Inside the Beer Black Market
Part of what has fueled the craft beer boom over the past two plus decades has been exclusivity. But this exclusivity has created a black market with extraordinary prices.
Unlike a Coors Light, which can be picked up at a gas station almost anywhere, microbreweries, by definition, produce less beer and typically have smaller, more regional distribution, often making their products harder to find.
Many brewers like to play into this trait further by releasing limited-edition brews produced in smaller batches and with tiny release windows. Much like hunting down that rare baseball card (or anything you like to collect), getting one of these rare malt masterpieces is part of the fun.
But as CNN recently reported, often the ones reaping the benefits of these beers aren’t the breweries, but the people reselling them on the black market, be it online or anywhere else. The site cites the example of a limited-edition beer from Stone Brewery “being sold online for more than $1,000 a bottle. It was originally sold in 2002 for $7.99.”
Some might chalk the whole thing up to the free market, but that overlooks one important factor. Unlike selling old pots and pans on eBay, beer contains alcohol, which mean the sale of these products has its own laws and restrictions. As CNN points out, “Brewers need the proper licenses and permits to sell and distribute their products.” They quote Tomme Arthur, renowned brewmaster and co-owner of Lost Abbey, a brewery that has put out plenty of in-demand beers: “[Licenses] cost money and we pay a lot in taxes. There aren't any rules with how one goes about selling beer in a garage.”
Plus, there’s a reason lots of brewers like to keep their products affordable. Beer is more of an everyman’s beverage than something like wine or spirits. When it comes to price-gouging for beer, the real losers are the people who love to drink it… us!
And speaking of us, we’re also part of the solution to the problem. The real way to correct the black market is not to buy beers at such inflated prices. It can be tough when you know there’s no other way to get that rare bottle, but the craft beer scene has always been community-driven. Consider this another opportunity for the community to work together.