Beer trading is a facet of craft beer culture that allows people to get their hands on beers of differing levels of rarity, geographical locations, and styles. It is something that can be complicated and intimidating as it was to me when I first started thinking about trading craft beer. Now, after doing a couple in-person trades along with several trades via the mail, I am no longer intimidated by the logistics of trading and have some knowledge that might be helpful for anyone thinking about giving beer trading a try.
I remember it like it was yesterday. . . The spring of 1988 was a magical time for me. As a youngster in the 3rd grade, I was very much obsessed with the Minnesota Twins. They had won the 1987 World Series several months earlier and I spent a better part of the winter shoveling base paths in my backyard and perfecting my Kirby Puckett leg-kick just in case the imaginary pitchers hung a curve. As the snow melted and turned my imaginary snow-lot baseball paradise into a swamp, it became increasingly frustrating to not be able to go outside and hit a baseball, pitch to the rebounding spring-loaded net contraption I got for Xmas, and work on my Randy Bush hook-slide. Thank goodness for the release of the 1988 Topps Baseball Card Set. Being able to temporarily forget the less than ideal playing conditions of my backyard and focus on collecting all my favorite players became an obsession for me.
However, I didn’t lust after the high value cards depicting steroid pumping, juicing goliaths like Jose Canseco or Mark McGwire I was after the entire ’87 Twins squad. More specifically, Dan Gladden because he embodied everything that I hoped to be when I played baseball. He hustled, played Left Field, had an immaculate mustache, and we shared the same first name. What I came to realize as I got older is that despite the fact that Dan Gladden played a crucial role in the Minnesota Twins winning two World Series titles, his cards were not valued or sought after. So, collecting them did not really pose to be much of a challenge. I found it much harder to get people to part with the Kirby Puckett cards in their collection unless I was able to offer something more valuable. Looking back, I spent countless hours at Shinders, the local card shop, staring at the glass display cases of all the really valuable cards. There were many times when I was perusing the baseball cards that I noticed the 18 and over crowd going into a back room, partitioned off by a squeaky saloon door. I assumed that was where they kept the really serious cards that a child would not have the money to buy and that had to be why you needed to be 18 to look back there. The 1986 Topps Traded set was like the Holy Grail of baseball card sets because it had many of the hot rookie cards that were incredibly valuable. As the years moved on, the baseball card market became increasingly saturated with more sets and ultimately, many of the cards that I spent so much time seeking out and wheeling and dealing for are worth barely more than the cardstock that they are printed on. So, I stopped collecting cards, trading cards and caring much about the hobby that brought me countless hours of joy for the better part of my youth.
A couple years into my craft beer geekdom, I realized that many people were talking about trading for really rare and hard-to-find craft beers. Some people that trade craft beers have massive cellars that are filled with whales (a term to denote a special and rare beer) that they have collected over the years. Some people seek beers from breweries that are not locally distributed. I admit feeling very envious of people who had been able to get their hands on some of the really cool stuff from the West Coast. As I started reading about these beers on BeerAdvocate and RateBeer, I realized that I wanted to try to see if I could get some of these mysterious and amazing craft beers. One of the good things going for us in MN, aside from the men
being strong, the women good looking and the children all above average, is that we have an up and coming craft beer scene. Beer geeks in many other areas of the country are starting to recognize the Twin Cities as a craft beer destination. Several reasons for this notoriety are the breweries that have perfected some amazing one-off or anniversary beers. Lift Bridge, Indeed, Dangerous Man, Steel Toe, Fair State, Schell’s and Insight have all been coming up with wonderful things in 750 ml or 22 oz. bomber bottles that showcase all that is exciting in the MN craft beer scene. There is one brewery at the epicenter of the MN craft beer scene and elicits a rabid fervor with their specialty releases: Surly Brewing Company. In my limited beer travels to Denver, Fort Collins, Boulder, Omaha, and Kansas City, everyone knows about and lusts after Surly. From a trading standpoint, Surly’s Anniversary beers, Abrasive Ale and Darkness are on par with gold in a beer trade. So, I am jumping into the beer trading pool. I have some Surly, but also access to Toppling Goliath and New Glarus, which are both sought after and so I think I will be able to get some craft beers from other places.
My childhood obsession of collecting, trading, and researching baseball cards has been reborn like a boozy phoenix rising from the ashes in the form of the grown-up hobby of craft beer trading. While I am fairly new to this aspect of beer geekery, I have done several trades and had great experiences doing so. I am by no means an expert, but feel that my experiences could help others who are looking at getting into this fun niche of craft beer culture. This is the first of several articles that I will write about beer trading in the hopes of giving a bit of insight into what beer trading is, why someone would like to trade beers, and the nuts and bolts rules to trading beers.
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