It’s shaping up to be a nice day on Saturday, January 25th, 2020, which is good, because there’s a line outside Alexandria’s Aslin Beer Company before sunrise. The brewery is releasing two stouts and a barleywine in 500 mL bottles at 11 am and people don’t want to miss out…on the beer and the trading.
By 8 am there are more than twenty people in line. Not all of them are going to drink what they’re waiting for. More than a few, as the line swells to over one hundred people before opening, will be trading these Aslin beers for something else.
The inside world of trading beer
The legality of mailing beers back and forth aside, beer trading happens. In our area, Aslin is probably the brewery most-coveted by people unable or unwilling to make the trip themselves. Aslin, like a lot of breweries, doesn’t want to talk about beer trading. It’s a distraction and not something they can control.
There are, of course, exceptions. Three Stars’ Co-Founder Dave Coleman outlined his philosophy to Brightest Young Things beer writer Phil Runco in 2015, saying, “I want to be the beer that when you’re in a circle of beer nerds and somebody says 3 Stars, everyone says, ‘Oh shit. You’ve had that? I haven’t had it. I’ve got this 10-year-old bottle of Cantillon that I’ll trade you for it.’”
Beer traders, however, are happy to discuss it. The above Aslin Instagram post is littered with “ISO” (In Search Of) and “FT” (For Trade). “I trade fairly often,” says one Virginia resident, via Facebook. “Only thing from around here that I can trade is Aslin. If I go a little farther, Other Half [beer] drops in Maryland also lands good beer in trades. So does Burley Oak. I’ve seen people trade RAR online, but I haven’t personally. I don’t see it as often,” they add.
Other Half, in particular, is a special case for area beer traders because it can be acquired, but only sometimes and only in one place. The brewery has a relationship with Gaithersburg’s Downtown Crown Wine & Beer, with cans, and occasionally bottles, arriving on a semi-regular basis. Despite that availability, store owner Arash Tafakor hasn’t seen lines before his shop opens, with the exception of a brewery sixth-anniversary release at the store in early February. (Incidentally, Other Half also stands out because someone pulled a gun outside the Brooklyn brewery during that same anniversary weekend, the night before the release at Downtown Crown. It adds a macabre twist to the “line life.”)
Despite its reputation for being a bit stodgy compared to other social media sites, Facebook is where the beer trading groups are. If you’re in the DMV and looking to trade, simply pop into the Bottle Logic, or Treehouse, group, for example, offer up something from Aslin, and start haggling. There’s a catch, however; selling and trading alcohol is a violation of Facebook’s Terms of Service, and so beer trading groups routinely get “Zucked,” that is, taken down.
This happened to the “NoVA Beer Elite/NoVA Beer Traders” group, as well as the “Aslin Enthusiasts” group. But as soon as one vanishes, another takes its place, and the trading begins anew. Reddit, RateBeer, and Beer Advocate also offer trading forums and message boards.
Swapping beers back and forth doesn’t have to focus exclusively on the most-hyped breweries. “Answer, Aslin, Bluejacket, Burley Oak, Commonwealth, Crooked Run, DC Brau, Evolution, Hardywood, Ocelot, RaR, Red Dragon, Sapwood, Triple Crossing, and Veil” get traded for “Alchemist, Bottle Logic, Cycle, de Garde, Hudson Valley, Other Half, Schramm’s, Side Project, Tree House, Trillium… things of that nature,” reports another anonymous interviewee.
I’ll admit I’ve played the beer trading game as well. About five years ago, when Dogfish Head was withdrawing from some markets, I sent their beers to colleagues and received Lost Abbey and Upland, before that brewery entered DC, in return. A few weeks ago I sent DC Brau’s On the Wings of Armageddon, perhaps DC’s first beer people lined up for, to a friend in Connecticut.
Beer drinkers aren’t starved for options; wherever you live, the odds are good that there are more breweries near you than there were five years ago. With an increase in breweries comes an increase in Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO), and trading is one way to alleviate that feeling.
“I’ve met a lot of cool people through standing in line waiting for beer,” says Metal Chris, proprietor of DCHeavyMetal.com and beer aficionado. “Everyone talks about their favorite beers and breweries, exchanges tips on beers to look for and breweries to visit. You can meet people from out of the area to trade and learn about beer culture from some of the most dedicated fans.”
In the Ivy City neighborhood of Northeast DC, Other Half’s brewery buildout continues. There are two grain silos outside, and a canning line has been installed. When they open, either later this year or in early 2021, the “line life” will shift into the District itself. This correspondent probably won’t be camping out, but both FOMO and the camaraderie of the line have their appeal for people. You get to be a part of something, however small it may seem to some of us, and yes, sometimes bottles do get popped while waiting.
Our first respondent reports that they very much enjoyed the Bottle Logic and Angry Chair beers they got in return for Aslin’s stouts, and we hope that whether you’re buying to drink or buying to trade, you enjoy the beers, too.