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11.2011

Massachusetts Beverage Business

archivedOnBeerReport

BEER, THE BLACK MARKET AND eBAY

Everyone knows that craft beers are hot. But these days they’re hot in another way: on the black market. People looking to make quick money are increasingly posting rare, limited-release brews on sites such as eBay for sale to the highest bidder. So high is demand for these beers that prices have been known to go up to $1OOO for a single bottle. The website’s alcohol policy explicitly forbids the sale of alcohol, except for pre-approved sales of wine, and eBay spokeswoman Amanda Coffee says the company “works with law enforcement and regulatory authorities to ensure listings are in compliance.” But as much as it angers brewers and law enforcement, sales continue, thanks to a loophole that allows the sale of “collectible containers” as long as sellers post an eBay-provided disclaimer, which states that “any incidental contents are not intended for consumption.” The disclaimer also notes that “the buyers and sellers ensure that the sale complies with all applicable laws” – even though many beer sales probably do not. But brewers are fighting back. This summer, San Diego’s Stone Brewing Co., whose rare Vertical Epic beers have been known to appear on eBay for more than $1OOO per bottle, began selling the first beer in its new Quingenti Millilitre series via a lottery system and people who are caught trying to resell it will be banned from future drawings. Belgium’s Cantillon Brewery, whose beers are considered the gold standard of the lambic style, shipped barrels of its annual Zwanze release to 2O beer bars spanning the globe from Finland to California to Japan. The beer was not sold in bottles, and all of the barrels were tapped on the same day, at the local equivalent of 3pm EST where possible, resulting in a synchronized event that discourages stockpiling and online sales. Jean Van Roy, Cantillon’s head brewer, came up with that plan after seeing that Zwanze 2O1O, which he sold for six euros per bottle, was soon going on eBay for 7O or 8O euros. And of course, there’s the spoilage factor. Some beers, such as hoppy India pale ales, quickly lose their vibrancy or go rancid when exposed to light and heat. Ultimately, though, what seems to upset brewers most is the fact that they are being exploited. Last year, Russian River Brewing Co. in California released Framboise for a Cure, a raspberry-flavored beer that it sold for $12 per bottle to raise money for a local breast cancer treatment center. The beer sold out in a day, and soon somebody sold a bottle on eBay for $4OO. Then someone else put one up for sale. “We contacted that person,” co-owner Natalie Cilurzo says, “and we said, ‘This is absolutely ridiculous, because we donated 1OO percent of this for charity.’” The seller didn’t budge. “The guy said, ‘I have to support my habit somehow.’” No, he didn’t mean drugs – he meant craft beer. That’s taking it to a new level entirely.

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