Pliny the Younger, available on eBay?

Natalie Cilurzo, from Russian River Brewing Company, caused quite a stir this week by publicly flogging an eBay seller offering a bottle of their recently released Pliny the Younger, a beer  many feel is one of the top 10 beers in the world. Some argue that it is the right of people to resell things they purchase (regardless of the legality, especially liquor distribution laws). The crux of this outrage though is that Pliny the Younger was never bottled and first available only at the RR Brewpub in Santa Rosa. This means that someone needed to order a draft of Pliny, and then smuggle it out of the bar and then pour it into a bottle, or some similarly difficult process. Either that or they are selling a fake. Both options are not really good for the beer industry, and certainly not Russian River, but the outcry seems to be focused more on the fact that someone was trying to smuggle and sell the beer on eBay, not so much the quality of the actual product.

Sid Boggle of Boggle About Beer sides with Russian River stating “eBay seem to have removed the offending beer, and I hope they’ve banned the prick who tried to sell it.” Ray Daniels, head of the Cicerone organization, says it’s wrong to do this as well. Stephen Beaumont even calls people doing this type of thing Beer-holes!

The general beer community is more mixed: BeerAdvocate people, in a now locked thread (thanks for nothing BA), seem to be of the opinion that Russian River needs to make the beer more widely available, while RateBeer people mostly say Russian River is right and beer is too hyped anyway.

While it may be in very bad taste to attempt to repackage beer for resale, brewers making limited release batches of highly rated beer must understand the true demand for their product. They can raise their prices (and capture more value from the demand) and/or make production bottles available that can then be traded and sold on the secondary market to those people who are willing to pay the market price. Or they can see what drastic actions people will try to take to get their beers into places where it is impossible to get.

My advice for breweries is that if a beer you make becomes very popular you should try your best to make it available to the widest audience possible. Three Floyds Dark Lord Day could be a good example of the combination strategy. Holding a one day event to sell bottles at your brewery enables locals to come out, try the beer and enjoy the brewery, while at the same time enabling a larger audiences access to the beer through the secondary market.