How to Trade Beer: The Ultimate Guide to Getting Started

When you think about trading items, you might picture stocks, comic books, records, or other things people barter.  Beer is probably not one of those items.

Yet, in every part of the country, people are networking with other brew fans through the art of the trade.

How do you trade beer?

This is a straightforward process when you look at the general guidelines. To trade beer, you will have to:

  1. Buy the right beers.
  2. Find buyers who have difficulty accessing that beer.
  3. Trade it for fun.

Trading beers, at first glance, sounds simple. However, with this form of networking, the devil’s in the details. Before you start getting too excited, make sure that you understand what you need to do to succeed in this fun pastime.

beer trading

How Do You Trade Beer?

The best way to understand beer trading is to understand the type of people who trade beer. Beer traders aren’t going for Heineken or Coors Light. They are beer enthusiasts who are looking for unique beers, hard-to-find craft brews, as well as special edition brews from highly esteemed breweries.

Before You Begin: Understanding the Legality of Trading Beer

When dealing with beer trading, it’s essential to talk about the elephant in the room. On a technicality, beer trading is sort of illegal in most situations.

It’s illegal to ship beer and other alcoholic beverages by USPS. Sending beer across states via USPS is a felony, albeit a rarely-enforced one.

With other mail delivery services like UPS or FedEx, sending beer by mail is still not advisable but remains a “do at your own risk” type of matter.

Most shipments via a business service go through, and the act of trading beer is still highly popular. People just claim it’s another type of liquid when asked. 

Can You Sell Beer Via Trading Platforms?

The absolute, unequivocal answer to this is a solid NO. Selling beer requires licensures and permits that take a lot of time, money, and background checks to attain.

When you sell alcohol of any type, beer included, you become part of a highly regulated industry.

Under no circumstance should you ever expect to exchange money when it comes to your beer trades. Doing so may get the attention of the ATF and could easily land you in jail if you try to do it on a larger scale.

What Happens If I Try to Sell Beer on A Trading Platform?

Most trading platforms have extremely strict rules against selling beer on their sites, and rightfully so. Allowing such activity could get site owners in serious legal trouble or even get the site shut down permanently.

As a result of the high pressure to keep things legal, most sites have a near-instant ban on people who are caught trying to sell beer. Those that do not often have a sketchy reputation, which can lead to top traders avoiding them like the plague.

Why Do People Trade Beers?

If there is one thing that the craft beer world has revealed to us, it’s that finding an amazing brew is definitely a journey.

Many of the top-rated beers in the world are made in ultra-small batches, by tiny breweries that are focused on artisan crafting. Translation: it can be awfully hard to find a good beer.

The concept of beer trading is simple. It’s a way to get a chance to try unique beers from across the country while giving others a chance to do the same.

That said, it’s not the only reason people choose to trade beers. Some of the other reasons include:

  • Learning more about beer culture. Beer trading is a great way to get educated about rare and exciting beers from around the world. A good trading partner can easily become your “craft beer sherpa” in terms of exploring the brewing world.
  • Advertising and supporting your local brewery. A lot of breweries participate in beer trades to get the word out about their releases. It is an excellent advertising method. 
  • Convenience. Many beer lovers know the heartache of having that one beer they enjoy from a faraway brewery that does not sell anywhere near where they live. Having a good beer trading partner can help you get the booze you love conveniently.
  • Networking. If you are an aspiring beer professional, trading is a great way to network with people who know the movers and shakers in the industry. Besides, it is a great way to make friends and pen-pals, too.
  • Curiosity about beer flavors. If nothing else, beer drinkers are people who want to explore all the little facets of brewing. When they hear about a good beer, they usually buy the hype—at least, enough to be serious about tasting it. Since certain beers are hard to come by, trading is one of the only ways they can get to experience the hyped-up beers they keep reading about online.

Starting Off: What Kind of Beer Trades Well?

The important thing to remember when you are trying to trade beer is that it’s about craft beer, not mainstream beer. Craft beer traders tend to value specific characteristics over others. These include:

  • Rarity. Anyone can pick up a bottle of Lindemann’s and get drunk with it. It’s a Lambic that is available in most mainstream stores. Finding a pack of beer that is typically only sold in Belgium, on the other hand, will fetch a special trade.
  • Notoriety. Some craft breweries just have a more significant reputation than others. The brewhouse that a beer comes from can also make a huge impact when it comes to the demand a beer might have.
  • Ingredients. If a beer is known for being one of the highest ABV bottles ever brewed, people will naturally be more curious. If a beer is known for a unique ingredient or flavor, people will also be more interested

Simply put, most craft beer traders are looking for something out of the ordinary. If you can find it in your local convenience store, the chances are that you should work harder to find something trade worthy.

How Do You Determine the Trade Value of a Craft Beer?

This is a hard question to answer, but the best way to answer it is to look at what others are swapping.

A craft beer is not going to have much value to a person who can literally walk to the brewery and buy it, but if you’re trading with someone across the country, they’ll be willing to swap for equally prized beers from their location.

What Are Some of The More Highly Demanded Beers to Trade?

These can change from season to season, but some beers remain more popular than others. These include:

  • Pliny the Younger by Russian River. This beer made a splash by having a triple hop makeup and an ABV over 10 percent.
  • 120 Minute IPA by Dogfish Head. Though relatively easy to acquire compared to other names, 120 remains a popular craft brew due to its high-quality taste and status among gastropub aficionados.
  • Canadian Breakfast Stout by Founder’s Brewing. Blame Founder’s for this amazingly refreshing stout! Their Kentucky Breakfast Stout also happens to be a serious heavy hitter as well.
  • Black Tuesday by The Bruery. Edgy a name as it is, this annual release beer series is an excellent take on barrel-aged stout. They also have an equally impeccable reserve label.

How Can You Tell If A Beer Is Highly Demanded?

The easiest way to determine if a beer is a “whale” (the term for a highly sought-after label) is to go online and see what people are talking about. Most forums will have specific names that keep recurring—and it’s usually those names that you want to try to find.

How Do You Find Good Beers to Trade?

Everyone has their own unique way of finding beers. Many seek out specialty liquor stores in their area to find good selections, while others may travel directly to breweries nearby to find their source.

You might need to poke around before you find a good method for yourself.

One of the more popular methods is to look at what other traders are craving, then search up stores in the area that carry it. By choosing to procure popular brews, you gain a lot more trading power.

beer trading forums online

How Do You Promote Your Beers for Trading?

This is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? The good news is that there are plenty of venues that allow you to find willing traders on the net. Some of the most popular places to find fellow beer aficionados include:

  • Facebook. Facebook has dozens of groups specifically catering to beer trading. These include The Craft Beer Trading Society, Beer Trading 101, and The Beer Exchange. Local chapters also exist if you want to stick local.
  • Instagram. Believe it or not, using the right hashtag can help you find trading partners. Just post pictures of your beer, use a hashtag like #beertrading and let the trades come to you.
  • Specialty Sites. Beer Advocate and Rate Beer have been used to further beer trading activities for decades. They are a tried and true way to find trades, learn about beer, and reach out to like-minded individuals.
  • Apps. Several apps have been made to cater to beer traders, including Beer Exchange or 4TradeCraft.
  • Local Meetups. Believe it or not, many major cities also have specialized beer trading meetups. These meetups allow you to link up with other collectors and maybe make a new friend or two, too.

What Should You Mention When You are Promote Your Beer Trades?

When you’re putting together a beer trade offer, it’s essential to mention more than just the beer that you are trading. You should also mention the types of beer you are seeking, your location as well as any special terms you may have.

What Happens If A Trade Goes Bad?

Due to the nature of beer trading, there is not much you can do if your trade goes wrong.

Many platforms for trading your beer allow users to give ratings of other traders. If you get a bad trade, your reputation might get dinged as a result. So, don’t be the person to try to fool others into a bad trade.

Important Things to Know Before Diving into A Beer Trading Forum

Much like with any other subculture, beer trading involves an understanding of what the subculture is all about. If you aren’t sure where to begin, here’s a quick guide…

Learn the Lingo

Beer traders have their own terms and abbreviations that they use. Some of the most popular ones include:

  • $4$. This stands for “dollar for dollar” and says that you are willing to take a beer that is of equal monetary value.
  • ISO. Much like in personal ads, this means “In Search Of.” A person who has a specific beer in mind will usually post an ISO to get the attention of people who might have a trade.
  • FT/FS. These two abbreviations mean “For Trade” or “For Sale,” depending on what you are intending on doing. Selling is not acceptable on trading sites.
  • Whale. This means a beer that is highly coveted.
  • OBO. This is a classic bulletin board abbreviation that stands for “Or Best Offer.”
  • BA. A classic beer abbreviation for “Barrel-Aged.”
  • 2:1 or 3:1. This means “two for one” or “three for one” and is a signal that you will accept two (or three) beers for a trade of one beer. In trades like this, the single beer is usually a label that’s unusually pricey or difficult to attain.

It’s important to note that extremely desired beers are also prone to getting their own abbreviation. In order to make sure that your trading time is a fun one, it’s wise to make sure that you look up common abbreviations and look at other forum posts before you dive in.

Remember That It’s About More Than Just Beer

Did you ever have a friend who borrowed something important, then paid you back with interest? It’s a great feeling, isn’t it?

Most beer traders love to get more than just the beer they were offered in the mail.

Whether it’s a small sticker, a beer koozie, or even just a nice note, it’s customary to add a little something extra as a token of goodwill.

Traders who have a nice experience with you are more likely to offer you a rare beer or continue trading. Moreover, it’s important to remember that many friendships start this way, too.

shipping beer

Know How to Pack Your Beer

We have already mentioned that shipping beer via the mail isn’t exactly legal. We cannot really tell you to do something illegal.

But we can tell you that people who risk shipping via UPS or FedEx often pack the beer tightly to help reduce sloshing around.

And remember those little extras? While adding candies might just seem like a nice gesture on the surface, many traders also include them to add a rattle sound that disguises the liquid sound.

When asked what’s inside the package, saying that it’s a different type of liquid will work out well. Remember, you can never be too careful when packing your beer.

Or consider printing your shipping label at home and then scheduling a porch pick up. No interaction required.

It’s Okay to Ask Questions

Believe it or not, the snobby reputation of the craft beer community really isn’t that well-founded. Most people who are into craft beer are open to helping newbies learn the ropes, especially when it comes to beer trading.

If you aren’t sure what something means, or don’t know what the proper protocol is when dealing with a new trade, ask someone. People in most communities are more than willing to help you out.

Avoid Bad Traders

For your sake, it’s best to avoid bad traders if you want to have a successful trading experience.

Bad traders aren’t just people who are rude or condescending to you. They also can be people who post unrealistic trades, demand you to explain your taste in beer, or just leave you in the dark.

If you notice that a potential trading partner seems to be displaying some red flag behavior, don’t trade with them.

Logistics Matter

Trading beer is always going to be a little sticky, since there are traders out there who are not comfortable with mailing. To make sure that you are going to have a good trade, communicate with your trading partner and discuss the following issues:

  • Where you are both located. Your location makes a huge difference in how you can trade goods, what goods you might trade, and how much you will pay for postage. If you are close to a brewery they want to sample, you might be able to sweeten the trade with a quick car trip.
  • What trading methods you want to use. Do you want to mail it out? Which mailer are you going to use? If you want to trade in person, do you want to meet at a bar or go to their house? These things matter, especially when shipping is involved.
  • Who pays for shipping. In most trades, the shipping will be similar for each party involved, so it is a wash. Most traders just cover the shipping for the box they send and know their trade partner will be paying similar. If you aren’t trading a similar amount of beer weight (such as one rare beer for a case of a craft beer) then discuss shipping prior to agreeing to the trade.
  • When you will ship it and how. Even if this seems like a rather minute detail, it’s not. Beer fans can get very antsy about waiting for their trade to happen. If you want it to be a good experience, make sure to trade promptly and give them a number that lets them track their package.
  • Your tracking numbers. Getting a beer in the mail is a lot like waiting for Santa to drop off presents on Christmas Eve! It’s only a matter of manners to give your trading buddy a tracking number they can refer to.
  • Your contact information. Should the beer get lost in transit or something goes awry, giving your trading partner contact information can help sort things out.

Can You Trade Beer in Person?

Mail is the most common way to get beer traded, but it is not the only method. One of the perks of trading at a live meetup is that you can meet others in-person and make an immediate trade.

It’s worth noting that trading beer in person is a good way to avoid the red tape, fees, and potential legal issues that come with mailing beer in a box. If you are concerned about the expenses, an in-person meetup might be a better option.

Why In-Person Trading Might Be A Better Option

Though there are plenty of online forums and websites that are known for having friendly communities, there is an overall trend of dealing with people in a less-than-civil way when you’re on the net.

Trading in person can be a way to curb bad behavior, get a better idea of who you’re trading with, and avoid the high fees that come with shipping.

If you have been struggling with finding a nice online community for your beer trading, switching to meetups might offer better results.

Stay Safe, Though!

Meetups are a great way to link with other beer fans, but you still need to use your common sense. If you don’t know anyone there and haven’t met any of these people before, it’s smart not to go alone. When you are meeting with them, make sure it’s in a public place (at first) and don’t drink and drive.


If you want to trade beer, it’s wise to look before you leap. Knowing what beer labels are in demand, how people ask for their trades, and what you should do prior to a trade is just as important as the beer that you want to swap. It’s a deeply involved subculture that has a learning curve.

Despite the challenges that beer trading can pose, there are tons of perks to trying this hobby out. In many cases, trading is the only way to find brews that have not been on the market in a while.

Trading can also offer a new way to learn about beer, network with professionals in the brewing industry, and gain new friends. Beer trading is what you make of it. It will take effort to find a circle you “click” with, find beers that people want to trade, and also get a knack for the overall trading rhythm.

However, once you get the hang of it, you will find it to be a highly rewarding hobby.

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