When I sat down with Jeremy Roth at the Craft Beer Cellar in Clayton, we introduced ourselves, talked about what was on draft and then sat down at a table near the back entrance. I took out my tape recorder, told him a little bit about how I was going to conduct the interview and just before we started he said something I didn’t expect to hear: “I want you to know that I’m going to be 100% honest with you about anything you ask. You can put anything I say in your article because I have nothing to hide. I’ve done a lot of things in the beer community that I’m not proud of but I’m a different person now.”
Beer it Forward. It’s the notion of “Paying it Forward” with beer. That’s a concept and idea that one person in St. Louis believes in more than most. The design is simple: Share good beer with people who will appreciate it and get absolutely nothing in return (unless you count the karma associated with your good deed). On October 20, 2015, Jeremy Roth started the “Beer it Forward” page on Facebook. The first post was this:
This group was created for the express purpose of giving beer away. Any and all are welcome in this group. The only stipulation for remaining in this group is that you must give away beer in this group. That is all.
And with that, his page took off. People were posting a wide range of BIF’s within the first few hours. Some posts had beers that were hard to find, some were posting beers from out of distro and some were posting things that you could easily find on shelves. The point was that people were genuinely focused on making others happy rather than profiting from or trading craft beer. This made Jeremy happy for a lot of reasons but mostly because he wasn’t always the BIF type. In fact, at some points in the last few years, he was quite the opposite.
Name: Jeremy Roth
Position: Founder, Beer it Forward (Facebook Group)
What’s Your Favorite Local Beer? The best beer on any given night, whether it’s cold or hot out, is Framboise du Fermier from Side Project. It’s perfect for any time or any occasion.
What’s Your Favorite non-local beer? Difficult question. As far as a shelf beer that’s easy to find, I’d say Big Bad Baptist from Epic is near the top of the list. Fresh Hunahpu from Cigar City or fresh Parabola from Firestone Walker are a little harder to find but amazing. At the very top of my list might be Double Barrel Mexican Cake from Westbrook. The mouthfeel was almost chewy.
Jeremy, tell me a little about how you got started in craft beer.
Well, in college, I was finishing my degree late, in my early thirties, and we used to go to Pi for Monday Night Football. I never really liked beer, and bourbon and whisky were too heavy so I decided I was going to start trying craft beer. I started with Boulevard’s Tank 7 and probably drank that for 6 months or so. It’s all I would drink. One time, I ordered a Tank 7 and they were out so I asked the waitress for something similar and she brought me a New Belgium Ranger IPA. It’s nothing like Tank 7 but I ended up liking it. I thought, since I liked that beer and it was very different from the one I’ve been drinking, I’m going to start trying all these other things.
I wasn’t in a position to buy beer because I didn’t have a lot of money but when I got a decent job, I started buying more beer and going on www.beeradvocate.com. That’s when I found out about the concept of “Beer it Forward.” Eventually, I got into a Beer it Forward with some other new members (about 50 of us) and all we do is send each other beers without asking, knowing that eventually you’ll get beer sent to you. We’ve been doing this with each other for three years now. The generosity of these guys is what motivated me to start the Facebook group.
I’ve seen that you’ve given away some nice beers in the group but you’ve also expressed frustration with a lack of participation so far.
The frustration is only because I’m subconsciously comparing it to the BIF community I’m used to. BIF is a new concept for a lot of people in the group so it’s hard to get it moving completely in the direction that I was hoping, with tons of giveaways. With that being said, I’m not even diametrically opposed to the people who enter every BIF and don’t give anything away. Beer karma is real and I truly believe that. Here’s something I did recently because I thought it was nice to do: I went to 4 Hands for the Madagascar release and got my 6 bottle allotment. There was someone in line behind me that didn’t get a chance to get some so I sold all 6 bottles to him at cost. I bought 5 Bourbon County Rare’s this year by going to Chicago on release weekend and driving around, and I have 0 left and didn’t open any of them.
Yeah, I saw some people on Facebook weren’t too fond of you posting a picture of all the Bourbon County stuff you got that weekend.
That’s another thing, I get this stigma. You should see the messages on Facebook that I get from people saying “You think you’re the king of craft beer” and all this shit. People are even bitchin’ at me saying that I’m ruining the trade value of St. Louis beers by giving them away. I’m dead serious! I got 18 Abraxas this year. I don’t use mules or anything, I just paid for multiple allotments like I was allowed to do. I posted a picture of them and people lost their minds, calling me a hoarder. I have 6 left and do you know how many I’ve opened for myself? Zero. I’ve given 12 away through my BIF group on Beer Advocate and the Facebook group. People don’t see that but they make these assumptions and it’s not worth my time or energy to respond to them.
Hoarding beer has been getting insane lately and it pisses off a lot of people. It’s all because a handful of people buy a ton of limited release beers and that drives up the price on the secondary market.
I totally understand. I told you I would be honest so you should know that I was quite active on the secondary market for a while. I actually started a St. Louis secondary market page on Facebook. It started innocently enough, where I had this great idea on how we could share out of distro beer and people could get them at a decent price. No matter what, I never included local beer on that page. That’s the one thing I never did out of principle. I started the page and it was beautiful but shit got out of hand in two months. It started where people would charge for the cost of beer plus the time it took them to get it. A Barrel Aged Dark Lord that you stood in the rain for 4 hours to get would go for cost plus like $20. That’s how it started but it got so out of hand so fast. I said “I’m done, this page is getting dismantled.” I actually shut the whole page down.
I’ve made bad decisions. I profited for a while. I screwed a few guys over back then who called me out on it. About two and half years ago, I screwed over a guy when I shipped a box and a bunch of bottles broke. I got frustrated and didn’t send a box to replace anything because I couldn’t replace it. That’s part of the pressure. I had a hard time finding those beers again and I pretty much just disappeared for a while. I eventually fixed it and now he’s one of my best friends but I didn’t feel good about what I was doing.
With my time on the secondary market, it got to a level where beer was no longer fun for me. Every beer I got my first thought was “how can I profit from this?” That’s so far removed from the BIF group I’m part of on Beer Advocate, that I stopped enjoying beer. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m proud of myself for recognizing it after just a few months because it’s a deep, deep pit that you can get into and it’s very difficult to claw yourself out of it. There are people in St. Louis right now that are openly defiant to local brewery owners about taking bids on beers hours after they’re released. It’s disappointing to see and I’m disappointed I used to be a part of it.
So as someone on both sides now, do you have an idea on how to fix the secondary market or hoarding issue?
Actually, I’ve thought about this a lot. Specifically, I’ve thought about it with Side Project because Cory’s beers are the ones that are most sought after and go for the highest prices on the secondary market. Cory definitely wants his beers to be shared beyond St. Louis but not that way so I think there are two things that could be done to fix it. I’ve seriously given this a shit-ton of thought.
One way is to do a release where you announce it just an hour before it happens. The problem with that though is that he has to staff his employees for something like that, so they know in advance and even if on accident, one of them might tell a friend and word will spread rapidly. Even right now, I bet there are 100 people that know about releases before they’re even announced.
The second way to fix it would be to reward people that come to your establishment. This is exactly what I would do if I were in his shoes. This is a 100% guaranteed way to fix the problem. On a random day, when there’s 50 people at the Side Project Cellar, pull out 4 cases and reward the people that are there without expecting anything in return. That eliminates lines, it eliminates mules, there are no drunk people, no trash to pick up, and nobody will steal his forklift keys. The odds of a person who is looking to profit on the secondary market being there if he did it that way are very slim.
We’ve heard most of what your motivation is behind Starting the “Beer it Forward” group, but tell me anything else you want people to know about it.
Well, the shortest answer I could give is that I started it because who doesn’t want free beer? I post one BIF each month and it’d be nice for everyone else to that too. When I post one, I try to make it stuff that people really want. Also, whenever I win a BIF, I post another one as my way of saying thanks. I keep encouraging people to post a BIF because it’s not happening as naturally as I would’ve hoped. Actually, a lot of guys in my big BIF group from Beer Advocate are actually in the Facebook BIF group also. They probably make up 15% of the BIFs posted because they’re super generous. But with 1,500 people, there should be a new BIF posted every single day. The fact that there aren’t more being posted is actually a little disappointing.
What I find really odd though, is how many people recognize me from the page. When I was at “Rare Day” I probably got stopped 20 times by people who know me from my profile picture. So that’s taken some adjustment. I never expected it to grow like that. Since we’ve gotten so big, I’ve added 3 moderators to help me out and I think it’s going to help us do more fun things like a big, traditional BIF. Take 20 people, assign them to each other randomly and just ship blindly to the person you were assigned, not knowing what you’re getting back in return. That’s going to be where the fun really starts, once we get that going.
What do you see happening next? Do you have ideas beyond BIF or will you focus on evolving the current page?
I really want to concentrate on the BIF page. There are some local Facebook groups about beer where the drama can be unreal at times. I want BIF to be an oasis for people where there’s not all that craziness. Our page is nothing but positive. People are giving away effing beer! You can’t beat that! There’s no bitchin’ about beer you didn’t get, because nobody cares if they don’t win a BIF. It’s all about positivity. I’ve had the vision for a long time now to be a giver. It’s something I instill into my children and something I’ve tried to live every day in my life for the last two and a half years. It was a big deal to me when I screwed those few people over and I was ashamed. I had to be a man, admit I was wrong and turn some things around. I’m just proud to be doing something positive for the awesome beer community in St. Louis.