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According to the Brewers Association, there are roughly 2,500 breweries operating in the United States, offering beer fans a cornucopia of hops and malt to enjoy. But the vast majority of those breweries are small operations with tiny distribution footprints. Masterful breweries like The Alchemist, in Vermont, don’t peddle their beers beyond their home states. So what’s a beer lover to do? You can only justify so many beer pilgrimages to the significant other/boss before your absence becomes an annoyance.

Enter online beer trading forums, where you can find a beer buddy on the other side of the country, or world, and trade your local beers for exotic beers from far off lands. Finally, the internet is being used the way God intended.

Different message boards have different rules, but the idea is universal: create a site-specific account, then post what beer you’re looking for and what you’re willing to trade for it. Or, list the beers you can get locally, and detail the style of beer you’re looking to sample. Make a connection through the forum, and exchange away, trading something local for something exotic.

“I just wanted to try different beers from different regions. That’s the whole goal, to give beers from my region and to get beers in return,” says Ryan, who joined a beer exchange board while reading about football on another message board. (Ryan didn’t want us to use his last name.) “It was interesting to give away beers from my region (Dallas-Fort Worth), because the DFW scene has completely changed. A total 180 from a couple of years ago.”

Sites like Beer Advocate are nirvana for those seeking new, foreign beers, with more than 60,000 posts in the beer trading thread.

At Real Beer, posters have the chance to exchange not just regional or state specific beer, but also some serious home brews. The board also holds competitions for the best home brews.
At Rate Beer, the trading is global, with European beers taking the spotlight (Mikkeller, anyone?).

Of course, trading for foreign beers isn’t all sunshine and roses. You trade for something unknown, you’re bound to get a few duds.

“My first exchange, some of it was disappointing,” Ryan says. “But overall, I got the chance to try some really good beers.”