A New Way To Hold Your Beer Trading Places

BEER COGNOSCENTI LOVE TO quaff gourmet suds from the microbreweries popping up in odd corners of the land. So the small-time brewers now hope to do at least as well with stock in their companies. Microbreweries such as Portland Brewing in Oregon, Spring Street Brewing in New York City, and Mendocino Brewing in Hopland, Calif., have gone public in the past year. Many more, such as Brooklyn Brewery, plan to do so soon. While pint-size breweries make up just 1% of the U.S. beer market, analysts expect that number to hit 10% in the next 10 years.

A warning: It's not easy to invest. None of these IPOs is large enough to be on any public exchanges. The companies are selling the shares directly, without benefit of an underwriter, and no brokers handle later trading.

Even if the microbrewing industry takes off, it may be like computers a decade ago: The small outfit you choose may not be the one to prosper. In the short term, don't look for dividends or price growth for these very thinly traded issues. "It's pretty airy stuff," Tom Pirko, president of BevMark International, a beverage industry consultant, says. One plus for Portland Brewing shareholders: a free cold one if you visit.

By Julie Tilsner

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