This spring, I attended a “Craft Beer Tasting and Trading Party.” It was held at a friend’s house in Connecticut and the rules were simple. Bring high quality, hard-to-find, local craft beers to taste and trade—or hang your head in shame. It was kind of like an underground scene in Fight Club–only instead of blood and fist fights, it was beer and tasting cups.
While we were packing our cooler with Sand City and Other Half, my cell phone dinged. It was a text from Joe Ciardullo, proprietor of Craft at C’est Cheese in Port Jeff. It showed a picture of his trunk neatly lined with cardboard cases full of amazing beer. Beautiful, shiny cans of Trillium, Tree House, and Alchemist stared back at me from my phone. Naturally, I was jealous and demanded to know how he got his hands on them.
As it turns out, Joe was on a road trip trading some of his own personal stockpile of craft beers with some recreational “runners” in the Northeast. And, no, I’m not talking about fitness buffs. I’m talking about people who love to hunt for elusive beers and trade them with other craft beer aficionados.
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“There’s a whole generation of people, usually retired folks, who love the challenge and scavenger hunt aspect of obtaining obscure beers,” says Joe. “When I texted you, I had just met up with some runners and the entire family–grandparents included–waited on line at Tree House to buy beer to trade with me.”
Runners exist because once a brewery gets placed at the top of a “best beer” list, their beers become highly sought after. Unfortunately, the breweries don’t distribute outside of a small area from where they brew. This is why craft beer culture has turned into a trade format. No money is exchanged; people just trade cans. It’s a unique concept that enables enthusiasts to get their hands on new beers.
“It’s now a world where cans of beer have more value than any form of currency,” Joe muses. But when you’re paying upwards of $40.00 for a 4-pack, this hobby isn’t cheap. “Elusive beer is becoming worth more than an actual dollar bill, especially when breweries put a limit on how many items one person can purchase.”
The limits may be frustrating, but they’re necessary. A brewery can only produce so much beer, so they spread it out to expose to their products to as many people as possible. If there weren’t limits, a diehard fan would clear out the entire inventory in one purchase. But this is why runners enlist the help of friends and family in the first place: more bodies on line equals more beer to trade.
“These beers have real value now,” says Joe. “Even I do it. I know that I need to have something fresh and unique to trade if I want something from Tired Hands, Monkish or Bottle Logic. Money doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s pretty wild.”
So why have craft beer lovers become fixated on acquiring the latest, greatest, unknown beers? One would guess that it’s a combination of a true passion for the industry along with a little bit of notoriety mixed in. Plus, when fueled by apps like Untappd that encourages users to try new beers to obtain badges and check-ins, people become consumed with building up their tasting profiles. As the popularity of craft beer continues to soar, this new sub-culture of beer advocates will go to great lengths to get their hands on their favorite beers.
“Unique beers are what drive a craft beer person. Myself included,” Joe says. “When I want a beer to drink, I’m never looking for something that I drank the day before. I always reach for something new. Even though some core brands continue to do well years later like Heady Topper, and Julius or Haze, people are always wondering ‘What’s next?'”