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All About the Black Market for Beer

Beware of bloated beer prices: What sounds like supply and demand might be a scam.

Stone Brewing

Craft beer brewers in the United States are creating such great beer in such limited quantities that a black market has emerged. According to a new report from CNN, beers like Stone Brewing's Vertical Epic are selling online for up to 20 times their original price.

New York City-based beer cicerone Anne Becerra confirmed the trend to CNN: "Whether it's a top-rated brew or one with new or seasonal ingredients, everyone wants to get their hands on exclusive batches. The demand is certainly there, and people are stepping in to fulfill that need in unsavory ways."

Apparently, because craft breweries typically produce limited amounts of their specialty brews, and because the popularity of craft beer continues to rise, people have started buying up bottles and storing them. Brewers say they cannot increase production because of space issues. Meanwhile, sellers are profiting from the limited stock and rising thirst. A few Russian River brews that once sold for $5 per bottle are now going for as much as $100 a bottle online. One of Stone Brewing's popular beers from 2002 originally sold for $7.99; today, collectors can purchase it for more than $1,000 online. Even restaurants have been caught selling rare beers for inflated prices on their menu; meanwhile, the brewery doesn't make a dime extra.

Ebay has started to scan listings for certain beer names and overly inflated prices — which are against the law in some states — but most brewers are resigned to the fact that when there's demand, sellers will find a way to cheat the system. Brewers want their customers to know that when a price online, on a menu, or on a store shelf lists a bottle of beer for over $25, it's probably an inflated price, and not one dictated by the brewer.

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