|And the cry of the Flipper is heard in Hell...|
All flippers go to hell.
Starting from the top: what's a flipper? A flipper is someone who takes advantage of a situation that lets them buy a product or item for a price that's below the market price, and then immediately re-sells it for a profit. You may have heard of people "flipping" homes, maybe seen "Flip This House." When people flip homes, often it involves some work and money; cleaning, clearing brush, relatively minor construction or repair. That's a different proposition, and I don't think of those people as assholes; they're doing some smart work, increasing the value of their asset (or taking away a negative from it; same thing), taking a fair amount of risk, and then profiting from their work.
No, I'm talking about beer and whiskey flippers. These are the folks who pick up rare or hyped bottles and immediately turn about and sell them at a jacked-up price for substantial profit, legally or illegally (most states don't allow the sale of alcohol beverages, even so much as one bottle, without a license).
How come they can get those bottles, and you can't? They may happen to live near the release point of a limited edition bottling (Chicago for Bourbon County Rare, Tampa for Cigar City Hunahpu's Imperial, Craigellachie for the Macallan Easter Elchies bottlings, and so on), or they enter store lotteries to buy Van Winkle bourbon at the quite reasonable list price, or they take a day to follow delivery trucks around to scoop up all the bottles of an allocated beer or whiskey that they can talk ill-informed retailers into selling immediately... Whatever the reason, they buy cheap (and usually the maximum allowed), and then sell as dear as they can.
They also suck, a lot. If you're a flipper, look in the mirror and see what a huge jackass you are. Sure, you're the capitalist ideal: buy something at a low price in one market (the release point, the store lottery, the unprepared retailer), then move that product to another market, the secondary gotta-have-it-can't-get-it market, and sell it for a substantial profit. It's the way trade makes money, it's how it's worked since the first trader picked up some pretty seashells off the beach and walked inland to trade these amazing magical talismans for racks of smoked meat and bales of furs. He took a risk -- maybe they wouldn't like the seashells, maybe they wouldn't have anything to trade that he wanted, maybe another trader got there first and satisfied the need, maybe he'd get attacked and robbed (or killed, maybe by wild animals) on the journey to or from the secondary market -- and if the risk worked out, he made a profit.
Only this is more like the Dutch traders who stoked the fire under the tulip bubble in the 1630s (yes, I know that tulipmania may have been exaggerated, but it's an example most people know about). There's trade, and then there's mania, and where there's mania, there's someone who's going to take advantage of it. And once mania starts, the other risks start to diminish in the light of getting stuck with the expensive commodity if the bubble collapses. But with the Internet helping things along, flipping moves so fast these days that getting stuck with a non-salable bottle is just not that likely. And as we like to point out, you can always drink it.
I first realized there was a potential flipper market in beer back when Troegs first put Mad Elf in the big 3-liter bottles, and John Trogner told me that one day a woman came in and bought ten of them, at $60 each...and she didn't even drink beer. Just thought they would be great gifts at her office. And Stephen Beaumont then pointed out (wish I could find where; little help?) that prices and availability were going to become a problem for beer lovers who wanted the Dark Lord, and the Kate the Great, and the Pliny the Younger, because beer was becoming so hot, so hyped (and it really still is), that others were jumping in. Like this guy:
This wave of crazy demand, some of it from wine drinkers who were not shocked at the idea of paying $30 to $100 a bottle at all, some of it from whiskey collectors who felt they simply had to have a bottle, stoked the prices to the point that the flippers got in. When you look at the payoff, it's sobering. If you can get a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old at or near the list price of about $250, you can sell it within two weeks for $2,000 with minimal effort. Even beers can net you $50 to $200, if they're rare enough. Flippers then further fuel the demand by snapping up every bottle, making the quick sales and total clearance that brings panic and desperation on the part of fans, who will then pay even more.
In this way, the flippers are putting upward pressure on the general price of whiskey. Just as the price a whiskey brings at a legitimate auction or the marked-up price at which it sells on a retail shelf affects the planning of the producer for the pricing in the future, so too do the prices that flippers get push the regular retail higher.
Some producers and retailers, bless their hearts, have taken steps to try to stop flipping. These range from simply refusing to sell to known flippers -- ballsy -- to jacking the list price up close to that of the secondary market. That second strategy looks greedy, but I get it: They're making and marketing the stuff. Why should some lower-than-snake-shit flipper profit? Some folks even rat out flippers to the booze cops, and while there's some schadenfreude there, I'll admit, diming someone to the booze cops is Not Cool. Even a flipper. Because the Booze Cops care even less about the booze than the flippers do, and they'll usually destroy the bottles. No one wins.
The thing is, it won't stop. As long as there are people willing to pay the price, because they just have to have that bottle, flippers will prosper. As much as they suck, as much as they're the lowest kind of river-bottom turd, they're not going to go away, because there are people willing to pay the price. I don't blame those people for the flippers' existence; that's not fair. I blame the flippers for doing what they're doing, because too many of them have no idea what's in the bottle, and they don't care, either. If you're buying from a flipper and you're doing it for the reasons the guy in the video had...you're a jerk,
Look, when you flip a bottle, you disrupt the natural flow of the booze from maker to drinker. If you're just helping people who otherwise wouldn't get the bottle, and passing it through for no profit, I got no beef. But if you're only getting that bottle to turn around and sell it? You're a jerk, and you're going to hell.
As a wise Scotch whisky distiller once told me, something I've repeated over and over: "We make the stuff to drink." Stop buying it for resale. Enjoy it.