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Trading from a Beer Wasteland

A quick overview
Craft Beer Introduction February 26, 2009      
Written by Soonah


I joined this site in March of 2006. I had been talking with a coworker who was better versed in the ways of hops and grains about what the world of craft beer had to offer. I was used to drinking mostly BMC type products and thought Sam Adams Lager was high end. I was truly ignorant as to just how expansive this movement was. He introduced me to Chimay Red and I discovered Boulevard’s Dry Stout was on tap at our local happy hour spot. It was after I started drinking those two beers that I found Ratebeer.com and started doing some research about what was available where I live, Tulsa, Oklahoma. After a brief search I bought a bottle of Rochefort 8 and a bomber of Oak Aged Yeti from Great Divide. Those two beers pushed me over the edge, I had to start trying everything I could get my hands on. I quickly realized that when one compares the Rate Beer Top 50 against the list of beers distributed to Oklahoma that there is quite a chasm. Sure I could rate everything I found in my local shops, but I feared it would quickly become repetitive and almost sad, knowing what great beer was out there, beyond the reach of the Sooner state and some of its arcane laws in terms of what can and can’t be sold here in terms of alcohol. Ever notice the little OK+ on your bottles? Take a look, if it’s distributed in Oklahoma, it has that stamped on it somewhere. It’s a preventative measure by our state legislature to prevent our residents from purchasing anything other than 3.2 ABW anywhere but in a licensed liquor store.

I decided that I couldn’t just accept the status quo, I was bound and determined to get my hands on some of this high end beer that wasn’t making its way to the shelves of the bottle shops in my town. I had two things to help me in my task, the first was the Beer Trade Forum on RateBeer, the second was the fact that I traveled for work on average once a month. Via the trade forum, I posted a pathetic thread in the trade forum practically begging some kind soul to show pity on my poor self. I got a response from a gentleman in Virginia who had the handle of “Immy”. He agreed to do a trade with me. A simple trade in which we swapped mixed six packs of products only available in our areas. When I got Tim’s box and opened it up my life was literally changed. Those of you who trade, even infrequently know what it’s like to open a box of new beers. We all act like Ralphie in A Christmas Story as we tear through boxes, bubble wrap, packing peanuts and newspaper to see what gifts have been bestowed upon us. My first ever trade landed me things like The Duck Rabbit’s Baltic Porter, Victory’s Storm King and Brooklyn’s Black Chocolate Stout. I couldn’t believe it. This was so cool. What an amazing network of people just like me were out there! I didn’t have to accept that the beers that were on the shelves were all I had to choose from, I could trade beers and get some of the world’s best beers. I realized quickly however that the products that were available in Oklahoma were either widely distributed (like Rogue, Great Divide and Flying Dog) or they were beers people weren’t clamoring to get. If I was going to trade on even a semi-serious level I was going to have to get beers from somewhere not called Oklahoma.

It just so happens that I travel for work. Once a month I head out to destinations all over the United States; from Long Beach to Orlando and Baltimore to San Francisco, I’m continually on the road and have learned how to incorporate my beer hobby into my work travel. I could scout out the locations of both bottle shops and pubs in the vicinity of the hotel I’d be staying at and in doing so, increase my exposure to more beers and I’d also have the opportunity to acquire beers that I could use in trades upon my return home. Long Beach is a city I visit three times a year. I’ve been staying at the same hotel for a decade now (which is located across the street from the Rock Bottom Long Beach, which is why this Okie is the top rater of that particular location) and it turns out there is a quaint little bottle shop only three blocks away the front entrance of my hotel. In the evening after I’m done working I’ll walk down to the shop, pick up 8 or 10 bottles of things I just can’t get at home, load them in a box and head back to my hotel, walking down the streets of Long Beach looking like, well a crazy guy carrying a box I suppose. I’ve even gone so far as to buy beer and have the shop owner drop ship bottles straight to my trade recipients.

OK, it’s great that I’ve got it, but how the hell am I going to get this stuff home? I can’t carry it on, I’m gonna have to pack it in my suitcase, roll it up in my clothes and hope it doesn’t break. It didn’t. It hasn’t. Knock on wood it never does. I quickly realize that my trusty black Samsonite garment bag didn’t offer me the protection against the possibility of broken bottles. I ditched it in favor of a standard, deeper suitcase that gave me more room to pack bottles into. Then I added the beer pillow. I am embarrassed to admit that somewhere along the road I “borrowed” a pillow from a hotel I was staying at and put in on top of my clothes and beer, zipped up the suitcase and had some nice added insulation. The beer pillow has been in my bag for over a year now. There have also been more than a few times when I slightly overbought while at a shop and had to enslave my coworkers into my tangled web of beer as I couldn’t fit it all in my bag or the added weight put me over the airlines’ 50 lb. per bag limit.

If a bottle shop is too far to walk to, I’ve been known to just hail a cab, give him the address and head out for a ride. I’ve gone from downtown St. Louis to a slightly shady shop so I could purchase some O’Fallon Whiskey Barrel Smoked Porter and Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout. I’ve borrowed a rental car in Milwaukee to make it over to Discount Liquor; which turned into a nice trade with acertain as I got a hold of some Tyranena products he was on the lookout for. Once I even offered a friend that I work with a steak dinner in exchange for him taking me to Knightly Spirits in Orlando in his rental car. The shop was nowhere near my hotel, but I was glad I made it as I got to meet Solan, a true ambassador of the craft beer movement. I also picked up some great bottles while I was there which I turned into a trade with another great member, IrishBoy. Richard turned loose of what is one of my all time favorite beers, Firestone Walker 10 in exchange for several of the bottles I picked up while in Florida.

Another town I acquire bottles in is Baltimore, Maryland, which I visit two to three times a year. I’m a big fan of Max’s; if you’re in the area or will be visiting soon it’s definitely worth a visit. Although their prices are beyond retail levels, they’re really cool about letting me take bottles with me and I just can’t resist it when I see rarities from Mikkeller, Nogne O, Nils Oscar and countless other imports that I’m never going to see at my shops back home. Yeah there’s nothing like walking out of a bar with an armload of beers, diving into a cab and heading back to my hotel to pack up my new trade bait, carry it home and start working on the next trade.

One person I also need to say thank you to is my Mom. Thanks Mom! She lives just outside of Ft. Worth, Texas, and even though Texas is by no means a beer Mecca, it definitely has plenty of things not available here that I often con her into bringing with her when she drives up. She often shows up with beers from bigger brewers like Dogfish Head and Stone as well as smaller, regional breweries like Rahr and St. Arnold.

While I don’t rate as fast as some and don’t trade as frequently as others, I’ve never gotten discouraged over the fact that the beers in my home state are only average. I just decided to take advantage of the fact that if I have to be on the road I might as well make the most of it.



notmarr2000 says:

Enjoyable article. Sort of depressing to me as I'll never have the travel opportunities you do and will have to settle for what Oklahoma offers. However, the fact that the beer selection is vastly improved from even 10 years ago gives me more than enough beers to quaff. I do envy your opportunity to try new beers. (OhU1)

158 months ago
BMan1113VR says:

Great article John. Glad to have traded with you too!

158 months ago
BeerVirgin72 says:

Very nice article!

158 months ago
KnutAlbert says:

Than you, a really good read! I travel alot in Europe, and try to do the same, although bottle shops are often hard to find.

158 months ago
yngwie says:

Nice story. Seems like living in OK is similar to living in Norway, at least beer wise.

158 months ago
Cletus says:

Great read and something anyone on this site who lives in a beer wasteland should read!

159 months ago
3fourths says:

Very cool. I spent my formative years (beer-wise) living in Oklahoma so I can certainly relate. Thankfully things are much better now down south compared to six years ago.

159 months ago
theisti says:

Great article, fun read!

159 months ago
mctous says:

My first duty station was Ft. Rucker, Alabama, another beer-challenged location. Ironically, the German Army liaison provided me the first good beer I'd had down there, from a keg directly imported from Munich. After Budweiser, etc., this beer was a revelation. I've been seeking out good beer ever since.

159 months ago

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start quote I feared it would quickly become repetitive and almost sad, knowing what great beer was out there, beyond the reach of the Sooner state and some of its arcane laws end quote