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What is Beermail, and Why Are My Friends Always Posting About It?

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What is Beermail? A Look Into the Secondary Beer Market.

Have you ever wondered how people get beer from across the country or how they’re finding bottles from 3 years ago?

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It’s likely because they are involved in what is known as “beermail,” or the secondary beer market.

This side of the craft beer industry isn’t new, but it’s extremely popular. The concept allows beer nerds to try beers they can’t get in their region and some have even created a side hustle out of it.

While they may not officially state it, I’m willing to bet that breweries support beermail because it boosts demand for their products. Traders go out and buy more of their cans to ship to those who can’t get them, driving additional sales.

We’ve done a piece on the how-to side of beer trading, so I won’t repeat that information. Be sure to keep in mind that it’s not exactly legal, but it’s happening, so why not discuss it?

There are two main terms that you see on social media when it comes to trading and reselling beer. “FT” stands for “For Trade,” meaning “This is what I have available.” “ISO” stands for “In Search Of,” meaning “This is what I’m looking for.”

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Most deals start here.

Some people post their FT list online, through Google Sheets, where they list either what they have available or what they can get regularly. You will also see the terminology used on social media posts where breweries announce their new presales. (Check out any SpindleTap release post to see what I mean).

In our how-to article, we mentioned that trades are typically done through whales or dollar for dollar. I prefer to go 1 can for 1 can.

Beer prices are usually pretty even, and everyone is packaging in tall boy cans now, so after adding in the opportunity “cost” of getting beers you wouldn’t usually be able to get, it’s essentially even.

This arrangement is the simplest, in my opinion, and what I use in 90% of my trades. Some traders with cans from places like Monkish ask for 2:1 or 3:1 ratio, which I’ve never understood. Sure, they’re harder to get, but we’ve got some delicious beers in Houston too!

Cash deals happen as well, where those that are ISO send money for cans, shipping, and a small mule charge in some situations.

In-person trades happen too! I do this all the time with my friends. One of us may be traveling or simply at the store where a new beer just came out. They will grab a pack and save a can for me. I wire them some money via Venmo or Paypal and pick it up next time I see them. For local beers, this can save you a lot of time (and gas) vs. traveling around the city every weekend.

From my experience, the hottest Houston breweries for trading are Spindletap, Ingenious, and B-52. Baa Baa is starting to heat up as well. The haze craze of Houston that I wrote about previously is the real deal! Houston’s craft beer delivery service, Hop Drop, delivers 61% IPAs with 36% of them being NEIPAs, one of the more highly sought after beer styles in trades. You can get some very tradeable beers from them for 10% off using our code “BEERCHRONICLE” at checkout.

Whether it’s people hitting me up for the newest releases or me reaching out to make an offer because they have something I want, it’s never a problem to move cans from these breweries. Houston beers can keep up with any brewery in the country.

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The Benefits of Beermail and Trades

Trading beers has several advantages and several disadvantages.

The main benefit is being able to track down cans not available in your area.

Whether it’s Juiceton for Other Half, Ingenious for Trillium or B-52 for J Wakefield, the market is more accessible than ever. You can get just about any beer on your wish list that you want.

Another benefit is the ability to expand your horizons instead of forcing yourself to finish the entire 4 and 6-packs.

I’m allll about trying new beers and adding them to my beer grading spreadsheet. Since most breweries don’t sell single cans, I’m required to buy at least 4 cans of every new beer. I’m not going to drink all 4, so instead, I’d prefer to trade 2-3 away.

Finally, trading is a great way to meet other people in the industry. I have been very fortunate to meet so many awesome people, both digitally and around town, by trading beers. It’s opened up my world to new beers, breweries, and opportunities that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible.

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The Pitfalls of Postage and Pale Ales

So, what’s the downside? Cost is the biggest one. Freight can add up quickly.

Plus, there’s the extra time spent finding packing materials, wrapping cans, and running to the post office.

You also run the risk of cans popping in the mail and your trader ending up with only part of what they asked for. It’s a risk but more than worth it in my opinion.

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Ales for Sale = More Beermail

The lesser known side of the secondary market is beer reselling, which is very similar to trading and also results in beermail.

People are ISO, people have beers FT, and deals are put together. In a resale situation, inventory lists with prices are widespread. The lists are posted online, and people comb through them, then meet up. It’s common for payment to be sent ahead of time to reserve a particular bottle.

The resale market is better suited for those who cellar beers, storing beers to drink years later, or for those that buy extras during big releases, such as a Muse release at B-52. I like to cellar beers, especially imperial stouts, but only for personal consumption. It’s fun to see how beers change over the years. Cellaring doesn’t work for IPAs or anything where hops are essential for the taste though. Believe us. We tried it just for fun. The best beers to store are imperial stouts, wild ales, and barleywines.

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Pros and Cons of Paying for Beermail

The advantages and disadvantages of the resale market are also similar to those of trading. The most significant advantage is that you can find beers that you thought were sold out and no longer available.

I tracked down a bottle of Death From Above last year, the collaboration between B-52 and Brash. I thought it was gone forever and I really wanted to try it.

The downside is that you will almost always pay a surcharge when buying secondary beer.

Those who are flipping beer act like stocking companies that have holding costs and charge for that value. Some of the more prominent resellers have entire closets dedicated to this.

In similar cases, people buy beers to cellar for themselves, then realize they have too much and need to sell off some bottles. That’s how I found my Death from Above.

My opinion on the resale market is torn. On the one hand, it helps me grow my beer list and meet new people. Plus, it saves me the added steps of packing and shipping a box to get the bottles that I want.

On the other hand, much like trading, people buy a ton of cans at each release, reducing what non-traders can purchase. Also, the resale prices on some bottles can be insane. In those cases, flippers can be taking too much of an advantage of others. That’s not what the craft beer community is about.

Regardless of where you stand personally, the secondary beer market is flourishing. Trades and resales are happening every day.

On my end, it’s gotten to the point where I have to use a shipment tracking app on my phone to manage it all. But the opportunity to check off a few on my wishlist, expand my horizons, and grow my network are all reasons enough for me to stay active in the game.

Since we’re located in one of the hottest beer markets in the country, there is ample tradebait available. Houston has some killer breweries making the types of beers that people across the country desire, so why not share and share alike.

Are you ISO of something? Hoping for your own beermail one day? Should you become a beer trader? That’s up to you, but I would highly recommend it.


Brent is originally from Ohio but has been in Houston for over 10 years. As an Aggie, musician, animal advocate, and Lego collector, he always has something going on. If you have an imperial stout, come find him. He’ll want to add it to his insatiable beer spreadsheet.


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1Comment
  • Arthur Muir
    Posted at 08:24h, 04 August

    Oh… it was interesting. great post

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