If you’ve been into craft beer for more than a few years, the hype for limited beer releases has grown exponentially. We’ve seen an escalation in the beer community that is one part exciting and three parts frightening. (In my head I think of the escalation scene from Batman Begins when I talk about this particular subject.) I still remember just three years ago buying some Bourbon County Brand Stout days after release as a present for a friend. It was big in the beer community, but has since reached a hype level that is pretty astounding. We even featured an article on people waiting in line for the release. It’s not a bad thing, but there is plenty of crazy stuff going on that isn’t flattering for the craft beer community. So, let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of limited beer releases.
A lot of these limited beers become so highly sought for one reason; they taste delicious. Whether it is the barrel-aged deliciousness of beers like Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout, anything from local favorite Side Project Brewing, or the non-barrel-aged, but still amazingly sought after, Abraxas by Perennial, there are a lot of great beers that you aren’t likely to find on the shelf at your local convenience or grocery store. The most limited beers tend to come from “brewery only” releases. These are beers that never see distribution, usually due to limited production.
Needless to say there is a lot of really great limited release beer out there. Limited releases aren’t the only place to find great beer though. Don’t assume that just because a beer sees a large distribution pattern that it isn’t a good beer.
Chances are that if you tell most people you plan to spend a few hours on a morning or afternoon waiting in line for a shot at beer, they are going to think you’re crazy. That is unless you are talking to another craft beer fan, because they’ll likely ask when the release is (if they don’t know already), and what beer they should bring to share in line. Beer releases are a great place to share some beer you’ve been sitting on, and help others do the same. At most of the big releases in town, I’ve been able to try beers I never would have gotten my hands on otherwise, mainly because of the generosity of the people around me. I try to return the favor by bringing beers that aren’t likely to be found in the local distribution area.
You don’t have to only bring hard to find beers though. Not everyone has easy access to limited beers and 99% of people in the line understand that. It’s still good form to bring beers to share. Stop by a local store the night before and pick up a bomber or two to share and you’ll be sure to make some new friends.
There is something about beer releases that keeps adults from remembering rules they were taught when they were children. Certain manners are thrown out the window when people get to the release venue. Certain breweries will do a head count of the line shortly before release, and everyone gets the same amount of beer. Unfortunately, some breweries don’t do that, and ugly situations arise when people miss out on beer.
It sounds silly and a bit unbelievable but when it happens there are a lot of hurt feelings at the end of the day. I’m not the first person to mention line cutting at releases. In fact it’s a topic that is brought up quite often in the craft beer scene. Here are common arguments I hear defending line cutters:
It’s just beer. There’s no need to get upset.
This is usually uttered by the line cutter or their friend that let them jump ahead in line. Not a very good argument since these people are waiting in line for the same thing they just classified as “just beer”.
Maybe you should’ve gotten here earlier.
I heard someone say this at a release last year when they called out a line cutter. That was the reply of the person who let their friend cut in line. I would have agreed with them if they were talking to their friend. Unfortunately, they were not.
Do you mind if my friend jumps in line with us?
This is the correct way to do it. If you have a friend who came a bit later than you to a release and you’d like them to sit by you, just ask. If there isn’t a lot of space in line between the end of the line and where you are, most people will likely be okay with your friend jumping up a few spots. However, if the line is a couple hundred people back, your friend should put their chair at the end of the line to show where their spot is before joining you up front.
Most people are pretty accommodating because no one likes to wait in line by themselves, just use some common sense and respect other people and you’ll have a lot better luck. Just remember, you aren’t the only one who wants to try these beers. Treat others like you’d like to be treated.
The term “Muling” is used a few different ways in the beer community, but essentially it ends up meaning only one thing, less beer for you. The first way it’s used revolves around muling groups. This is a collection of people who get large allotments of limited releases through one method or another. (For an in depth and riveting read on this subject, check out this article on blackmarket beers.) These people usually have connections or utilize mules. Mules are people who go to releases to grab an allotment of beer, with no intention to drink it.
Muling represents a bit of a grey area in the beer community. For example, it is not frowned upon to bring a family member or friend to the release, even if they are only there to help get you a bigger allotment. It is however frowned upon to hire mules. Believe it or not, some people go as far as offering cash to people off the street to wait in line. Just last year a paid mule cut in line at a release, got kicked out, and responded by stealing the keys out of Perennial’s forklift. At a recent release, I spoke with a person in line who told me they got $20 and some extra perks to wait in line for the beer. They didn’t even know the person that was paying them to stand in line but they were hard up for cash and figured there were worse ways to spend an hour.
It’s not wrong to want to try all these beers. I personally have traded extras of my limited releases for other releases around the country. Usually I get my one allotment, keep one for review and one for myself for personal enjoyment, if I have extra it’s either saved for a special occasion or I trade with someone who is looking to try it as well. The problem comes when a plethora of mules get sent to a release and a lot of the beer gets purchased by a small group of greedy people.
The secondary market is where things start to get real shady. Believe it or not, there is profit to be made off of the these small batch beers, even if you had no hand in the making of the beer itself. Some people go to these releases with the sole intention of buying up these beers to sell on secondary market sites. Most of the sites like MyBeerCollectibles.com and MyBeerCellar.com operate slightly outside of the law. I say slightly, because the sale of alcohol without a license is illegal, but most of these sites operate on selling beer as a collectible. So, it happens to still contain the beer? Good thing I was just paying $200 for the bottle! We’ll just drain pour this…
Not all sites buy it though. A few years back eBay shutdown this particular method of selling beer, sending people flocking to other sites. Even with big players like eBay dropping out, the secondary market continues to stay strong. Sellers on the secondary market use sites like BeerBlackBook.com to judge value before they sell their wares, and traders use these secondary values to get an idea of the trade value of their beer.
I’m not here to argue against selling a friend a bottle plus a few extra dollars for time and gas money, but secondary markets have a way of pricing people out eventually. Take a look other industries with secondary markets like concerts and sports, where high demand sometimes drives prices ten fold of the original ticket price. The wine market has a long history with secondary markets, and it’s ended up with a lot of people not having the opportunity to try some great wines.
I’ve seen a lot of defenders of secondary market practices. Usually the rhetoric revolves around brewers needing to make more of the limited beer available or throwing out the word capitalism without really understanding any deeper meaning behind it. Craft brewers continually try to find ways to defend against these markets, not just because you are profiting off of their hard work, but because you are limiting the chance that someone who really enjoys beer could try it. Breweries like Side Project, Russian River, Jester King, and Hill Farmstead could easily sell their wares for more, but they don’t because they want to share what they’ve made. The selling of their beer beyond the original value hurts their brand, and puts money into the pockets of people who don’t deserve it.
Lotteries and raffles are another dark side of the secondary market. Rather than sell the beer straight up for $600, a person might run a raffle with 30 spots open. To get that spot, it’s simple, just pay $20 and you have a 1 in 30 chance of getting a rare beer. I’ve been told by a couple people who have participated in such lotteries, that the odds remain low enough in these to justify the cost. There is also a slight sense of thrill from winning a rare beer. When it still comes down to it, numbers are numbers, and you might end up spending a lot more for your beer than if you had just found a way to trade for it.
The other downside to raffles is that many of the lack oversight. I’m a trusting person, but how do I know the game isn’t rigged from the start? Sure, you can show someone a randomly generated number, but who is to say that was truly the first number generated?
Not all raffles are bad though. Sometimes bars/breweries/festivals will do raffles for rare beers, and most of the time I’ve seen them, the proceeds benefit charity. They aren’t common, but I don’t think anyone would begrudge throwing in $20 to actually benefit someone in need. Privately run raffles are a different story and go back to lining the pocket of someone who just had a free enough schedule to wait in line for a brewery only release.
Listen, we love beer. We know you love it too. There is nothing wrong with being excited about new releases. They should be exciting because breweries are doing amazing things these days. Just remember that this is supposed to be fun. Having beer with friends, and making new friends because of beer is what this is all about. We understand how the hype behind some of these beers can make it hard not to want as much as you can get, but just remember to be respectful of everyone else in the beer community.
We know that this article isn’t going to be a hit with everyone, but we are open to discussion on all points. Leave a comment below to continue the discussion!