So you’ve wanted to dabble in the beer trade scene for a while now, but you might be thinking, “Where do I start?” Our maiden post in the “First Trade” series will focus on stockpiling your “FT” (For Trade) beers; which are the brews that you get deliberately for the purpose of flipping them for those out-of-distribution gems. While you may find highly sought after releases in local bottle shops like Firestone Walker (Parabola, Velvet Merkin) or Cantillon (Kriek, Classic Gueuze) that could draw attention, this post will show you how to find brewery-only releases from one of the many great St. Louis establishments, giving you the ammo you need to land a truly great bottle. Here are some helpful tips to make your first release a successful one. Also, I apologize in advance if this information gets you counting down the days until the next beer release; between the bottle sharing, beer friends, and stocking up on limited releases, you will be hooked!
Get the Scoop
Social media isn’t just for viewing celebrity baby pics or anonymously trolling strangers anymore. It is, in fact, your best vein of pertinent and timely information about the latest big-ticket brewery releases in your area. Follow your local favorites on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Blippity Bloop (a new app I just patented). Be sure to turn on push notifications so you don’t miss out because you neglected to view your feed for the day. Your local bottle shops and regional distributors are also great follows. The Craft Beer Cellar in Clayton (@CBC_Clayton) will even send out tweets when new bottles arrive and are on the shelves for purchase (sweet!). Regional beer inspired message boards are also great outlets for more details on bottle releases. I would highly recommend you create an account on STL Hops if you haven’t already done so. It pays to be socially (media) aware!
Show up Early
I know that getting to the brewery 4-6 hours early is not always a possibility with things like “jobs” and “kids” and general “responsibilities”. However, if you can make the time you are more likely to guarantee you’ll get your grubby paws on that sweet nectar. You’ll quickly learn that hot releases from breweries like Perennial and Side Project get folks lining up during the wee hours of the morning (perhaps they never left from the night before). While some breweries will do their best to count folks in line before setting bottle limits, why take the chance showing up 10 minutes before the doors are set to open? Upon arrival, find the end of the line and plant your chair, or cooler, like you own personal Spanish flag and proclaim, “This spot belongs to me, there are many like it but this one is mine.” Ignore the judging stares and channel you inner rock as you begin the waiting game.
Don’t Forget the Necessities
As your local scout troop always says after ringing your doorbell at 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning asking for canned foods, “Be Prepared”. If you fail to bring something, you will inevitably need it. This rings true for any beer release where you plan on waiting in line for an extended period of time. Here’s a list of items to bring:
- Your bag chair not only serves to rest your weary (or wobbly) legs, it’s also a great to hold your spot in line.
- Umbrellas are great to have even when it’s not raining as it could save you from exclaiming later to your spouse, “How they hell did I get sunburnt in November!?!?”
- You would also be surprised by the number of human polar bears you see wearing shorts in 35 degree temperatures. Coats, gloves and stocking caps will keep you warm while you wait and help avoid you questioning your decision to subject yourself to the elements over a couple of bottles of fermentables.
- If you don’t have one already, I would highly recommend a bottle opener on your key chain and a wine key in your pocket in case any of those corked and caged beers prove difficult.
- A small tasting glass for the bottle share. This does not mean bring a full pint glass you greedy minx!
- Finally, invest in a 6-pack canvas wine bottle holder that will fit your 750 ml special release beers like a glove. In fact, buy a couple and always keep one in your car. You never know when a surprise release will be announced and you suddenly need to leave work for being “sick”
Invite a Buddy
Bringing along friends and family to beer releases is a highly debatable topic encountered in the beer scene. “Muling”, as it is affectionately called, is the act of bringing another person (c’mon, Grandma!) for the sole purpose of scoring extra bottles for yourself. In my opinion, bringing a spouse or friend who isn’t interested in drinking the beer that is being released isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You could end up introducing others to all the fun to be had at beer releases. Plus, it gives them an opportunity to try many new brews they wouldn’t normally have access to. “Muling” is always going to happen to some extent. The real problem is when folks drag along a lot of people or, even worse, when they hire people to do it for them. This is particularly true for out of town traders who even resort to paying folks from Craigslist cash just to stand in line for them. Unfortunately, this can cause those who legitimately want to be at the release and enjoy the fruits of the brewer’s labor to miss out. That being said, be responsible when bringing others and try to keep it to friends and family. After all, good beer is for sharing!
The Bottle Share – A Beer Release Tradition
Speaking of sharing, our next topic could be one of the most enjoyable aspects of any release. The concept of the bottle share may seem a little foreign on the surface but it really is not something to overthink. Bringing a few of your extra “nicer” bottles to share with others is not required, but generally is something you should do in good faith – especially if you want to partake of the samples on the table. Don’t feel intimidated when approaching the table as beer folks are typically friendly folks. Pour a little in your taster and set the bottle down on the table for others to enjoy. Better yet, start a dialogue with a stranger and pour a sample for them. Through this interaction, you’ll quickly make “beer friends” that you will see at future releases and events. If you don’t feel like getting up from your chair, strike up a conversation with those around you and pour some samples for your line sharing brethren. The share is a stage for seasoned traders to show off some of their rarer beers which, many times, will be tastier than the bottle you are waiting in line for. Once again, beer is for sharing. Don’t be a miser and let the good times (literally) flow!
It pains me that I have to say this to adults, but do not cut in line. If your kindergarten teacher (mad respect, Mrs. Netherton!) taught you anything, it’s that no one likes a line cutter. It was true for the water fountain, and it’s true for the latest batch of Saison du Fermier. If you make the attempt to get to a release with plenty of time you are typically going to get a bottle or two. There is absolutely no reason to screw others over who have spent their afternoon waiting patiently. Be aware that there is a heightened sense for folks to call line jumpers out and, potentially, cause them to forfeit their chance at buying beer for the day. When you arrive at your spot, make a visual cue of the person in front of you and behind you. This will help you identify your spot if the line tightens up in anticipation of the doors opening up and you took a last minute potty break. If you see line jumpers attempting to get in front of you, or others, politely ask them to return to their actual spot. Like the unattended bag at the airport, if you see something…say something!
As the brewery doors open and the herd slowly makes it way forward, it’s time to finally reap the rewards of your toil. Many breweries will accept credit cards for payment but you might want to double check beforehand if cash is needed. As you check out, be kind to the person taking your money and thank them for a great release. Good rapport with the brewers and their employees pays dividends in the long run, so always be your naturally charming and lovable self when interacting with them. As you load up your bag, breathe a sigh of relief as you are now prepped for the 2nd step in the beer trading process, your first trade posting. Go home and get some sleep (and Taco Bell), you earned it!
Miss my first post on Beer Trading? Read that here. Have other tips on a successful release experience I may have missed? Add them to the comments section below. Also, stay tuned for the next installment in the “First Trade” series where I will discuss the do’s and don’ts of setting up an ISO:FT (In Search Of: For Trade) post on your favorite beer forum. For real though, invest in a canvas beer bag!