Hill Farmstead Brewery tackles reselling of its beers on eBay

Hill Farmstead Brewing logo

(Greensboro, VT) – Hill Farmstead Brewery Founder, Shaun Hill, has been vocal about eBay sales in recent weeks to the extent that we can devote a whole post to the Hill Farmstead vs. eBay battle.

Why all the chatter?

There is a ton of buzz around Hill Farmstead, in particular. Hill runs a brewery that was crowned sixth-best in the world on RateBeer earlier in the year and the message board buzz is palpable. Between trading and reselling of his beers, the Hill Farmstead aftermarket is on fire with some individual bottles being valued at over $200 (not just Buy It Now listings…people have actually bought Hill’s beers for more than that).

A couple recent references per Hill Farmstead’s Facebook page illustrate…

On May 23:

For a mere 249.99$, one of you lucky facebook fans could purchase a bottle of Damon on Ebay! (or, you could wait until next year when we release thousands of bottles for 15$)…

On June 30:

Looks like our good friends at Ebay are back at it. Even after selling Damon for 200$, Offnewburystreet continues to try and move forward by selling a Mimosa for 200$. Maybe we’ll start charging more for our beer… July 14th Bottle Release: Ann will now be 200$ a bottle.

On July 11:

Is this email a joke?
“Haha, thanks for complaining to eBay about my auction. Which, followed all the rules because im selling the bottle and the contents are not of value. I think that is a low blow. You sold the beer to me and I have free reign to do with it as I wish. Pathetic business practice and I will for sure not be drinking anymore hill farm beer.

Regards,
Disgruntled consumer”

I guess if this contents are not of value, then this person shouldn’t be drinking our beer anyway? And…perhaps the Federal Government would disagree about this person’s ability to do as they wish…?

Hill isn’t sitting by idly though the eBay system limits what he can do:

We haven’t reported anyone to ebay. Ebay doesn’t even work that way… you can report an “item” but, as you say, ebay wouldn’t report to someone that a particular company “called them out.” This gets ever more ridiculous by the day… What is Entitlement? I’ll tell you: It’s people that show up for bottle releases, hoard the beer, and then resell it because they believe it is their given right as Americans… To all that didn’t get to taste Mimosa, Damon, Tragedy, Ann, etc – I’m deeply sorry that you can blame OffNewburyStreet or this “disgruntled consumer” for your loss.

The result of eBay sales will impact all Hill Farmstead customers. Per one of the comment threads, the future of some Hill Farmstead limited releases looks like this, according to Hill:

When the taproom is finally constructed, we will take the Port Brewing / The Lost Abbey road and only allow our small release bottles to be consumed on site.

Of course, not everyone agrees with Hill in his opinion of eBay. Some have argued that buyers should be free to do as they please with his beers once they buy them. To that, he responds:

It’s not the seller and the buyer’s business. Our name and logo are registered trademarks – and profiteering individuals that drive here for small releases are taking beer away from folks that also waited in line but didn’t get a chance to purchase. They then use our name and our logo to promote what they are selling, illegally. And – as Bob M. Montgomery points out, it is illegal on at least 4 or 5 accounts… The TTB and local liquor control really need to begin the crackdown on this sort of illegal activity.

One way he plans to begin the crackdown himself:

We aren’t going to begin selling our beer at 200$ a bottle, obviously, and it wasn’t a threat. What is a threat is this: Anyone caught selling our beer illegally on Ebay will be forever banned from our brewery and will be served a cease and desist letter from our lawyer for trademark infringement.

UPDATE: a reader just sent in a link regarding the First Sale Doctrine which gives those in secondary markets shelter from trademark and copyright infringement law. It doesn’t appear as though Hill has a legal position in that regard.

As to his overall philosophy on the matter, Hill tells BeerPulse in an email:

“At the beginning and the end of the day, it is only about the beer for us. We do everything possible to produce what we consider to be the best tasting beers available. If a bar is pouring our beer through dirty draft lines, we stop selling them beer. If a consumer is reselling our beer for 200$ on eBay, we do whatever is possible to prevent such activity from happening.”

What say you, readers? Where do you stand on this hot button issue?

Breweries:

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28 thoughts on “Hill Farmstead Brewery tackles reselling of its beers on eBay

  1. Not looking to take a side in the email issue, but Mr. Hill’s trademark infringement claims are ludicrous. If his lawyer has advised him on the above statements, he should look for new representation.

  2. I agree with Todd. If Mr. Hill could actually do this, that would mean anyone on Ebay could receive a C&D for selling anything with a company logo on it, whether it’s Nike, Microsoft, etc. Legally, I doubt there is anything the brewery can do, except for trying to get the Authorities to crack down.

  3. Disney’s case against video stores in the 80s put the kabash on these types of trademark and copyright infringement claims. They won’t win. Also, how are they to get the IDs of ebay and Craigslist sellers? It sucks but they have to understand that it is supply side economics at work.

  4. ” Anyone caught selling our beer illegally on Ebay will be forever banned from our brewery” – so much for that rule applying to AJ

  5. We did an entire episode on this with the guys from Brew Rebellion on as guests to have an opinion straight from people in a similar boat as Shaun Hill. And if this story continues to heat up, we may have to do a follow up!

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  7. Breweries,retailers and on premise accounts required by law to pay taxes on alcohol and have liscences and insurance to sell alcohol then resellers on Ebay should be held to the same standards. I gaurantee that once they see the costs of all of those 3 things they would decide not to do it.

  8. All of this hot air and butthurt from Mr. Hill really turns me off to his brewery and will eventually overshadow his skills as a brewer

  9. I just wanted to make sure everyone is aware that Shaun Hill made special 3 Fonteinen bottles available for sale (at the HF retail shop) that were gifted to him from the Shelton Brothers. Has Shaun had a change of heart or is he simply a hypocrite?

  10. I want to point out that, as an actual attorney not just some guy who is reading Wikipedia, there is a potential viable claim for commercial misappropriation of plaintiff’s name, trademark or image for defendant’s advantage.

  11. I want to know what Shaun Hill’s stance is on beer trading? In a similar regard people get small bottle releases to trade for other small bottle releases. How does he feel about that market. Or does he only care that someone else is profiting off of his beer? There’s an easy way to stop people from doing what they want with the beer, don’t sell it for offsite consumption. Otherwise you have to deal with people doing whatever they want with your product once they purchase it. Whether it being, pouring it in the improper glassware to pairing it incorrectly with foods. You can’t control these sorts of things after the beer has left your facility. The only thing i can suggest is let go a little, and just keep pumping out great beers.

  12. Thanks for the zinger.

    Why don’t you expand on that idea? Why doesn’t every manufacturer sue eBay resellers since that very thing can be argued in literally every case?

  13. There’s no basis for a lawsuit from the manufacturer. That’s basically the same as someone who goes out and hoards electronic devices (i.e. iPads, PS3, etc.) once they buy the device they can do with it as they please and the creator has no say in it. Now if the federal government wants to get involved(which i doubt they will) they could charge them with selling and distributing alcohol without a license. Just seems to me like a bunch of butthurt breweries. If you truly want everyone to get a chance to taste your small releases, do them in house and limit them to 1 per person. That’s the only way you’re going to stop it.

  14. Though very early in the history of the iPad, Apple permanently banned some people who were hoarding it from future purchases.

    For the record: liquor laws vary widely from state to state, but in my state, it would be illegal for me to buy beer on eBay, and illegal for the seller to ship it to me. That doesn’t mean that people can’t get away with it: if the beer is shipped in an unmarked package and the bottles don’t break, nobody is likely to notice. But that is one approach that the brewer could take to stop beer speculation.

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  18. Definitely a sticky situation for people to be reselling beer, or any alcohol, on eBay. There are only a handful of states that you can ship any alcohol from or to. SPlus – here’s what eBay says, “eBay doesn’t allow the sale of alcoholic beverages on its U.S. website, except for pre-approved sales of wine… Make sure your listing follows our guidelines. If it doesn’t, it may be removed, and you may be subject to a range of other actions, including restrictions of your buying and selling privileges and suspension of your account.”

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  20. Anyone who comes out so vocally against aftermarket sales of their beer needs to get their head checked. You make a product, you sell it, then what the person does with it after they buy it is their own business. If you think a resale price of $200 is too high, then maybe you aren’t charging enough in the primary market.

    Also – if eBay shuts down beer sales – they will only be hurting themselves. The market will simply move elsewhere, and more underground, and perhaps just drive prices up. People will still pay. They will still trade. There is no difference between trading and buying.

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  23. So what if a few profiteers operate out there? I’m lucky enough to be able to make a 3 hour pilgrimage to Hill Farmstead and I visit Belgium and The NL a lot for business…but Tired Hands is a haul…Cigar City not exactly next door…and Fifty-Fifty’s Elijah Craig 18yo was mos def outta reach without Ebay. It offers us a way to taste the best. The number of bottles of these brewers sold on eBay is negligible and hasn’t ruined anything. I thought Craft Brewers would be more ‘open source’ and less distributor-like in terms of protectionist controls. They’re starting to feel evil; like Microsoft or the old shelving practices of Bud. Good thing is, they’re are more replacements popping up everyday.

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  26. Forget Ebay, when the 2009 edition of Sam Adams Utopias was released the going price was in the $150.00-$200.00 range.

    The Joe Canals DISCOUNT liquor store in Millville NJ tried selling it for $499.00 as soon as they received it. It sat there for a year or so and then they put a sign on it that read

    ON SALE!!! Was $599.00 now only $499.00.

    It may still be sitting there for all I know. Needless to say I don’t shop there any more.

    I belong to a beer tasting group. Over the last ten years we have tasted over 700 beers from all over the world. We even have our own resident Cicerone.
    We would love to try the Hill Farmstead Brews.

    I’m wondering if it’s possible for the brewery to sell and ship their brew at a reasonable cost directly to consumers?

    Thank you for your time.

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