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Craft beer’s black market

on 08/09/11 at 3:04 pm


One Friday in February 2010, hundreds of beer geeks descended upon California’s Russian River Brewing Co. to score some Pliny the Younger, an imperial India pale ale that is released just once a year — only on draft. Within eight hours, they had bought all 600 gallons, and within days, 64-ounce growlers were selling on eBay for $150 and up. To thwart profiteers, this year Russian River decided not to fill containers. “The only way it was going to get out of there,” co-owner Natalie Cilurzo says, “was in your stomach.”

Nonetheless, Cilurzo caught two men trying to smuggle Pliny out of the brew pub, and an eBay listing appeared once again and was removed only after she complained to both eBay and the seller.

Her experience is not unique. The Web site has become beer’s most high-profile black market, a market that is increasingly angering some of the world’s best brewers, who consider resale immoral, illegal or just plain insulting.

In the words of Tomme Arthur, whose Lost Abbey beers are routinely resold for hundreds of dollars, “We believe those selling beer on eBay should be chased down.” The site’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.”