When I conceived my prank, it came with a good blog-post title: "Nobody Wants My Collectible Bottle". But then someone out-pranked me and actually bid on the empty bottle of Abyss that I listed on Ebay for $15 plus $10 shipping and handling.
Like many other beer mavens, I was not pleased to see people scalping bottles of the Abyss on Ebay or craigslist. The scalper hasn't done anything of value, he's just rushed out and bought up something that would be valuable to someone else, but isn't to him. Then, because Ebay doesn't want people selling alcohol, the scalper adds insult to injury with the following boilerplate required by Ebay:
The value of the item is in the collectible container, not its contents.
The container has not been opened and any incidental contents are not intended for consumption.
The item is not available at any retail outlet, and the container has a value that substantially exceeds the current retail price of the alcohol in the container.
There's no way you could believe that was true, especially since the Ebay sellers all proclaim the excellence of the top-ranked Imperial Stout in their descriptions of the bottles for sale. It's a measure of the malaise we've fallen into, that people will tell any lie for convenience, no matter how obviously false it is. As a beer fan, I'm annoyed by beer scalping; you can understand why brewer Tomme Arthur takes it more personally when someone says his beer is worth less than its bottle and is not intended for consumption.
Anyway, when I saw bottles of the Abyss going for $40-$45 under the premise that it was the bottle that was valuable, I decided I would auction the empty bottle pictured above, just to point out the ludicrousness of the "incidental contents" claims. Here's the text of the auction:
You are bidding on an EMPTY bottle!!!
Since Ebay does not permit the sale of alcoholic beverages, I drank the contents of this collectible 2007 Abyss bottle before listing it for auction. If you win the auction, I will ship you the empty collectible bottle, plus the collectible wax-covered bottlecap, plus a couple bits of collectible wax that broke off when I removed the bottlecap.
Other collectible Abyss bottles have sold this year for as much as $45 apiece!!! Of course, those were unopened collectible bottles that contained an alcoholic beverage. When you buy this EMPTY collectible Abyss bottle, you can buy with the confidence that you're buying from someone who plays by the rules, and you get the satisfaction of knowing how much I enjoyed drinking this delicious Imperial Stout.
I thought it would be good for a laugh, and that I would get a blog article out of it with the title I mentioned. Late Thursday evening, I noticed that the auction had caught someone's eye, because the number of people who had viewed the auction suddenly jumped into the hundreds. Turns out someone had pointed it out in a ratebeer forum, and someone else on Beer Advocate. I started to get questions about the item:
Q: How many bits of wax will you be including? I'm trying to decide if it's really worth it. :) - Bob
A: Hi Bob! There are a two little chunks that broke off when I opened the bottle. One is about the size of a toenail clipping, the other is smaller, maybe fingernail clipping size. Don't forget that there is still a scab-sized chunk of wax adhering to the bottle cap. Enjoy :-)
Q: Hi- I'm excited about this item!!! This is less than half price from those other items. My question: It's nice to see someone that plays by the rules, but isn't the S&H a bit over priced as the weight won't include the contents?:-( cheers, john
A: Good point. I just put what Ebay said UPS ground would cost. I'll negotiate something reasonable with the winner.
Q: Can you guarantee there's no beer - no bits of yeast sticking to the bottom, no sludgy stuff up the sides? I'd hate for there to be any yukky beer stuff ruining a good looking bottle ;-)
A: Oh, I drank every single drop. Even when the bottle looked empty, I laid down with it on the couch for a couple of hours to make sure every bit went into my mouth.
Q: Hi there, I was wondering if you could post a picture of the wax shards. Are all shards still intact or are a few missing? What is the condition of the bottle cap? Did you use a quarter on top while prying it off it ensure it stays in M10+ condition?
A: I understand your concern, since the wax on this bottle was rated the best bottle wax in the world by the Men's Journal. I tried to preserve it all, but there could be some missing molecules. Sadly, I didn't do the quarter trick when opening the bottle. I was in a big hurry to pour myself a glass. So I can't guarantee the excellence of the bottlecap.
Then, horror of horrors, someone actually bid on it. Now I really have to rinse the bottle out, and find a box, and, and -- please, no! -- go to the post office and mail it! My interest was piqued a little to see that the bidder's Ebay ID was "ftommearthur". Wow! It looks like Tomme Arthur liked my little joke and decided to throw some fuel on the fire. Hey, maybe instead of cash, he'll pay me with some "incidental liquids" from his brewery. But what's the "F" for? Is his legal name F. Tomme Arthur? Or is this someone else, the Female Tomme Arthur perhaps? Ah, probably someone just pranking me back -- with no intention of paying -- and yanking Tomme's chain at the same time.
That would be great, I wouldn't have to journey into the scary UPS office. But, no such luck. Paypal "You've got cash!"-ed me the morning after the auction closed. Aha! Some guy in Vermont, definitely not the California brewer. Oh well, the "ftommearthur" moniker at least indicated he was in on the joke, and wasn't some poor sap who thought he was -- wink, wink, nudge, nudge -- bidding on a full bottle. Here's how he explained himself in an email:
Thanks Bill. Just trying to further the entertainment / discussion from the BA "*&^% eBay" thread. Didn't work. In any case I thought your auction deserved a bid for its satirical / comedy value. You made a good point. For the record I too detest the eBay beer profiteering. Looking forward to my wax shards...
Luckily, I had been careful to safely stash away the promised bottlecap and bits of wax, otherwise I'd have to drink another bottle of incidental non-collectible stout.
I don't think I'm cut out for this Ebay thing. UPS charged me $13.59 for shipping (including $2.70 "Rural Surcharge", for the Vermont end), and Ebay invoiced me $1.39. My laziness caused me to pay another $5.65 to UPS to pack it all up for me. Suddenly $15 + $10 shipping looks like quite a bargain! There go my hopes for getting rich by drinking beer... unless... maybe someone wants to buy a set of 3 collectible bottles. Empty, of course.