This is a picture of what I am calling “the worst trade ever.” I’ve done a lot of trades. Maybe 200. At least 100 of those on Ratebeer. I’ve traded beers with friends, off of Twitter, off of Google +. I’ve had regular trading partners. I’ve traded growlers. I’ve traded with states as far off as Alaska and as close by as Indiana. I’ve done local for locals. I’ve done specific requests (ISO: FT). I’ve had trading partners. And I’ve done quite a lot of Secret Santa trades. Secret Santa trades are blind trades. You send out a certain amount of beer to someone; someone else sends the same amount to you. You don’t know what you are getting. The trade is blind. It’s meant to be an effort: I’m going to try and make your day (like Santa supposedly would when he comes down the chimney) with a box of goodies you can’t get where you live. Not necessarily rare or limited, but something nice not available to you.
I used to think the worst blind trades I did included one with a guy in Michigan, via a local for locals trade, who sent me Michigan beers also distributed in Kentucky and a Ratebeer Secret Santa trade in which, among beers also available locally, the guy sent an All Tech beer. All Tech is in Lexington. The label on the beer says Lexington Brewing. The address the guy shipped to said: Lexington, Kentucky. For some reason, the guy couldn’t figure out that I could buy that beer where I live. The third worst trade would be a recent Secret Santa summer trade in which the guy, after his first box broke on the way from Brooklyn, sent another box with what looked like odds and ends from his cellar. Also, among those odds and ends were beers I could buy locally. One beer looked so old its label was mostly torn off from age.
But this latest blind trade might be the worst. This box was from a recent Secret Santa trade that I did through the Facebook group JoePessie Beer Porn. There must be thousands of Facebook groups devoted to beer. I’m in a few, though I can’t recall which unless I look at my Facebook group settings. I’m only in the JoePessie Beer Porn group because a friend signed me up. I’ve probably posted only once or twice to the group, and the administrators are constantly weeding out non-participants. Somehow I’m still in the group. Most Facebook beer groups are devoted to haul pics, pics of beer recently acquired via trade, and pics of what people are drinking. Occasionally, trades are arranged via the group’s membership.
This box was from the JoePessie Beer Porn Secret Santa trade run by the group’s administrators. The only requirement was to send out – I think – 40 ounces or so in beer. I sent my recipient about 90 ounces, not caring if I received the same amount back, but expecting something not distributed in Kentucky.
In this box were:
- A Hailstorm sour (so far so good)
- A Sam Adams bottle with the label ripped off (what the fuck…this is getting pretty shitty)
- A $10 Duvel box set you can get in any liquor store and maybe even gas station (bottom of the trade just fell out, and with it my stomach)
So, I sent 90 ounces of local beer, some of it brewery only, for a 22 ounce sour and a bunch of shit.
Trades are about surprise. They are, for some, about conquest. But for me, they are about the pleasure of the surprise, receiving something new, getting a chance to sample what is not available locally. Trades are easy to complain about. For every great blind trade I’ve had (including the latest winter Ratebeer Secret Santa box I received from Idaho), I’ve had many more awful blind trades. Not to throw stones, I’ve made some errors trading as well, such as the time I sent a Terrapin to New Jersey not realizing that Terrapin is distributed so far north, or the box I sent to Seattle that I accidentally left two beers out of and then it didn’t matter since the box broke as it arrived in Seattle. Trades easily disappoint. But a trade that shows no effort – like sending a $10 Duvel box set you can get in any liquor store and maybe even gas station – is either a big FU or, at the very least, an I Don’t Give a Shit approach to blind trading. That attitude defies the trading experience. One is supposed to give a shit. That’s why we are doing the blind trade in the first place. We give a shit about beer and want to share what we can purchase with those who cannot.
Of course, it is also easy to not give a shit in general. Most of our culture is based on not giving a shit. Only 30% of the Kentucky voting public voted for the latest governor. Most people don’t vote for president (less than 50%). Waiting in a drive thru at 7 in the morning for fried food usually means: I couldn’t give a shit about putting an egg mcmuffin in my own toaster, so I’ll wait in line here instead. In education, state appropriations dwindle each year because the general public cares more about who can get married than the education of their kids. Sometimes it feels like no one gives a shit.
But beer should be different. Craft is based on the principle of giving a shit, of caring, of supposedly being in some imaginary revolution against the conglomerate forces that are insensitive, uncaring, cold, and don’t give a shit. Trading symbolizes the most local giving a shit gesture. When someone in Illinois sends to Kentucky a $10 Duvel box set you can get in any liquor store and maybe even gas station, that person is saying: I don’t give a shit. I don’t care if I can walk down to a local liquor store and pull from the shelf any number of beers not available in Kentucky. I’m sending this box set because I don’t care.
I would be easy for me to say: I don’t care either. I’m done with blind trades, Secret Santas, local for locals, etc. But I doubt it. I don’t doubt it because I give a shit. I doubt it because I still value the surprise. In the end, when it comes to commercial culture (which I love as well), when it comes to work and predictability and kids waking me up on a Sunday morning at 6:30 in the morning because they want to watch TV, and everything else around me, I like surprise. Trading, despite boxes such as this one, still offers that element of surprise.
That is true even when the surprise is a shitty $10 Duvel box set you can get in any liquor store and maybe even gas station.