Trade Beer Better: A Guide

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All beer traders worry about the safety of their beer mail. Nothing is worse than expecting a box full of delicious beers and instead receiving a wet box full of broken glass. For this reason, when first starting to trade, beer-trading 101 is all about how to properly package and ship your beer. For those who are all too familiar with taping the tops, wrapping individual bottles in plastic bags, etc., and looking for advanced tips to better your trading game, this article is for you. Think of this as the guide to advanced beer trading, where you will learn some tips to hopefully make your trading partners think, Wow, this trader really knows their stuff!
If you are new to trading and looking to learn the basics of packaging and shipping, you are also in luck because there are a lot of great articles available that go through the steps of how to pack and ship beer so as to avoid the disappointment of a failed trade. Mark Iafrate, one of the other co-founders of our trading website The Beer Exchange (BEX), put together a VERY detailed introduction to trading beer which can be found at this link.

Bubble Wrap Bottles To Prevent Breakage
After understanding the basics of how to package and ship beer properly, you can really focus in on how to be a better, dare I say great, beer trader. This article focuses on the little things not often covered in trading guides, all of which can go a long way and really make you stand out in the beer trading world.
BEX Trade Tip #1: Send Beer In Its Prime
A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a very good friend who owns a distribution company specializing in craft beer. She is a big fan of trading, but expressed concern about quality control. From a brewery or distribution standpoint, when done properly, trading can be a great way to get their name out and build demand in a market that they might not currently be distributed in. On the other hand, bad trading can also give a poor first impression. The last thing a brewery wants is to have someones first impression of their highly sought after double IPA be left over from last years road trip which has been sitting in an 80 degree room, and quite literally falling apart.
Just as a trader should be mindful of timely shipping of beers received directly from a brewery, they should also check bottling dates when buying from retail locations. Some stores have high turnover of their products, but many are not immune to old beer sitting on the shelves. For example, just last week, I stopped into a small bottle shop with a great selection. I found a beer that I had been actively searching for, but on the cap it had a best by date of 3/2014. Personally, for most beers, I tend to take best by dates with a grain of salt, but I believe they are essential on IPAs and other beers that are meant to be enjoyed fresh.
This beer in particular was a blonde ale from Spain which was brewed using rosemary and honey. I still bought it despite it being over a year old, and it was still a beautiful beer. However, I dont believe it tasted as intended. The nose and taste were predominately honey, with only faint hints of rosemary. Given how similar rosemary is to hops in terms of composition and presence of volatile yet highly aromatic essential oils, it only makes sense that, just as hops fade with age, so would rosemary. The beer was not ruined by any means, but you could just tell that it was different than the way the brewer intended it to taste.
I go deeper into aging beer, such as which beers to age and which are better enjoyed fresh, in a previous article written for HomeBrewTalk. The takeaway is that hop oils break down the way your relationship with your trade partner will if you send them a bunch of old IPAs. If you are trading hop forward beers, be sure and check the dates to ensure that you are sending fresh beers in their prime. Better yet, many traders on The Beer Exchange include dates in the details section of their available beers. Knowing which beers to send out fresh will not only impress your trading partners, it will also ensure you are properly representing your favorite breweries. If no dates are listed and you are concerned about the freshness of the beer, best to confirm with your trade partner.

BEX Trade Tip #2: Coffee In Beer Changes Over Time
Another popular ingredient in beer that people dont necessarily think about changing with age is coffee. According to Bobby Hernandez, owner of Recreational Coffee in Long Beach, California, In order to get a lot of coffee flavor in beer, most breweries grind the beans before pitching them. By grinding the beans you are increasing the extraction rate, which is great for getting more coffee flavor into the beer. But, as soon as you grind the coffee, you increase its exposure to oxygen, which causes oils contributing to its aroma to change. Based on this principle, it would seem that aging beers with coffee might have a detrimental effect. However, despite the initial changes in the coffee, many dark malt, higher ABV beers brewed with coffee have the potential to age beautifully.

Coffee Flavors Can Change Dramatically Over Time
To dive deeper into the coffee-in-beer discussion, I reached out to Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting. Michael runs the Uppers and Downers Coffee Beer Festival and, as you can imagine, is a big fan of coffee beers. One beer that stood out in his mind was a 2012 Bourbon County Breakfast Stout which was brewed with Intelligentsia La Tortuga Beans and clocks in at 13.4%. This beer was over 3 years old when he last tried it and had changed dramatically. "I remember someone trying the beer and sending it back thinking it was the wrong beer. While the roasted flavor of the coffee was gone, it had given way to underlying fruity aromas of bright raspberry." He went on to say that "much of how coffee ages in beer depends on the type of coffee one uses. If you use a bean with more fruity notes, such as an Ethiopian bean, overtime the fruit will become more pronounced as the roasted chocolatey notes fade. If you use a dark roasted South American coffee without many undertones, you may lose a majority of the flavor over time."
The bottom line is that coffee changes in beer over time. Younger beers will have a more traditional roasted coffee flavor, while older beers may take on more subtle notes associated with coffee. Many traders many not realize this, and be confused when a coffee beer does not taste as expected. The best way to avoid confusion is to indicate dates in your for trade details so that your trading partner knows what they are getting.
BEX Trade Tip #3: When Sending Aged Beer, Make Sure It Was Stored Properly
Be Sure To Cellar Aged Beer Properly
Not all beers need to be consumed fresh. Many people specifically trade for beers that are intended to age, which is a great way to get your hands on some outstanding older beers like the Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien, one of my personal favorites. If you are going to send aged beer, PLEASE make sure it has been cellared properly in terms of orientation, temperature, and lighting (or lack thereof). Last year, during the Shelton Brothers Festival in Long Beach, California, I spoke with Ron Extract from Jester King Brewery in Austin, Texas about aging beer. States Ron, It probably goes without saying, but cellaring should always be done at proper cellar temperature. Storing beer too warm will hasten the development of off-flavors and storing it too cold will reduce any positive flavor development that might otherwise take place. Beers without corks should be stored upright, so as not to allow for long-term contact between the beer and the crowns, or to allow for uneven pressure on the crowns over time. Beer with corks, on the other hand, tend to be best stored either horizontally or at an angle that will keep the corks moist.

BEX Trade Tip #4: Become A Part Time Meteorologist
Always check the weekly forecast before you ship out beer mail. If you are going to be sending beer to Maine in January, try not to send it on a week when the average temperature is -20 degrees. The last thing that you (and your trade partner) want is for your beer to show up frozen, which can happen. The same concept goes for summer. If you are sending beer to Southern California, avoid days where it will be 100 degrees plus outside. Many trades cover long distances over the course of multiple days, and everything that happens between destinations is unknown, including the temperature of the storage conditions along the way. You dont let your beer sit in a hot room, so try and prevent it from sitting in a hot warehouse or delivery truck. Many retail locations that ship beer and wine will hold off shipping to wait for more temperate weather depending on the season, with some stores even waiting months to ship. While weather is unpredictable and outside of our control, it is something to be aware of, and taking the extra step to check the forecast will help ensure a successful trade and a happy trading partner.
BEX Trade Tip #5: Communication Is Key
As many versed traders already know, the trading community is based on trust. You take a leap of faith in sending beer to someone and trusting that they are going to return the favor. Unfortunately, despite our best intentions, sometimes life gets in the way of trading. If something does delay your shipment or come up, keep the lines of communication open! Since The Beer Exchange launched over a year ago, we have had thousands of trades go through the site and can count the number of bad trades on one hand. Most of the issues that did come up stemmed from someone not communicating well with their trading partner, and we have found that most traders are very understanding as long communication is present.
BEX Trade Tip #6: Send Growlers, But Do So At Your Own Risk
Growler shipping gets tricky, mainly because you are shipping beer that was not made to last. Growlers are meant to be consumed as fresh as possible. There are a lot of things going against trading growlers, one of which is that in the process of filling a growler, the beer is mixed with a lot of oxygen. With that being said, sometimes the benefit of obtaining special-release, brewery-only beers outweighs the risks. If you are going to trade growlers, Matt Olesh, Director of Retail Operations for The Bruery in Placentia, California stresses, Clean your growler! Very few breweries will clean and sanitize your growler for you. Do yourself a favor and keep some Star San or comparable sanitizer handy. This can be purchased from any homebrew shop and will ensure a microbe-free container for filling.
Here are some of Matts additional growler tips:
  • Insulate and chill - From the minute the growler leaves the brewery until it reaches its final destination, keep the growler chilled and insulated to reduce temperature fluctuations.
  • Rush - Allow the shortest time possible in transit. It's far better to pay more for shipping than to waste an entire growler of beer or misrepresent the brewer's creation. Poor treatment can turn a delicious growler fill into a disgusting disappointment.
  • Ship early in the week - Don't let the beer sit in a warehouse or truck over the weekend.
  • Have realistic expectations - If you're trading for delicate styles of growler fills, the beer you're drinking might not always be the same as the beer being served at the source.
  • Tape the top - Just an additional safety step to prevent leakage and ensure that oxygen does not get in.

BEX Trade Tip #7: Extras
When it comes to including extras in your trade, a lot of the time its best to let your trading partner know whether you are going to include extras or not. While you can still keep it vague and surprise them with awesome stuff, at the very least you should state whether or not you are going to include additional beers. Trading through The Beer Exchange eliminates some of the guesswork through our trade reviews, where past traders list whether the trader includes extras. Nothing is more awkward than not sending extras only to open up a box from a trade and see your trading partner from San Francisco included a couple of Plinys and some glassware. If you choose not to include extras thats fine, but just make sure your trading partner is aware, and that you guys are on the same page.

Include Some "Extras" In Your Beer Shipment
When thinking about what extras to add, think of yourself as an ambassador for your area, and remember that extras dont necessarily have to stop at beer. Since I live in Southern California, in addition to locally brewed extras, I like to include other local things I am proud of that represent my area. Think locally roasted coffee or homemade kumquat marmalade. In terms of beer extras, it is best to try and find out what type of beers your trading partner likes or tends to stay away from. If you are trading with someone that is into barrel aged beers and west coast IPAs, you dont want to automatically send out a sour that you think is awesome. Through The Beer Exchange, one can check out what other beers a trader is ISO (in search of), to try and figure out their style and then find local beers they may not have even heard of to include. In addition, many people enjoy sending and receiving homebrews, so if you do brew your own beer, definitely consider adding it in. Always remember to make sure the bottles are capped properly, and, as with all beers, take the time to wrap the tops with electrical tape for an added layer of security.

BEX Trade Tip #8: The Patrick Special
The Beer Exchange has thousands of great traders currently using the site, many of whom learn their tricks of the trade through experience. For our closing tip, I reached out to one of the top BEX traders, Patrick Elliot, who has been with us from the beginning and is about to break 100 trades through the site. His tip for traders new and experienced alike is simple, When including extras, make sure to use the distribution map to ensure the beer you are adding as an extra is not available where your trading partner is located.

The Beer Distribution Map Shows Whats Available
Our goal at The Beer Exchange is to make trading as easy as possible. Most members of HomeBrewTalk already have a very solid understanding of how to make and care for beer, and trading beer is no different. It takes some extra time to set up and pack beers properly for trade, but it will guarantee that everything makes it safely. I hope that these extra tips ensure successful trades and elevate your trading experience. The beer trading community is a great one, and The Beer Exchange is proud to be a part of it.

Luke W Schmuecker
Co-Founder @ The Beer Exchange
For more information on The Beer Exchange or to sign up for a free account, visit:
That beer with rosemary, I've had it fairly fresh and the rosemary was so overpowering it was like drinking gravy! You must have been better off by aging it a year or two!
At risk of's my method of preparing a 12 oz longneck for shipping. It seems a little overkill compared to the method noted above, but I think having the bubble wrap closest to the glass as opposed to doing the bag first reduces the risk of (god forbid...) broken glass cutting the bags. I double bag, just because.
From the 2012 Twelve Beers of Xmas thread:
A diaper would imo be a better way to package a beer which is being sent in the mail, or carried in a bag/suitcase or similar. It offers good protection and if the bottle breaks then the diaper will also absorb most of the contents of the bottle.
My bottle wrap consists of brown paper first. Then bubble wrap. Then closed in a gallon ziplock bag.
@JKaranka super interesting to hear! I definitely have nothing against aging would be interesting to have a couple to see how it progresses. Definitely faded but maybe for the better haha. Cheers.