The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

December 7, 2013

Craze for coveted craft brews creates black market

LEWISBURG — MONTPELIER, Vt. — Fancy a pint of Pliny the Elder or Heady Topper double India pale ales, but can’t find it in your neighborhood? Get out your wallet.

As craft brews gain an intense following, a black market bloomed in which opportunists sell for hundreds of dollars top-rated beers that are hard to find, in short supply, expensive or illegal to ship.

In Vermont, a Burlington woman was charged recently with selling five cases of the popular Heady Topper beer for $825 on Craigslist, which brought about mixed feelings for its brewer.

“It’s a compliment in an odd way,” said Jen Kimmich, owner of The Alchemist brewery in Waterbury, which produces Heady Topper. The hoppy concoction, which retails for $3 a can and $72 a case, was recently ranked No. 1 by Beer Advocate magazine out of the top 250 beers in the world.

“But at the same time,” she added, “we don’t want to see the consumer being cheated by paying too much and getting a product that hasn’t been taken care of properly.”

The beer is so popular that The Alchemist recently closed its retail shop in Waterbury, Vt., to appease neighbors concerned about traffic. In the weeks since, a half a dozen posts have appeared on Craigslist — including from southern California, Chicago, and Boston — clamoring for the stuff. Craigslist did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Beer geeks often trade coveted craft brews with no money changing hands to get hard-to-find beers that may only be sold in certain states or countries, in limited amounts or are only in draft form.

To get them might require a beer mule, who will transport the brews to the consumer, or someone who will buy them from the brewery and ship them, said Joe Tucker, executive director of the RateBeer website.

“It’s done because the rarity of these releases, the prestige of these releases is a huge driver,” he said.

Plenty of trading is done illegally, which RateBeer tries to discourage, he said. He said he once got an unsolicited shipment labeled the Belgian Coffee Company that contained the site’s highest-rated beer.

The practice of trading beer doesn’t bother most brewers. But buying beer, marking up the price and selling it is another matter. It’s illegal in the U.S. to sell alcohol online without a license.

Yet at least hundreds of posts daily last year on eBay offered hard-to-get beers at astronomical prices, said Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner and president of Russian River Brewing, in Santa Rosa, Calif. She spotted the brewery’s flagship Pliny the Elder, which sells for $5 a bottle, going for between $15 and $50, and its discontinued Toronado anniversary beer, which sold for about $25 at the brewery, being auctioned for about $700 last year.

“It was out of control,” she said. “People were running liquor stores on eBay without any accountability.”

She cited the steps that her company took that black market sellers are skipping: acquiring liquor and business licenses, paying sales, property and other taxes and selling responsibly. She pointed out the dangers of selling to minors online or the questions of who would be responsible if a drunk driver who’d bought beer sold illegally online killed someone.

She decided she had to stand up for the breweries.

“It was not just our beer but a lot of our friends’,” she said. “And I really felt like I needed to be an advocate for everybody.”

She went to state regulators, who set up a meeting with eBay. She said eBay was unaware of the practice but committed to ending it. EBay responded to an interview request by referring to its site, which says that it doesn’t allow any container with alcohol, even if it’s considered collectible.

While brewers and states might not have the resources to police illegal sales online, beer lovers are doing their part.

“We have a lot of consumers out there that really care about our brewery as well as many other breweries, and they’re really kind of our ambassadors, if you will,” Cilurzo said. “And they’ll notify us if they see something strange online.”

1
Text Only
News
  • 1obamanew.jpg Conflicting rulings on Obamacare

    A federal appeals court has delivered a serious setback to President Barack Obama’s health care law, potentially derailing subsidies for many low- and middle-income people who have bought policies.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • bearden9.jpg Bail reduced for Bearden

    Jasmine Bearden, who was arrested earlier this year on criminal attempted homicide charges for the alleged abuse of her six-week old baby, had her bail reduced in Union County on Tuesday morning.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • US airlines scrap Israel flights

    Two U.S. airlines cancelled all flights to Israel until further notice, after a rocket landed near Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.

    July 22, 2014

  • 1flag.jpg Mysterious white flags appear atop Brooklyn Bridge

    Someone has replaced two American flags on the Brooklyn Bridge with mysterious white flags.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • bass22.jpg Mifflinburg honors its national fishing champs

    MIFFLINBURG — More than 50 friends, fans and relatives gathered in front of Mifflinburg Area High School on Monday night to celebrate the homecoming of juniors Nick Osman and Garrett Enders, newly crowned winners of the BASSmasters National High School Championships, held last week in Tennessee.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Newport official succeeds Snook in $94G-a-year post

    Newport School District’s director of educational services is slated to be hired tonight by the Midd-West School Board to fill the vacant director of curricular and instruction position.

    July 22, 2014

  • Report: Retaliation by supervisors common at VA

    A pharmacy supervisor at the VA was placed on leave after complaining about errors and delays in delivering medications to patients at a hospital in Palo Alto, California.

    July 22, 2014

  • $5,000 added for M-W restroom work

    The bill for the Midd-West School District stadium restroom renovations continues to rise to the consternation of at least one board member.

    July 22, 2014

  • Today's editorial: Dubious achievements in press secretary-ism

    Ryan Shucard, press secretary to Valley Congressman Tom Marino since May, recently posted on LinkedIn that he was excited and ready to elevate the congressman’s legislative profile — which Shucard did last weekend (but not in a good way) when he got himself arrested for bringing a pistol into a federal office building.

    July 22, 2014

  • Danville train diver left hospital 4 days before suicide

    DANVILLE — The young man who killed himself by diving under an Iron Heritage Festival passenger train underwent treatment in mental health facilities as recently as four days before his death, according to Montour County Coroner Scott E. Lynn.

    July 22, 2014

The Daily Marquee
Video
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.