BLACK MARKET BEER

Recently the Russian River Brewing Company posted on their blog about a Pliny the Younger sighting on eBay. No surprise to see such a brew for sale online; it’s common to find rare beers on the auction website, despite the fact that it’s against eBay policy. After all, if an Alehead lives outside the standard distribution channels of a particular brewer, how are we supposed to get our hands on all these delicious beers? A glance at BA’s top list shows nearly all available for purchase on eBay… what are you waiting for? Jump on the laptop, right now you could be the proud owner of:

  • 12 (Westvleteren)- 6 bottles for $150
  • Pliny the Elder (Russian River)- Growler for $44
  • Kentucky Breakfast Stout (Founders)- 1 bottle $18.99
  • The Abyss (Deschutes)- 1 bottle $17.99
  • 10 (Rochefort)- 1 bottle $64.44
  • Hopslam (Bell’s)- Minikeg $84.99

And so on…

Brewers turn the release of their flagship prestige beers into boozy festivals like 3 Floyds’ Dark Lord Day and Portsmouth’s Kate Day– beer geeks flocking from miles around, creating buzz in the community and free publicity for the brewery. Kegs are tapped, growlers filled, and bombers purchased in what becomes the biggest revenue day of the year. Everyone heads home- most of the beer gets consumed, some cellared, and a small amount winds up for sale on sites eBay. Then out of state folks vie to to purchase the little slice of ale heaven they were not fortunate enough to experience in person. Brewer gets money, people get beer, beer gets chugged, and everything is copacetic.

Russian River Brewing apparently doesn’t view the matter in the same light. In a post ablaze with righteous indignation, the brewer complained “The wind had been taken out of their sales” upon the discovery that the never-bottled beer was for sale online within hours of a release party at which they forbade growlers or any kind of take-home container. You drink that beer right here and now mister! Perhaps it was predictable that a brewery producing beers dubbed Deification, Redemption, and Salvation might lack a certain sense of humor and perspective about their beer and its place in the universe.

The brewers also questioned the quality of the hostage Pliny:

“They probably drank out of the glass before pouring it into their makeshift to-go container, too- yuk!. Or, perhaps, the contents of this bottle are someone’s homebrew or not even beer! They did not even bother to make a label!”

Like totally yuck! What if it’s actually urine from a yak that’s been fed only artichokes for the past 6 months?

Buyer beware is always the rule when it comes to sites like eBay. The auction site has a rating and review mechanism in place that is constantly tweaked to discourage its abuse as a platform for commerce, but there is always the chance you could wind up with an unsatisfactory product; especially when dealing with a perishable item like beer. Worst case scenario? The beer is laced with cyanide and you’re dead. Realistic worst case scenario? You get sold a fake or skunked Pliny the Younger. Best case scenario? A stranger just mailed you one of the best and most coveted beers in the world for $45 plus shipping. Who’s the loser here? Like assault and battery, it’s a victimless crime.

But Russian River doesn’t agree, calling on their true fans to put a stop to it (I was unable to find the offending item, I’m assuming it was removed by the auction police by the time I got to the post):

“If you are a fan of Russian River and our craft brewing brethren, please help us put a stop to people selling beer illegally by not participating in any buying or selling activities of our products on Ebay. We work really hard to put the best beer we can in the bottle or keg, label it honestly, and get it to you, our valued consumers, through the proper legal channels.”

That’s what we’re concerned about here? The legality? It’s illegal to do lots of things, like jaywalk and mail beer and list your dog as a dependent on your taxes, but people still do them all the time. As laws go “Thou Shalt Not Sell Beer Over The Internet” is pretty neutral in terms of a morality play. Besides, civil disobedience against injustice is a moral imperative. It seems above all that Russian River feels a deep urge to control their beer on every level… including the place and manner in which it is consumed. I agree that their job is to make great beer and to get it to me- but frankly they haven’t been holding up their end of the bargain lately (or, ever) and the closest Pliny the Younger on release date was on the other side of a very large state. For many Aleheads, it’s much further.

Would I buy beer on the internet? No, but that’s just me. It’s expensive and seems a little sketchy, especially when I have a network of Aleheads all over the country that will mail me (illegally) a particular brew if I get an insatiable hankering. Would I sell beer on the internet? No, it’s time consuming and requires mailing things. Would I sneak a container into the Pliny release party, smuggle out some Imperial IPA, and then sell it? Hell no. Not because it’s illegal, but because it’s weird and not worth the effort, plus it would involve me not drinking a Pliny the Younger that I was holding in my grubby hands.

Russian River, I can see why miffed you’re when you put up such obstacles to keep people from selling your beer online, but they went cloak and dagger on your ass and did it anyway. My suggestion? Ignore them. You’re a world class brewer making one of the most sought-after beers on the planet, for which Aleheads will go to great lengths to obtain. There are worse problems to have in life. Next year just make enough Pliny the Younger so that everyone can try some… until then, people are going to do whatever it takes to check the beer off their list, and not even the most sternly worded blog post will curb the behavior. If I were you, I’d forget the guy who hawked your Breast Care Awareness Framboise for $200, and focus on why you sold that same bottle for a fraction of that amount. C’mon, this is capitalism baby! You have the beer, we have the $$$, can’t we work it out? You’ve done a great job making the beer, but your turn is over; if you truly love something, set it free. We’ll make sure Pliny gets a good home.

What do you think, Aleheads? Am I out of my element? What’s the big deal with reselling beer online?

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4 comments

  1. I can certainly understand RR’s perspective on this issue, but only because we’re talking about a beer that isn’t bottled, labeled, or marked for sale. That’s pretty ballsy to take a draught beer off-premise for the purpose of resale. RR should take a stance against illegal reselling because that’s their job to do so.

    While I don’t have a problem with brewers taking a stance on this issue though, it will in no way dissuade me from purchasing beer online in the future. Maybe it’s because I live in Massachusetts, a state that won’t allow ANY alcohol to be shipped to or from my lowly residence. If I want a bottle of Pliny the Elder, I really don’t have a problem paying some guy from California to ship what should be a sealed and properly labeled bottle in my direction. Like you said Slouch, the brewer has been paid for their product and everything is copasetic up to the point of my purchase. Sure, my purchase is completely illegal if you want to get all lawyery, but the only one I’m hurting is myself.

    Again, no problem with RR’s stance on this issue even though it won’t stop most people. Even if it comes off a little douchey, they’re probably right.

  2. notkevinsmith · · Reply

    My biggest concern with buying a beer like that would be its handling. Its sure to have been hot/cold at least once, or not sealed. Or it could have been left in the sun. Assuming its not just a fake.
    Here in SC, I fill my Growler at my local brewery, and get awesome, fresh beer! Thomas Creek brews, distributes, sells and sells home brew supplies all on site.

  3. Thomas Creek just started distributing in Alabama, NotKevinSmith. Any recommendations before I pick up some of their brews?

  4. CZAR VLADIBEER S. BOOTIN' · · Reply

    I open truck this week with much beer inside. Do I sell on Ebay? No. I send to my brothel for best customers. If beer is stolen, it should not be resold out of respect for many laws you have in your country. If it is gifted, then is property of your self. Sell in Ebay, puts in museum, pour out for homies – do with what like. Do I keep for to play at home baseball signed by Mannies Pacquiao? No I sell to buys coat for Svetlana.

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