Pattinson, meanwhile, has been tearing apart the lazily accepted history of porter, stout, and mild...using great drifts of data he's collected from brewer's logs. He's a self-admitted obsessive about this stuff, but the results he's getting make me very glad he's taking the time.It seems to me that Ron's work exemplifies that beer blogging has taken a step into that much heralded next level of blogging - that promise of Web 2.0 that the intermediary of the expert will be unseated by the evolution of direct knowledge. Of course that is usually all bunk fed by internet consultants (this is my favorite Web 2.0 commentary) but in this case it may actually true...if you accept that Ron, a man without a book (yet), is not an established expert. Generally, I do not accept that thems-with-books are necessarily of a different class than thems-without. Many factors take part in that. Plus the job of getting a book out carries its own perils and pressures as (fellow and rightfully awarded Lew-seal-of-approval winner) Martyn Cornell noted to me back in 2003 after I asked where all the footnotes were in his book Beer: The Story of the Pint:
Mmmmm - trouble is, the general feeling in the publishing world is that footnotes equal elitist-looking equals lost sales, except if they're jokey asides as per Pete Brown's book. This may be wrong, but it's what publishers think. The aim of Beer: TSOTP was to try to appeal both to people, like yourself, who already knew a lot about beer and brewing, and also to people looking for a Christmas present for Uncle Ernie (since by getting them to buy the book, I and the publisher make more money ...), hence no footnotes so as not to put off the Uncle Ernie crowd. However, to make up for this a little, I tried to make the bibliography as complete as possible, and also chapter-specific, to help people track references down.I like how that observation sums up some of the issues related to traditional paper publishing but I think it is fair to say now, four years on, that we may be in a new period of flux and transformation in terms of both new access to media and a rapidly growing interest in information about beer and beer history as well as the desire to hear as many voices about beer. I think we can safely call this "The Neato Age Of Beer."
That being the case, two things have come together recently that I think you need to be aware of to make the neato-ness of your experience most neato. With these two things, you too may delve into the world of primary data about beer and find out a few things that beer historians less complete than Martyn might have left you wondering about. First, Google somewhat recently added news archives to the searching you for any topic you wish. If you search Google News for "beer", you will see to the lower left a number of time spans listed so that you can now search for stories about beer in, for example, just the 1920s. This was great but once you looked there you found most of the news items were pay per view. But no longer since The New York Times recently released its archives back to around 1850 to the public for free. As a result, while there are still many subscription only archives for other papers, you can now find stories like this one about beer gardens in the City in 1873, a New York phenomena that still continues. You get a .pdf of the original story as well and, as shown above, in the original font - neato yet still very clear. This is the sort of resource Martyn is discussing using at his excellent blog but it is more The Times of London he uses and access is not so fully available over the internet.
So get at it. If you have read a history of beer - or anything for that matter - and left thinking that the author has compromised, has been compromised by the publishers or they just didn't get the point...go find out for yourself. As Ron and Martyn point out day after day, it is mainly about the quality of the data you rely upon.