(Oostvleteren, BELGIUM) – Struise has put up some Westvleteren on sale at its webshop (sold out as of this post). So what is the problem that the brewery is attacking and have they or will they be successful?
Per Struise’s Urbain Coutteau, there have been approximately 950 orders since the webshop opened on January 19th (a number that has drastically increased over the past couple days). There were a handful of sales at the end of January while word was still spreading about the webshop. Since February 1st, however, only two sales have resulted from 24 Struise beer listings on eBay, both for beers/vintages never carried in the webshop.
Since I started tracking sales of Struise beers since early October 2008, there has been approximately 95 listings on eBay with 25 completed listings through January. The webshop is still young but Coutteau appears to be achieving his goal if those numbers are any indication (1 in every 4 listings resulting in sales vs. 1 in every 12 listings).
Westvleteren is a different animal with over six times the eBay listings as Struise over the same time period (early Oct. 2008 to present). Approximately 800 listings have resulted in 158 sales of Westvleteren in the past 18 or so months.
In terms of trending, successful Westvleteren listings have been, for the most part, steady if not increasing over time except for this past month:
Oct. 2008: 4, Oct. 2009: 14
Nov. 2008: 10, Nov. 2009: 8
Dec. 2008: 6, Dec. 2009: 21
Jan. 2009: 15, Jan. 2010: 15
Feb. 2009: 5, Feb. 2010: 15
Mar. 2009: 14, Mar. 2010: 6
Whether the problem that Struise is going after, eBay, is really a problem at all is a topic of debate in the beer community. A recent Beernews.org poll of 300 readers showed that 57% thought it was OK for individuals to re-sell beer on eBay while 30% said no and 13% were in the middle. RateBeer’s Joe Tucker also voiced support for eBay sales last month.
Brewers on the other hand . . . it would be interesting to poll them. Tomme Arthur of Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey has been particularly outspoken about it. Portsmouth Brewery‘s Tod Mott also doesn’t like to see Kate the Great on eBay.
Brewers choose not to sell most limited beers at “the equilibrium price,” a.k.a. the price at which there are just enough buyers to purchase up the supply. Imagine if Portsmouth Brewery priced Kate the Great in such a way that there would be just enough people to buy up all the bottles? What would that require? Upping the price to $20 or $30 per bottle . . . or more. Portsmouth would take plenty of heat with its fans for such a move though.
An anonymous eBay seller, on the other hand, can often charge prices at or above the equilibrium price, without taking any heat. That is, as long as the seller remains anonymous. eBay sellers can thrive in the secondary market whereas brewers can’t get away with this kind of thing unless it’s for charity.
It is the conundrum facing many breweries like Struise and Saint Sixtus producing limited beers.
Struise is taking a bold approach to tackle a sticky issue. Aside from some initial confusion as to whether Struise had permission from Saint Sixtus to sell Westvleteren, this could damage the secondary market for the beer as long as it continues. The other perspective might say that this will put the beer into more hands of potential resellers though this is not what we have seen so far in a short timeframe with Struise’s own beers.