to visit you. And when San Fran, Chicago or New York City costs as much to visit, they will win every time.) So I finally paid for a premium Rate Beer account and got working on some trades. For those curious about how to start trading beer, here are some guidelines and rules to follow:
- Get a Premium Account on Rate Beer or Beer Advocate. I used RB and can vouch for how relatively easy it is to use. My assumption is that BA is similar. RB allows you to create a list of beers you have (your “cellar”) and beers you want. You can find people that want the beers you have or people that have the beers you want. Then you send a message and get the ball rolling. The only problem is that you don’t get emailed when someone responds, so check your account often.
- Pick the Beers. Let them know what you want and find out what they’re looking for. Or what styles they like. This will often be whittled down to a list of beers being exchanged. There are trades based on rarity or on dollar value. I found the latter much easier to start, especially because I didn’t have anything too rare that I wanted to trade. Establish a set of guidelines, combined with your trading partners wants, to select beers.
- Sometimes There is No Common Ground. You may not figure out a trade that satisfies both parties. No problem. Walk away without hard feelings and say you hope to trade with them at a later date.
- Follow the Golden Rule. If you’re expecting good beers in return, be prepared to send quality beers. I sent some of my stash of this year’s Amsterdam Tempest in trades, because I knew it would net solid returns. A good rule is to only send beers that you like. Make sure the IPAs are fresh. Don’t just send the bottle that has been in the back of your fridge for months. This isn’t a hockey trade – remember that the point is not to win the trade, but for everyone to come out happy. Your trading partner should be just as happy to get Smashbomb as you are to get Alley Kat Olde Deuteronomy. (For the record: so happy to get that one!)
- Acknowledge You are a Trading Newb. This is your first time. You have no credibility. You may be asked to send your beers first so the other person knows you’re not trying to rip them off. This is normal. My case was especially sketchy because I do not participate in the rating side of Rate Beer, but I found that putting my blog or Twitter link in my account was helpful. It lets the other person know you are a real person and that they have a way of publicly shaming you.
- Start Within Canada. At least for the first trade or two. Canada Post doesn’t ask what you’re shipping and there are no customs to deal with. If you’re going to trade with the States, FedEx is apparently the cheaper way. Don’t say it is beer, but BBQ sauce, homemade jams, a pack of pickled peppers – anything but beer. (If Canada Post was to ask, use the same answer. Sending beer to different provinces isn’t exactly legal.)
- Buy Lots of Packing Supplies. Then Buy More. It is amazing how many Styrofoam peanuts are needed in a box full of beer, even when the beer is covered in bubble wrap. And yes, you want to pack that very carefully. Nothing worse than a wet package that smells of stale beer.
- Bigger=Better. I learned this fact the hard way – the difference between sending seven beers to Alberta and sending two is about a toonie. Only a very small factor of the price is weight. You’re better off, economically speaking, to trade a lot of beers rather than a few. (If you’re curious about price, it’s about $20-25 to ship six to eight beers to Western Canada from Toronto.)
- Throw in Some Freebies. Everyone likes to find a little surprise when they open a package, so toss in an extra beer, some coasters or that free swag you got from an event. Just make sure the coasters are in like-new condition and the swag has never been worn. My bet is that glassware is probably a terrible thing to put in with a box of beer. Don’t want that other person ending up going to the hospital to have shards of glass removed from their hand.
- Communication and Timeliness. Reading trading reviews, everyone likes a trade this is done quickly and efficiently. Once you’ve got the beers sorted out, pack and mail them within the week. Let the person know when they are shipped, the tracking number and expected arrival date. Tell them when their package arrives and that you’re bathing in the glory of their beers.
- Give Trade Feedback. Even if someone has done fifty trades, they still want you to comment on their profile to say that you had an enjoyable trade with them.
Those are my tips and suggestions from only a couple of trades. I know there are more serious traders out there and would love to hear their advice.