Beer Auctions: Bidding On Rare Stouts, Sours, and Lambics
Rare wines have had a place in auction houses for decades. However, it’s only in the last few years that rare beers have been available to be auctioned to the highest bidder.
Boston’s Skinner Auction House, home to art, furniture and jewelry auctions, also provides rare beer auctions throughout the year. “We started offering beer in the fall of 2012,” says Michael J. Moser, Fine Wines Specialist for Skinner Auctions. The first beer Skinner sold was a bottle of 2007 Sam Adams Utopias. “Since then, we have offered beer in nine additional auctions.” Some of the auctions are traditional, “live” auctions, and others are timed, online-only auctions.
These auctions are a similar format to eBay, where items are listed for a fixed amount of time. Unlike eBay, Skinner offers an anti-sniping mechanism that adds five minutes to any lot for each bid it receives in the last five minutes. The next beer auction at Skinner runs May 5th to May 14th, and will be an online-only auction.
Chef Jason Bond (pictured above) of Cambridge, MA’s Bondir frequent’s Skinner to stock up on hard-to-find beer for his restaurant. “The main benefit of buying beer at auction is having access to beers that are not available through other distribution channels,” says Bond. “These beers we buy are produced in extremely small quantities, aged in people’s personal cellars, and definitely not easy to find.”
How does beer auctioning work?
About a week or so leading up to it, the auction list is posted online, and Bond spends some time reviewing it with his team at Bondir. “We take notes on what looks interesting and decide what bottles our guests will love and what styles will really round out our list.”
The live auctions take place at Skinner Auction House (63 Park Plaza in Boston), but are also streamed online in real time, so anyone can sign up and bid from home. “The auction is just as you’d imagine—enthusiastic beer lovers like me waving paddles around.” He adds, “But seriously, the auction is a fun time—the event is catered with food and wine tastings. It’s a good place to meet and mingle with people who are into beer, wines, food, and the restaurant scene.”
As for what a newcomer should expect, it kind of depends on the auction format. “At a Live Auction, I think the bidder may be surprised at how convivial the atmosphere is,” says Moser. In March, Skinner held an auction for novices and experts alike that featured wine, beer and spirits. “It’s also worth noting that bidders don’t need to attend the auction in person. We offer real-time internet bidding, telephone bidding or they can simply leave their maximum bid and the auctioneer will bid competitively on their behalf.”
Signing up online through the auction house website is fast and simple. “I would suggest signing up at least a week in advance, then browse the auction catalogue, do your research, and get ready to have fun with it,” says Bond. “It’s important to do your prep research to know what you’re bidding on ahead of time.”
What styles are available for auction?
“The huge breadth of styles out there is eye-opening,” says Bond. Bondir’s reserve list covers a pretty good range from unusual and price-accessible to very rare, often single run bottlings. “I mostly go with aged Belgian beers like lambics and gueuze, wild yeast things.” Bond goes for the most expressive, nuanced and surprising offerings.
Bond looks for beers with a story to tell that also match their needs, style-wise and price-wise. “We leverage price point, number of bottles available, and the holes on our list to make a final decision.” Three of Bond’s finds that jump out in particular are Three Floyds Dark Lord, Lost Abbey Veritas Batch 009, and Cantillon Grand Cru.
- The Lost Abbey – Veritas Batch 009
This extremely rare beer is a standout because only 100 cases were brewed and only 1,200 bottles. “It’s a sour-style stout that took nearly three and a half years to make,” says Bond.
“First aged in Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels for 15 months, it was then moved to Syrah red wine barrels where it sat for another 15 months with sour cherries, which was then blended and bottled-conditioned for an additional 11 months.” Flavors featured include dark cherry, oak, tannins, and a slightly sweet and tart finish. “It’s a beer that you’ll probably never find again.”
- 3 Floyds Bewing Co. – Dark Lord
This crazy imperial stout is only sold once a year on “Dark Lord Day.” “Beer nerds make annual pilgrimages to the brewery on that day to snag a bottle.” It’s a delicious rich stout, and something that isn’t readily available in most of the country, including Boston.
- Cantillon Brewery – Grand Cru Bruocsella
This is a high quality beer from the highest regarded Belgian sour beer producer in the world. “Super funky and delicious, it’s an unblended Lambic that was treated similarly to fine champagne,” says Bond.
The amount that Bond will pay for beer depends on how rare and unique they are. “We’ve paid a few hundred dollars for a 750ml bottle, but the auction itself can have several individual bottles that sell for over $1,000 each.”
Bond developed a reserve list at Bondir as an outlet for his passion for beer. “The list mirrors the style of our kitchen with surprises and unique experiences.” He spends a lot of time (and money) to find special products across the board and that is a big part of what makes Bondir a very personal and special experience.
The majority of the beer that Skinner has offered has been either lambic, American sour ales, or barrel-aged stouts, but there have also been some outliers like aged Samichlaus, Westvleteren 12, Fantome and a few others. “The general rule is that we only offer beers that are expected to improve with age,” says Moser.
Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, The Lost Abbey, The Bruery, Goose Island and Russian River Brewing Company have been stalwarts of Skinner’s auctions. “By and large, the bottles being offered come from private collectors, though we did offer a direct consignment from The Bruery last year, with the proceeds of the sale benefitting The One Fund, Boston.”
Moser likes to emphasize that Skinner started offering beer at auction because they believe that it belongs side by side with the fine wines and spirits that they offer. “The beers we’re putting to auction are among the best in the world and transcend the notion of simple beverage: they are experiences.”
Photos courtesy of Bondir and Skinner Auction House.