The eBay Debate: Brewer Reactions

Written by Brandon Jones for embracethefunk.com

Over the weekend eBay began removing auctions for certain craft beer brands. Most noticeably auctions for unopened bottles of Russian River, Cantillon, Lost Abbey and Hill Farmstead were ended. As of this posting a few new auctions have popped up, so it will be interesting to see if those are removed today. Bottle and growler auctions on eBay have been the subject of a growing debate in the past year. Many breweries have publicly issued statements denouncing what they believe is a “Black or Gray Market” for beer sales. On the flip side of that coin, buyers of these auctions have said eBay is the only way they can obtain some of these limited release beers.

Recently Hill Farmstead brewery in Vermont has seen its bottles become some of the most popular auctions on eBay. Shaun Hill who owns the brewery hasn’t let his opinion of Ebay beer/bottle auctions go unnoticed. Since it appears as though eBay has begun to honor the requests of the brewers who do not want their bottles on the auction site I wanted to get Shaun’s reactions to the news. I have contacted a few other breweries for reaction, but as of this posting I haven’t heard anything back. I will update this post as soon as I get a response.

ETF-First reactions/thoughts when you heard Hill Farmstead auctions were going to be removed?

Shaun- First reaction: Wow. Our voice was heard.  Second: I wonder how much hate mail we are going to receive.

ETF-What bothered you the most about seeing Hill Farmstead auctions on eBay?

Shaun- The notion that our loyal customers, in some cases people that had driven many hours to purchase bottles of our beer, went home empty handed at the sole expense of illegal profiteering.  It makes me worry about the future of the industry. 

ETF- What other brewers/breweries did you work with to accomplish this goal?

Shaun- I didn’t accomplish this goal.  It seems that it was largely Natalie Cilurzo (Russian River) that managed to get through to eBay.  Many emails were exchanged with Jean Van Roy at Cantillon – who feels similarly about the issue.  In fact, it is such a plague that Cantillon struggles with decisions as to whether or not to release beers from their brewery because such a large proportion of them would end up on the black market.   Disheartening, right? That a brewer is discouraged from releasing his or her beer…

ETF- How long have you been working with eBay to have Hill Farmstead auctions removed?

Shaun- Several months.

ETF-Do you recall what bottle the highest $$$ auction was and how much it went for?

Shaun- I believe Mimosa and Damon each broke the 200$ barrier.  

ETF- For those people who say “Shaun this was the only way I could get a bottle of your beer. I didn’t mind paying $100 for a bottle.”… what would you say to them?

Shaun- I would say: “well, for ___$, you could fly to Vermont, rent a car, and drive out to our brewery and have a first hand experience. In fact, we’d probably have shared a bottle of ___ with you…”   There are many things in this world that aren’t “fair” – I don’t have health insurance here, but did in Denmark – and pay more in taxes here in the US than I did there… that doesn’t seem fair, does it? 

ETF- In your opinion how does this make the craft beer world better?

Shaun- Unfortunately, it is only a minor and temporary betterment. There will be more after market websites for beer auctioning – sites with less buyer protection and less regulation.  The determined consumer will find a way to acquire and taste – regardless of legality, expense, or condition of the product.  It’s inevitable.  In the final analysis, it is the unified voice of brewery opposition to such activity that is most symbolic: it is not merely Hill Farmstead – it is Russian River – it’s Cantillon – it’s Alpine – and many others… It’s a community of producers with integrity that care about their product…