Welcome back to The Grain Bag! In this edition, we cover beer clubs, beer trading, and online beer purchasing. Lots of topics involving beer changing hands basically. If you have questions for The Grain Bag, email us or submit your question via the form at the bottom of the page!

What is there to know about beer of the month clubs? Do they sell fresh beer? Does the shipping impact the beer? Are any more reputable than others?

Bill: A few years ago when I was getting into craft beer, my girlfriend bought me a few months of a beer club. The beers were good, and occasionally great, but mostly just decent examples of a number of different styles. They weren't breweries I could get in DC at the time, so it was nice to see beers from across the country to expand my craft beer perspective. I remember the hoppy beers being quite hoppy, and I don't remember anything being skunked, so I can't say that I think shipping negatively affected the beers too much.

Jake: http://www.beermonthclub.com/the-rare-beer-club.htm is a decent beer club in terms of reputation. Also useful: http://billybrew.com/beer-of-the-month-club-reviews

Beer Trading – With DC's incredible access to different beers, there isn't always a need for trading, but there are a few beers we can't get. So can you give a run down on beer trading? How do I trade a sixer of DC Brau for some 3 Floyd's Gumballhead?


Jake: You go onto Ratebeer, or Beer Advocate and sign up for an account, then look for a beer trading forum/discussion board and start making offers.

Bill: It really is as simple as Jake describes. My advice to you is to lurk on the board for a week or so and try to get a good sense of the market. Obviously relative value of beers is going to vary from buyer to buyer, but lurking might give you a better sense of what to offer for certain caliber beers.

Online Beer Purchasing – With EBAY now removing alcohol sales, what is the impact to online beer sales? Are there any good websites, that have affordable, fresh beer?

Staff: Our staff suggest (notice we didn't say recommend, but instead suggest) all of the following stores: France44, LetsPour, Bine and Vine (formerly South Bay Drugs). EBay announced last week that it would pull alcohol sales.

Beer Sampling – What is a reasonable amount of beer to try and sample in a given night? For example, I find super bitter beers, like a Pale or IPA can really change how a maltier beer tastes. What's up with people at ChurchKey trying 12 different beers in one night. Is that really a good idea? Any recommendations on sampling order? Do you really get to know a beer after a 4 oz sample of it?

Chris: There is definitely an upper limit, but lots of factors come into play: how much alcohol can you can take and retain your senses, the sensitivity of your taste buds, the progression of beers, the size of tastings, etc. I've definitely tasted 12 beers in a sitting, even as a relative lightweight, but it's critical to plan a tasting in order. Give yourself enough time – no rushing whatsoever. Have some food on hand, both to soak up the alcohol and to reset your palate, especially between styles. Start on the low end, in terms of both alcohol and flavor intensity. Start with light- to medium-bodied, balanced, low-abv beers (British milds, Kolsch, lighter pilsners, etc) and slowly work your way up (American ambers, brown ales, lighter Belgians). It's not always a light to dark thing – a ruby mild should precede an American IPA. Place palate-wreckers (e.g. hop bombs, sours, barrel-aged beers, Belgian funksters) at the end. In general, I like to stick with a theme, if possible, but I definitely recommend focusing the last few beers on a particular style subset – it can be hard to go from imperial IPA to quad to gueze. As far as knowing a beer in 4 oz, it all depends on the approach. If you take your time with each sampler and think while you drink, it's definitely possible. Two caveats: beers reliant upon aromatics and head retention might suffer from anything less than full pours (I'm looking at you, Belgians) and doing small pours of beers meant to be drunk in great quantity (ahem, English) might give you a real taste but somewhat violates the spirit of the drink.

That's it for this week, but we'll see you for the next edition. Send your questions for the next Grain Bag in!