Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tips for packaging and trading beer.

So you want to start trading?

1. General Trading Info and Advice
2. Extras
3. Getting Started
4. Abbreviations & Acronyms
5. What are BIFs and how do they work?
6. How to package beer...
7. Useful Tips
8. Links

General Info and Advice
First thing first: Start small. I know you keep seeing threads about how awesome Westy 12, Darklord, and Hunaphu's are... You need to understand that you probably won't get those on your first trade. Many people trade beer away at face value for the $ amount purchased-- while others add an intrinsic value to rarity, limited production, vintages, and distribution. If only 65 bottles are released, expect to trade more than face value to land it-- in fact, several beers like this will only be landed by offering up other RARE beers. (There are some awesomely generous Ba's out there that will hook people up, but for the most part, even $45 of your off the shelf stuff won't land a BA Hunaphu!).

This brings me back to my initial point: Start small. You may want to try Darklord-- but maybe trade for other Three Floyd's beers first. It lets you get a feel for the brewery and see how they take on styles of beer. A good way to start would be something akin to:
FT- Southern California locals -- ISO- Off the shelf Three Floyds stuff
In the body of the thread, make mention of what beers you have available and what beers you would REALLY be interested in. I personally started like this and it lead to 2 absolutely amazing regular trading partners. If you are a good trading partner then the other guy would probably WANT to trade with you again... including following the next Dark Lord Day.

When you are new, expect to ship first. This is a community of people that trade based on reputation. When you're new, you have no reputation or references. You need to complete a few trades to get the ball rolling. I know it seems like a catch-22: How do I get trading experience when no one wants to trade with some one with no experience? There are lots of people that will set something up with the provision that you ship first. Don't be offended. To that regard, check THEIR references too! Just because some one lists 25 names in their profile doesn't mean they are a good trader-- sadly, their are cheaters, scammers, and liars hiding in wait. After a completed trade, please list the other user name in your profile page. Currently it is the only tool we have as traders to publicly list our past trades.

Don't over-extend yourself. This point is crucial, so it warrants repetition: Don't spread yourself too thin. Trading gets costly. Suddenly you'll find yourself grabbing 6 bottles of a beer instead of just 1. The shipping costs add up too. Before you know it, you'll blow through a couple hundred bucks like it was nothing... So start off slow. Don't try to make 8 trades at a time. Don't trade for a beer and have that one already planned to head out in a box to some one else. It is all too easy for a house of cards like that to come crashing down. When you get started-- seriously, 1 or 2 trades at a time. We have seen many "good traders" disappear owing other people boxes because they fell victim to this pitfall. Once again-- trading is a fun hobby, but like any hobby, it can't use up more of your income than you can afford.

Let's talk about extras... Extras are, well, extra. They are not required, but generally are included by most traders. Extras are a very fun part of trading. There are few things better than opening up a box and being surprised by a beer you didn't expect. People who don't include extras are not bad traders. If the box arrives containing the agreed upon beers, then good for you. If some one outdoes you in terms of extras, 2 great things you can do would be to "pay it forward" to your next trading partner or setup a 2nd trade with the original partner and go above and beyond in return. Personally, I try to think of extras like tipping. Extras are pretty much the norm, and not getting extras in a box is a rare occurrence. You can avoid hurt feelings by simply telling your partner (while setting up a trade) that you can't really toss in any extras this time around. If some one is cool, friendly, and easy-to-deal-with, I will generally toss in a few more extras. If they aren't... well... That brings us to profile lists.

Almost every trader keeps a list of past trades in their profile. It is an easy way to keep a list of past trades, as well as provide potential traders a list of your references. Check people's references! Many people have one list, "Excellent traders:" (Excellent may be replaced with any number of superlative adjectives, but the concept is the same-- "This is a list of people with whom you should trade!") If some one is a jerk, rude, bossy, inflexible, greedy, a poor communicator, slow to ship out, or otherwise intolerable to deal with-- feel free to list them as a "Completed trade," and not as an "Amazing trader!" Currently, the profile lists are the only feedback tool we have-- so be honest if people ask you for feedback on another user. If some one is rude/unfriendly, poor with communication, or slow/hesitant to ship... but they toss in a Black Tuesday as an extra-- I probably still won't want to trade with them again (although I might just to repay the kindness!) Despite the generous extra, I may still list this user as a "completed trade" instead of a "guy I want to trade with again." When trading beer through the anonymity of the internet, our word and reputation is all we have to go on. A big part of that is communication.

In my opinion, there is no such thing as "too much communication." Some people may indicate that only 3 messages are needed to make a trade: well I disagree. This is the MINIMUM level of communication--
A few messages to set up the terms of the trade (however many it takes)
Another message to recap the trade and swap addresses (lots of beers may have been mentioned in negotiations, a quick recap "I send this, you send this" clears up a lot)
Another message with a tracking number and shipping info
And finally a message upon receipt of the package.

Getting Started
First getting started:
My suggestion to brand new traders is to check ULINE or UHAUL and order a styro-shipper to use in your first few trades. After you get a few boxes from experienced traders, you will have an easier time judging proper packaging techniques.

If you know anyone that orders wine-- ask them for their boxes... Most people just toss them out and would be happy to give them to you for free. Or check out specialty wine stores in your area as some places will have these boxes available.
I also tend to ask businesses for empty boxes. Electronics stores seem to get in sturdy/double-walled boxes.

My favorite boxes are the DOUBLE-WALLED boxes available from ULINE
There is a section coming up on how to package beer-- so check there for more information. Jump to: How to package beer...

It may take a few days to get a box that you order, but once you have some boxes, you're ready to hit the forums and start looking for trades.

Abbreviations and Acronyms
You can't really get started until you know what the hell people are saying on the forums... So let's talk about abbreviations for a minute:
Beer Trading
BIF - Beer it Forward
CIF - Chalice it forward
DONG - draft only no growler
FT - for trade
GIF - growler it forward
IP - in person
ISO - in search of
LIF - Lottery it Forward
NBO - New BIF Opportunity
TACO - Ticker Ale of Compromised Origin (handbottle)

Barrel Aged/Barrels
BA - Barrel aged
bal - barrel aged
bbal - bourbon barrel aged
BT - buffalo trace bourbon
EC - elijah craig bourbon
HH - heaven hill bourbon
JD - jack daniels whiskey
MM - maker's mark bourbon
PVW - pappy van winkle bourbon

LNBA - Late Night Beer Advocate

Beers and Breweries
001 - 008 (Lost Abbey Veritas Series)
3F - 3 Fonteinen
BBC - Berkshire Brewing Company OR Boston Beer Company (sam adams) OR Bluegrass Brewing Company
BBCS - Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
BBVD - Big Black Voodoo Daddy
BCBCS - Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout
BCBRS - Bourbon county Brand Rare Stout
BCBVS - Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout
BCS or BCBS - Bourbon County Brand Stout
BT - Black Tuesday
CBC - Cambridge Brewing Company
CdC - Cuvee De Castleton
CdT - Cuvee de Tomme
CL - Capt. Lawrence
CR - Chocolate Rain
CW BBBW - Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Barleywine
DDG- Duck Duck Gooze
DL - Dark Lord
FBS - Founders Breakfast Stout
FF - Fifty/Fifty (brewery) or Flaming Fury
FfaC - Framboise for a Cure
FFF - Three Floyds
GB - Ghandi Bot
GI - Goose Island
IP - Isabelle Proximus
(BA)IST - (Barrel Aged) Imperial Stout Trooper
KBS/CBS - Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout/Canadian Breakfast Stout
KtG - Kate the Great
LA - Lost Abbey
LH - Left Hand
NEBCO - New England Brewing Company
PiaPT - Partridge in a Pear Tree
PT - Pretty Things
PtE - Pliny the Elder
PtY - Pliny the Younger
RR - Russian River
SA - Sam Adams (occasionally used for St. Arnold)
(BA)SC - (Barrel Aged) Sexual Chocolate
VF - Victor Francenstein
WnB - Wake - n Bake - Terrapin Coffee Oatmeal Stout

New acronyms are always possible, so if you think of any that are missing from this list-- shoot me a message and let me know. Thanks to ShogoKawada and AleLovinRuskie for their help composing and organizing this list.

What are BIFs and how do they work?

BIFs-- how do they work?
Quite simply really.
In a "shotgun BIF," People sign up to be involved and then are assigned a target to ship to. The box you ship must meet the minimum ounce requirement and follow the rules of the BIF (ie- include a glass, shirt, candy, schwag, etc). Everybody ships (and ideally receives) their boxes around the same time.
  1. you sign up to join the BIF
  2. you send a message to the creator (host) with your name, address, phone number, shirt size, and any other important info (Any vacation plans that may be an issue, you're favorite and least favorite styles, etc)
  3. you fill out your wants and gots to make it easier for your target to pick beers
  4. you get assigned a target. Check their wants and gots and try to find some beers that you think they'd enjoy and don't have access to.
  5. before the shipping deadline you ship out a box to that person. Drop hints in the "hints and hauls thread.
  6. you get a box from some one else. Post the list of contents (include a picture if possible) in the "Hints and Hauls" thread.

In a "traditional BIF," The BIF host will pick a user to ship to and then they will cross their name off the sheet and ship a box to a user of their choosing. This pattern continues until the host receives the final box and the BIF ends.
Or, in step by step directions:
  1. Sign up for the BIF.
  2. Make sure your gots/wants are up to date
  3. Send the host all if the pertinent info mentioned in rule 2 above.
  4. The host ships out a box and starts the train. His receiver then picks a target out of the remaining members on the list and sends out a box. This continues until the creator gets the final box and the BIF ends.

Here are some tips for BIFs:
  • "Minimum ounces" is really just the MINIMUM! BIFs are great ways to meet new trading partners-- either the guy you ship to may want to trade or some one saw the haul of what you sent and wants to work something out...

  • The fact that BIFs are done in public means it's a chance to show your generosity.

  • Whenever possible, post pics of your haul! Listing the contents is great, but a picture says a thousand words! Posting the list AND the pic is nice because then you can mention which beers were off your want list.

  • If you're in a traditional BIF, make sure to keep the box moving! Try your best to get a box out within 7-10 days of receiving. Update the hints thread to let the others know of your progress! Waiting for a beer release is cool... But don't let it wait too long-- you can always send a note with the box that you'll send a bottle or two late!
  • If, for whatever reason, you are too busy to handle sending out a box, BM the guy shipping out (around the time he receives) and let him know that you don't want to get a box at the moment. Although no one will ever really know you requested this, we will all thank you for it!

How to package your beer for shipping.

How do we pack up the beer?
Many people have different styles-- but the principal is always the same: Pack the box so the beer arrives safely. It really is that simple. If you think it isn't packed well-enough, then it probably isn't packed well-enough. Here's some great supplies to grab that will make the job easier:

filler material

stretch wrap/plastic film

double-walled box

Using a styro-shipper box:

To avoid the sound of styro rubbing on styro (a dead give away of the box type, especially if you live in a big wine area), place tape on the top and bottom of the styro halves.

Place bubble wrap, peanuts, or newspaper into chamber.
Place bottle inside.

Take newspaper and roll it up. Create a donut from this rolled up paper and form a ring around the bottle. This keeps the bottle from rattling around.

Keep in mind that beer bottles are slightly smaller than wine bottles, so you'll need to put some filler in the top and the bottom of each chamber to keep the bottle from moving around too much. After the bottle are in place, fill in the gaps on the outside of the styro, this will help minimize sound.

Lacking a styro box, you'll need to get more creative... I almost always use double-thick or double-walled cardboard boxes. A good box is your first line of defense against damage. Here is a picture of a good strong box-- and here is an example of me double boxing a shipment.

Wrap each bottle in a sheet of bubble wrap-- but DON'T tape the bubble wrap! Use rubberbands or stretch film! Lay or stand the bottles inside the box (pictues show bottles being layed on side in alternating directions)

Make sure that no part of a glass bottle comes into direct contact with the side of the box or another bottle.

As pictured- when laying bottles down, I like to lay a sheet of bubble wrap to separate each layer or bottles.

Once the inner-carton is packed up, put 2 inches of peanuts/bubble wrap in your outer-carton. place the inner-carton inside and fill in the sides and top with more peanuts. Think of the peanuts like a crumple zone on a car. Over-pack the box with peanuts so that it doesn't close easily (it will create a slight bubble on the top), this will ensure there's enough packing material.

  • wrap each bottle individually in bubble wrap or bubble pack envelope.

  • fill inner carton with bottles.

  • outer carton should offer 1-2 inches on all sides of empty space which you fill with peanuts, newspaper, or bubblewrap.

  • the easiest boxes to use for double boxing, in my opinion, are the standard 12 bomber boxes that you pick up at a liquor store. These are the perfect inner cartons with a dimension of approximately 12x12x10. These fit PERFECTLY inside of a 14x14x14 box that you can pick up almost anywhere boxes are sold.

Useful Tips
Here are some of the best tips I've come across:

  • Setup a shipping account with FedEx or UPS online. This lets you print you labels at home so you can just drop off the boxes. Also, a 10% discount from published rates is standard.

  • The sloshing sound of liquid in bottles can be a problem-- two options: mask the sound or explain the sound. Some people drop pennies, rice, beans, tic-tacs, etc into the box to create a rattle sound and cover the sound of sloshing. Other people create fake businesses: Phil's Sno-Globe Emporium, Mike's Aquatic Supplies and pH Testing, Jeff's Vitamin Supply Shop, Bill's BBQ Sauce Co, Nate's Olive Oil, etc. These names being in the shipper info would certainly explain any sloshing sound to a nosy employee. Some people go so far as to order free business cards for their phony company to tape onto the outside of the box.

  • Tons of boxes get delivered without covering or explaining the sloshing sound, and many users will tell you that either approach is unnecessary. Personally I'm of the mindset that it certainly won't HURT your chances of a box arriving safely, and if it helps even once, then it was completely worth it. For the record, standing all the bottles upright inside the box will minimize sloshing sounds... Laying them down, pointing different directions will create more sloshing sound.

  • Bottles have the potential to leak. People have many ways to help this potential problem: Electrical tape around the crown of the bottle, zip-lock bags around each bottle, contractor bags around entire shipments... Or a combination of all of those. I generally do not tape my bottles-- and out of 1000+ bottles sent/received, only 1 has leaked. Still though, this is a good practice. The BEST tape I have found is by 3M/Scotch: 130C Linerless Rubber Splicing Tape. It is amazing. A good substitute is the ACE brand "rubberized splicing tape." It should be about $5 or $6 per roll, but totally worth it.

  • Write the tracking number and the shipping date on the outside of the box. Occasionally a label will rip off, become marred, or be ruined. Having the shipping number handy means that employees can reprint a label WITHOUT opening the box. Make sure to clearly mark it to prevent any confusion. :
"Ship Date: 10.23.2010"
"Tracking number 1Z6913650365468972"
  • Another option here is simply to print 2 copies of your shipping label-- tuck one inside the box. In the event the box needs to be opened up, the label will be the first thing an employee finds.

  • Only use "clean boxes." This means that ALL old labels need to be removed or blacked out with sharpie.

  • If there is a problem with shipping, DO NOT PANIC. You won't be hauled off to jail, or waterboarded in Guantanamo Bay. Some times boxes get loaded in the wrong truck. Sometimes cars, planes, or trains breakdown and the packages get delayed. Sometimes a driver can't find an address or a storm comes in and the drivers are ordered off the street. Give it some time. The shipping companies deliver millions of packages on-time everyday-- let them try to do their job.

  • Use rubber bands, saran wrap, or masking tape when you wrap the bottles in bubble wrap. Don't tape up the bottles with packaging tape-- it ruins the packing supplies and prevents re-using them. DO NOT use packaging tape on bubble wrap!

  • Tape up your boxes with lots of tape-- it is cheap, whereas replacing a box is not! Make sure to go over the bottom of the box as well, lots of guys forget about the bottom when they tape the hell out of the top!


Beer trading Ettiquette
Beer Trading General Help and Trade Chat Forum
Styro Shippers from uline
Double-walled boxes from uline
Nickd717's beer distribution chart
UrbanCaver's BIFer Classification guide
Though not recognized or sanctioned by Ba, levifunk has compiled a list of questionable traders. Check it or don’t, the tool is available.
Bad Trader List
This site has some great information (as well as being the inspiration for me to write this):
Goliath's Blog

If you have any questions, suggestions, or other info,
BM me: AleWatcher


  1. Great blog. Wish I had read this before my first trade!

  2. Anybody wonder if this blog will still get linked to new traders now that Alewatcher has gone the way of so many other great BAs?

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  4. I found you blog based on Urbancaver linking to it. You have put together great beer trading tips. Thank you

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  5. This is PERFECT!!! So, my cousins birthday is coming up in two weeks and hes turning 21! I won't be able to make it to the party and I feel really bad about it. So I thought I would send some beer to him. Its been hard trying to figure out the shipping ontario for it. I've never done this before but I'm excited to try this and see how it works!

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