Craze for craft brews creates black market
By LISA RATHKE December 8, 2013 6:38PM
Updated: January 10, 2014 6:18AM
MONTPELIER, Vt. — Fancy a pint of Pliny the Elder or Heady Topper double India pale ales, but can’t find it in your neighborhood? Get out your wallet.
As craft brews gain an intense following, a black market has bloomed in which some opportunists are selling for hundreds of dollars top-rated beers that are hard to find, in short supply, expensive or illegal to ship.
In Vermont, a Burlington woman was charged recently with selling five cases of the popular Heady Topper beer for $825 on Craigslist, which brought about mixed feelings for its brewer.
“It’s a compliment in an odd way,” said Jen Kimmich, owner of The Alchemist brewery in Waterbury, which produces Heady Topper. The hoppy concoction, which retails for $3 a can and $72 a case, recently was ranked No. 1 by Beer Advocate magazine out of the top 250 beers in the world.
The practice of trading beer doesn’t bother most brewers. But buying beer, marking up the price and selling it is another matter. It’s illegal in the United States to sell alcohol online without a license.
Yet at least hundreds of posts daily last year on eBay offered hard-to-get beers at astronomical prices, said Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner and president of Russian River Brewing, in Santa Rosa, Calif. She spotted the brewery’s flagship Pliny the Elder, which sells for $5 a bottle, going for between $15 and $50, and its discontinued Toronado anniversary beer, which sold for about $25 at the brewery, being auctioned for about $700 last year.
“It was out of control,” she said.
She went to state regulators, who set up a meeting with eBay who she said was unaware of the practice but committed to ending it.