I've always thought of the world of craft beer as its own subculture or quasi-religion, with fervent beliefs, bizarre rituals (gathering in large groups to drink beer out of tiny plastic cups), and pilgrimages (to the beer mecca of Belgium, or the super-limited release of Russian River Brewery's Pliny the Younger). Those who trade beer, then, are a subculture within a subculture.
Beer trading is a bartering economy where beer lovers from across the country and world can try rare or distant beers by working with what they've got. Have access to Three Floyds Zombie Dust but want some Lost Abbey? Looking for some vintage Surly Darkness to complete your lineup? Head to the trading forums of Beer Advocate, RateBeer, TalkBeer, Reddit, or even Instagram (try #beertrade or #beermail) to find your match.
Within this sub-subculture, there are taboos, expected etiquette, and many, many acronyms and abbreviations. If you're a first time trader hoping to swap the beer you've got for the beer you want, it can be impossible to understand what anyone's talking about. Here are some handy terms and beer trading basics to get you started.
This is an essential. ISO means "In Search Of", and FT means "For Trade." Almost all posts on the beer trading boards are titled with these terms. Sometimes traders will list a few beers they have available for trade, or they'll link to a list they keep updated. Other times they'll just mention their region---if they say they have access to TX distribution, that means they can get you any beers that are distributed throughout the state of Texas.
Beer It Forward (BIF)
This is a game where traders form a group and either all ship a box of beer to another person in the group by a deadline, or continuously trade (i.e. one person sends a box to a trader, then he or she sends a box to another trader until the host ends up with a box). Throughout the BIF, traders will typically post to a 'hints and hauls' thread, giving hints about who they are sending a box to and photos of the 'beer hauls' when they receive a box.
Lottery It Forward (LIF)
An LIF is a chance to win free beer by playing a game or answering questions correctly. It might mean guessing what beer the host is drinking right now, or predicting the birthday, time, and weight of the host's new baby boy. Winner gets beer! The winner of a LIF will often host a new LIF, thus paying the beer karma forward. It could also be a Charity LIF, where participants pay to enter a raffle for a charitable cause and can win one or more boxes of beer.
New BIF Opportunities. Yes, that is an acronym within an acronym. If you want to sign up for a Beer It Forward group, look for these threads. Some BIFs have themes, such as encouraging traders to only send dark beers, or just great beers in cans.
(AKA: white whale, wale, whalez; #whalezbro)
A whale is a rare beer that's really difficult to find. The term refers to Captain Ahab's tireless hunt for his great white whale, Moby Dick, except instead, you're hunting for a rare vintage bottle of Cantillon. Note, this phrase is sometimes used ironically in reference to cheap beer. (e.g. "Went whale hunting and came back with a 30-rack of Natty. #whalezbro")
A list of the beers a trader has available in his collection, often listed in a Google Doc or at cellarHQ.com.
This term refers to beers you can get on the shelf at your local bottle shop, some of which are gathering dust. If they're nationally distributed, these sorts of beers aren't highly valued in trading. You might see people seeking out 'turds' that aren't available where they live, but easy to find elsewhere.
A bad beer you just can't finish drinking. For example: "Anyone else think this batch was infected? Had to drain pour mine last night."
Bad Trader List
A crowdsourced spreadsheet/Google Doc of traders who failed to complete their trade or BIF.
Beers, glassware, or other goods, not explicitly mentioned in the direct trade, but added by the trader. Could be included because there are a few extra spaces in the box, to strengthen relationships with beer trading partners, or as a token of generosity.
Usually these letters will refer to a barrel aged beer, though the writer could also be talking about Beer Advocate.
BCBS vs. BBCS
Those look similar, right? But BCBS is Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout, while BBCS refers to Brooklyn Brewery's Black Chocolate Stout.
3F vs. FFF
These acronyms may look the same, but they're different! 3F is Drie Fonteinen, a Belgian brewery that specializes in geuze and kriek, while FFF is Three Floyds Brewing in Indiana.
Any more beer trading terms you can't decipher? List 'em in the comments below and we'll help you out.