Receiving the much anticipated box of bottle share in the mail after several months of waiting last summer was a relief to Arwen Lehman, but when she pried it open, there was nothing but broken glass and spoiled beer. It was a beer trade gone bad.
But it doesn't have to be this way. Lehman, a member of the Craft Brewjas, and the fellows from Miami Beer Tour, will be on a panel to talk about the business of beer trading as part of an organized bottle trading event at Gramps on March 22 from 2 to 6 p.m.
Possibly the first among many, Miami Beer Tour is bringing bottle trading out in the open for all interested, including novices who are not well-practiced in the business of trades.
"Sud Swap is open for anyone, from the beginner to the more experienced, to make trades and see how trading works," says Johnny Martin, one of the Tour members. "Organized bottle trades are good because they are in-person trading and you get a chance to meet other people in neighborhood. The only thing you're going run into with bigger swaps is people coming from out of town, but this one is a local event with local traders."
Miami artist La Mano Fria, another Tour member, will also be present to share his experiences in the business. During his travels as an artist, La Mano Fria developed an appreciation for fine beers from around the world. From Miami, he went to Tokyo where he formed Tokyo Beer Tour, which expanded her to be called Miami Beer Tour.
Matt Smith, an avid trader known as mattuntappd, says that the photo-sharing social media service is becoming more popular in the world of beer trading, even though forums like Beer Advocate still comprise about 75 percent of online trades.
Instagram is quickly becoming a more popular way to trade because of its ease. The intention is always to try and make dollar-for-dollar trades, says Smith.
Smith, who will also be at the event, is relatively new to the practice of trading. Even though he has been at it for a little over a year, he essentially hit the ground running and got down to business right away. He has since made dozens of high-dollar trades. Proper packaging is a mutual expense shared between two parties
For example, Smith traded four bottles of Hunahpu's Imperial Stout--two Double Bourbon Barrel Hunahpu, one California Brandy Barrel Aged Hunahpu and one regular Hunahpu--for one bottle of 2012 Three Floyd's Bourbon Barrel Aged Vanilla Bean Dark Lord Russian imperial stout. It took seven hours for Smith to make the deal.
"That is essentially the birth of a beer trade," Smith says.
Such a beer is available for only one day out of the year on Dark Lord Day and involves a process much like finding a golden ticket from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Ticket holders who are lucky enough get a chance to buy a bottle for $50 but could fetch for as much as $350 on the internet. And once a successful trade is conducted, both parties typically become trading partners for life.
But not all trading experiences are the same. Last April, Lehman sent $100 of beer to a fellow trader in Stockton, California who contacted her through Instagram. But the favor was never returned until several months later ---only after constant reminders and even a threat to be called out online. After receiving a bad return several months later, Lehman turned to Beer Advocate to make a public service announcement warning other people to not trade with this person.
But her post was deleted almost as soon as her thread went up, as was her account. She says she was subsequently banned from website for life. Since the experience, Lehman will not make any trades over the internet anymore.
"I was trying to warn other people about a bad trader," she says. "Trading is a legitimate hobby and people take it seriously."
At Sud Swap, the intention is to avoid faceless transactions and garner trust between traders. The personal interactions between hobbyists who share a genuine passion for craft beer should, at least in theory, create an environment where bad trades will not occur.
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Aside from serious bottle trading, there will be several vendors present. Think of it like a miniature bazaar. For a limited time, Smith will also be offering tastings from a keg of Neapolitan Milk Stout brewed by Saugatuck Brewing Company in Douglas, Michigan.
If successful, Sud Swap could be a regular thing, possibly held every month. Because this is an organized event that follows the etiquette of bottle trading, the crew behind Miami Beer Tour asks that people sign up through its Facebook page and posting what they are seeking and what they would be willing to trade.