RateBeer Weekly Magazine > Craft Beer Introduction
The Beer Trademeister Speaks!
HOPSRUS GIVES US THE LOWDOWN ON GREAT TRADING
May 15, 2003
First about my trading, it all started when I decided that I had to get some Alesmith Speedway Stout shortly after joining the Ratebeer Community. I asked a lot of questions to the local retailers and frankly learned a lot, such as they had either never heard of Alesmith Speedway Stout or knew theyíd wouldnít be able to get it in the foreseeable future. I came to the unique (so I thought) conclusion that Iíd have to trade to get it. I watched the forum for what seemed to be a long time and grabbed the first name I saw that traded out of the West Coast. It happened to be John.
John was kind enough to explain the ropes and consummate a trade with me. I hadnít rated many beers, and frankly was nearly as green to trading as I was to craft beers. I hadnít even given much consideration to my wish list or to what I had to offer in the way of trade. After some negotiation between us and with much reluctance, I packaged up the beers weíd agreed upon and off they went. I remember my concerns at the time were threefold: 1) Will I get my beer from John? 2) Is this some sort of sting operation with me as the perp (I had concerns he was a minor)? 3) How do I package this stuff so that it makes it there in one piece. John put those concerns to rest, I received the beer he sent (it felt like Christmas when those beers arrived!) and have traded avidly ever since.
Most of my favorite beers had arrived in boxes. I donít regret any of my trades. Itís been a heck of a lot of fun. John did a quick count recently and he tells me weíve traded 140 bottles of beer of all shapes, sizes and styles. Uh, one quick question for John, where did they all go?
Is it Legal?
Probably not. In most states I think it rates right up there with taking tags off of mattresses. I can name several places on line that ship and have stayed in business for along time. Also, you can buy beer for your bottle collection on Ebay. It just isnít for consumption,wink, wink. I do not think either a commercial company or a government run company will want to spend the time and to have you prosecuted and I would not expect to get arrested for trading beer unless I commit serious crimes and law enforce was trying to ďthrow the book at meĒ in hopes that a few pages stick. I will not knowingly ship beer to someone that is legally under age by the laws in their state or country, because providing beer to a minor is a much more serious offense.
The first thing you should know about trading is it is an expensive way to get beer. Count on postage to be about 10%-25% of the cost of purchasing the beer and the farther you live from the person you trade with the more expensive it is. Trading in general is cheaper than purchasing beer from any of the mail order places( if you should decide to mail order on line a list of retailers can be found athttp://www.ratebeer.com/MailOrder.asp ). Mail order places charge shipping and handling fees and may have minimum order sizes, but after you ship a few brews, if youíre like me, you wonít begrudge retailers and their handling charges one bit. If it werenít for minimum order sizes and selections constraints, I donít think Iíd ever trade (honest). Whatís great about trading is most traders can offer you a range of beers not offered by the on-line retailers, in an amount that you specify and you do your own handling!
When I am trying to arranging a trade, I usually offer to trade dollar for dollar(beer wise) with the other trader but this is totally negotiable. Some traders prefer to trade by quantity, like ímy two 12 ounce for your twoí. Some may ask for more than the face value of their beer due to its rarity of the beer theyíd like to trade. These are details you need to work that out with the person you are trading with.
Another important suggestion for those who would like to start dabbling with in trading is to keep your wish list updated -- most importantly the selection that lists what you have to offer. I usually try to list regional beers(especially useful if you live in Beer Hell since many Ratebeerians try to see how many states and territories they can rate a beer from), a few beers from each brewery, and highly sought beers such as Westvleteren Abt 12. I also keep a Microsoft Word document that has a more complete list. Occasionally, if there is a beer that Iíve wanted for some time I will use the ďFind ItĒ feature of Rate Beer to get the user name of someone who has that particular beer on their ďHave Wish ListĒ. I will then write a message to them expressing an interest in trading. Another way people use on RateBeer to obtain a particular beer is to start a topic in the Trade Forum asking for a trade for the beer. These topics usually start with ISO; as an example ISO: Alesmith Speedway. If you have a particular beer that you feel many traders would be interested in trading for you can likewise start a Forum Trade topic with FT(For Trade);example FT: Three Floyds Dark Lord.
If you are a first time traders you might offer to ship first to establish a measure of trust with a frequent trader who has a good trading record. Their trading record can be found by clicking on their beer list on their user page, then clicking ďtrading profileĒ. My own experiences with trading on RateBeer tell me that there is a very low probability that you will get burned trading on RateBeer.
Another thing that comes up on RateBeer is that many of the traders here are quite generous and will send a few extras along with the agreed upon trade. If you are new or you would like to establish your self as a trader(especially with some one you would like to do a lot more trading with) few extras are always helpful and encouraged, but not altogether necessary. I donít think extras should not be the expectation, but they are always appreciated and sending a few extras can be great way to make up for past sins such as shipping late, breakage, etc.
Choosing a Shipping Company
The next thing you will need to consider what company to choose for shipping. Iíve found that for overseas shipping USPS (United States Postal Service) is the cheapest. Shipping within the USA, one of the commercial companies such as FedEx, DHL, or UPS will be the cheapest provider. Where I live FedEx has always been the least expensive. If you are trying to decide on which shipping company based on cost, all of these companies have websites and you can compare prices on line before you ship. To obtain a cost estimate you will need to measure all three dimensions of your shipping box and weigh the box with the beer setting in it. If you donít have scales, a 12 ounce beer weighs approximately 20 ounces, a 22 ounce beer 36 ounces, and as 750 ml bottles 45+ ounces. Add 1 pound for small box and 2.5 for large one. If the person that you are trading with is willing to receive the beer you ship at work(I wouldnít be) shipping to a business address is cheaper than shipping the beer to a residence.
Anybody that trades much on RateBeer has a preference for one company or another which in many case is based on bad experiences with one of the other shippers. Shipping services can be good or bad service based to where you live from any of the shippers, for example FedEx may be better here, UPS better where you are. In addition to the three shippers mentioned some on RateBeer will use USPS for their domestic shipping. I usually donít, they are more expensive and in my opinion not as good. I base that on in part from a guy I lift weights with a guy who now works for USPS, but in the past has worked for UPS. He tells me that the equipment used to sort and direct packages at USPS is not nearly as good at performing these tasks without damaging the items as the equipment used at FedEx and UPS. Furthermore he told me that USPS has no interest in parcel mail. This makes sense to me since USPS is not profit motivated.
If you are trading with someone overseas itís a whole new ball game. Shipping cost are very expensive, but you can receive many beers you will not be able to get with out trading with one of our members overseas. If Iím trading with someone overseas, I use USPS, third class. It takes forever for the package to arrive at its destination (it can take every bit the 6 weeks they quote you and more!) and the package can not be tracked during shipping, but shipping costs are half of any method that Iíve found. The last time I shipped over seas it was to Sweden and the shipping cost to ship six bombers was about $45.
My final piece of advice about choosing a shipper is to go with the one you feel most comfortable with.
So now you are packaging the beer.
The absolute best way to package IMO is those Styrofoam wine shipping containers. If you ship bombers, no problem, small bottles need to be bubble wrapped so they donít move around in the container. Not only are these the safest way to ship beer, they are the easiest to package, and the containers can be reused by your trading partner to send beer back to you.
John has told me that he has shipped boxes that had four levels of Ratebeerianís return addresses on them. Iíve never bothered to count, but that seems to agree with my experiences, too. I will note that if you really want to make sure the beer is delivered, wrap the Styrofoam container in an appropriately large garbage bag and secure it against any leakage (yes, you must imagine the worst!), before you put it into the container. Most shipping companies will not deliver leaking packages, or it may sit in quarantine for a while before being delivered.
Locally, I donít know where to get Styrofoam wine shipping containers; so many times I donít use them, besides the fact that they are expensive. The best way to send a package without using wine shipping containers is to double box. By this I mean wrap you beer in bubble wrap, place it in a box filled with paper (heavy and not as compressible) or packaging peanuts (light and compressible). Shake the box, if you hear bottles clanking, consider repackaging! Then place the box in to another box, surrounded by packaging peanuts. Tape both boxes well so that they will not open up at either the top or the bottom. Double boxing may not be necessary for shipping six(light packages) or less beers, but if youíre package approaches 15 pounds or more GIVE IT STRONG CONSIDERATION.
None of the shipping companies Iíve dealt with will likely deliver a leaking package. Sometime they will return it to you (smells like bar carpet), and sometimes they will deliver it after it dries out or they will repackage it a deliver it wet. What they decide to do becomes a real crap shoot. Another thing Iíve found is the shape of the box you chose to ship with can affect your results. Thin boxes or boxes that hold the radius of one beer in one dimension of the box donít seem to work to well. Two theories: Either they end up on the bottom of the stack of boxes to be delivered or they are a convenient size to toss.
First thing you will need to do is pick out a drop-off location for your shipping company. Places such as Office Depot, etc can serve as a drop off location for one or more of the major shipping companies. I wonít use them, I go straight to one of the company run stores of the shipper. They are cheaper, donít ask as many questions(wonít reject if your package goes glug, glug), and offer one less opportunity for my beer to be broken or lost in shipment.
Another important step in shipping is deciding what to provide to the shipper as a description of what you are shipping. "Collectible glass" has been suggested here as a possible description. At FedEx the last time I provided collectible glass as a description, I ended up having to repackage the beer. Glass throws up flags and collectible glass, well you can guess. You are best to package well and call it books. Another one that Iíve also heard as a description is "live yeast samplesĒ. This hasnít happened yet, but I keep thinking that one of these packages wonít get delivered due to the shipper thinking itís a bio-hazard.
Another thing, many shippers ask for telephone numbers of the shipper and the person who is receiving the package. Provide it if you can, Iíve gotten several telephone calls from FedEx asking a question about a delivery. If you are the receiver (at least in my case) donít worry about giving me your telephone number. I spent all my money on beer and shipping, so I donít have any money to make prank telephone calls. Package your beer well; donít let breakage spoil your experience. If you are shipping overseas,be prepared to fill out a customs form. Donít say you are shipping alcohol, produce or anything hazardous unless you like to argue and have a lot of time on your hands. Also I usually claim that the beer I ship is an unsolicited gift on the custom forms. This can reduce the cost of import taxes, etc if the receiving custom agency decides to try to tax the beer you send. In any case, package well,make it a royal pain in the neck for them to open your package. It will help protect the beer from damage anyway, and hopefully discourage customs agents from doing their job.
One other cost consideration is choosing to accept shipping insurance (if you use USPS). Decline it, thank you. Hereís why: Both UPS and FedEx includes insurance in the shipping cost, but you will rarely collect, when you give a description of the item(s) damaged you will find that it is not covered in the insurance or even allowed to be shipped!
Tracking and Record Keeping
After youíve shipped, message a tracking number to the person youíve shipped to. Track it yourself. If itís late for delivery, call the shipping company. Most of the time if the shipment is late that indicates a problem. If you want to have any input into the solution of that problem you need to call them. Also, if they are late for a reason not involving the shipper or the package (at least with FedEx) shipping is FREE!! After youíve received a package (and I may be alone on this one) I think it is common courtesy to message the person, telling them what shape the package was in when it arrived and most importantly to thank them and write up a Delivery in the RateBeer trade forum(not as a topic). In the event you canít ship at the time youíd hoped to or expected to, message the person you are trading with and explain the situation. Most RateBeer people Iíve traded with are pretty understanding bunch if you give them a reason to be.
If you ship a lot you may want to open a FedEx, DHL or UPS account. I have one with FedEx. Itís free to open an account. By having an account dropping a package off is as simple as just handing it to the person at the drop-off location. I have never had them ask me any question about what the package contains. They bill the shipping cost straight to your credit card so you donít have to wait around while they weigh your package or anything. It is fast and easy. You can prepare all of the shipping information on line and they will give you a 10% discount. With a FedEx account, you can do some book keeping for you too, just enter the recipients name in your account and it is store for future reference and the package tracking number is entered in your account too! You will need a printer to print the shipping label to take advantage of this option. If you donít get to the point of opening an account, at least create your own spreadsheet where you track your trades. Have the other personís name, address & Rate Beer handle, along w/ the beers being traded, the tracking #ís and places to indicate when the beer was received. Once you start doing a lot of trading, itís an easy to track all the trades youíre doing. If you are like me and go to the same location every time, treat the people behind the desk like royalty. They can make you life a lot easier or much more difficult. Further, if the shipping company screws up they usually have nothing to do with it and are as frustrated about it as you are.
Bottling Beer to Trade
And the last piece of advice, skip this if you are afraid of hate mail, is about shipping beer that you have bottled yourself. Iíve had good luck with bottling so far, but Iíve always been nervous about it. Good companies have had bad luck at bottling, Iím remembering my last bottle of V10. First of all let me state this up front you must tell the person you are shipping this beer to your opinion of its quality pending your bottling process, tell them how you are going to bottle it, and lastly let them tell you they want it anyway. I will usually only bottle big beers or beer you would not care about a born on date. Prior to bottling, chill the beer to almost freezing, to prevent CO2 loss during bottling. I sterilize the bottle with bleach, rinse real well (if you can smell bleach at all keep on rinsing). Another way many people use to sterilize the bottles & caps is to put them in boiling water for a short period of time. After the bottles have been sterilized, siphon the beer from the growler using straight tube and a flexible tube connect to another straight tube and a spring loaded shut off valve. Supply for bottling can be purchased at your local home brewing shop. A slow siphon works best and will can prevent excessive foaming. A little foam is good to cap on, the foam is C02 and will displace air(containing oxygen) on top of the beer. Oxygen in the air can lead to oxidation. I (because I have it) purge the full bottle with CO2 prior to filling and prior to capping it. Very cold bottles work best. If you can, purge the gap between the beer and the top of the bottle with CO2. Cap immediately. If you donít have caps and/or a capper, you can use spring top bottles(also called easy caps) or a screw top bottle from a liquor, wine or soft drink bottle. In any case you should sterilize both the bottle and the cap.
And last if youíve followed my advice and it hasnít worked for you, donít message me, Enjoy Your Future Trading!
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