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.”
But the beer trade persists, thanks to a loophole that allows the sale of “collectible containers” as long as sellers post an eBay-provided disclaimer, which states that “any incidental contents are not intended for consumption.” The disclaimer also notes that “the buyers and sellers ensure that the sale complies with all applicable laws” — even though many beer sales probably do not.
“There’s an awfully good chance that somebody selling interstate will be running afoul of state law,” says Thomas Hogue, congressional liaison for the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Still, eBay beer sales seem to be on the rise. “It’s becoming a more typical practice,” says the Bruery’s Patrick Rue, who brews the imperial stout Black Tuesday, an eBay favorite. “And a lot more breweries are becoming aware of it and trying to stop it.”
Last month, for example, San Diego’s Stone Brewing Co., whose rare Vertical Epic beers are sometimes listed on eBay for more than $1,000 per bottle, began selling the first beer in its new Quingenti Millilitre series via a lottery system, and Stone has announced that people who try to resell it will be banned from future drawings. “We have involuntarily been a part of the eBay aftermarket for many years,” says Greg Koch, Stone’s co-founder and chief executive. “This is the first time we’ve come out, laid it on the table and said very point-blank, ‘Please, do not resell.’”
On Sept. 17, residents of the Washington area will be able to participate in what is probably the most creative response to eBay piracy thus far: Zwanze Day. Belgium’s Cantillon Brewery, whose beers are considered the gold standard of the spontaneously fermented style known as lambic, has shipped barrels of its annual Zwanze release to 20 leading beer bars spanning the globe from Finland to California to Japan, including Washington’s ChurchKey. The beer is not being sold in bottles, and all of the barrels will be tapped that Saturday, at the local equivalent of 3 p.m. EST where possible, resulting in a synchronized worldwide celebration that discourages stockpiling and online sales.