I took part in the first Twitter Taste Live beer tasting last night and I have to admit I enjoyed it. Jay was the guest host, the Vanna White of the whole affair and certainly he helped make it as orderly and positive an affair as it could be. But I am a bit prejudiced. I like Twitter. I am not someone who buys into every new IT idea not one who avoids all the variations on "twit" either.I do not "tweet". I am twitting when I write and a micro-post is a twit. There is another word for a Twitter bore that comes to mind, too. But that is just me. I find it light and pleasant without being an obsession. You may have to govern yourself otherwise. Here is what I noticed from last night's keyboard action:
- The organizers of TTL are already up and running as they appear to have done a number of wine and other tastings before. No one was learning on the job. It went smoothly.
- The participants were keen and intelligent. For the most part they were not people of the beer so much as wine fans and foodies who were happy to expand the range of their experience.
- The choice of topic, four Trappist bottles, selected out the participants to a degree but also was common enough that people could find an example.
- During the event, it was the most popular topic on twitter, beating out the topic "Obama" for an hour or so. For the weekend of the inauguration of the first African-American President of the United States, that is not nothing.
- The tone was right. It was jokey and fun, inquisitive and positive. It was like being in a crowd at a beer fest without the line ups for the urinals...or those urinals.
This sort of thing might not be for everyone. Andy Crouch wrote strongly last week against the idea but he thinks Twitter is "a pretty ridiculous endeavor and kind of the polar opposite from what makes beer great, namely the whole conviviality and bringing people together thing." I disagree but I think he is taking a principled point. Andy finds blogging a bit indulgent and I obviously do not. But we share the interest in conviviality. I suspect just from his use of the word he may be familiar with the social philosopher Ivan Illich whose writings, like those of media thinker Marshall McLuhan, have been discredited in the last decade or two. I find them never so apt. Illich's Tools for Conviviality, for example, is about turning accepted truths around tools and status on their heads to reveal the principles they promote and beg the question whether they need supporting.
The internet is forcing that same question now. The Christian Science Monitor is ditching its print edition. Professions and needs are being reconsidered and taken apart not only be the victory of the digital world over its predecessor but also by the recession. The weakening will run deep and what will come out the other end of it all will be different. We likely can't define what it will look like and what will survive but there is every likelihood that increased mass peer to peer digital communication will continue and may thrive.
What has this got to do with beer? Well, for one thing, for me to get together with a group of other beer fans requires me to leave town, leave my family responsibilities for a day and a night, often drive into another country and spend the best part of $500 for travel, hotel, taxi, tickets, meals and beer. It is not inexpensive and that only describes going to a beer fest in Syracuse NY or a beer and food event in Toronto. It does not reflect going to a major beer event like the Great American Beer Festival or a trip to Belgium or Munich. I do not expect to ever attend these things. The opportunity the digital world provides is not only the democratization of peer to peer communication but also it levels the economic barriers that previously were only overcome by funding from a publisher or payment by a regional trade or beer association. It was the luxury of the few. How unlike beer. Beer is not only excellent because it is tasty and healthy but also because it is the food of the people and reflects the communities where it comes from. It should not be exclusive or top-down. Digital communication - done properly - avoids this scourge just as a vast array of craft brewers now undermines that threat the precious and the artsy pose to the wallets of beer fans everywhere. Exclusivity is, in this sense, the enemy.
Was it perfect? No. But within minutes of the Twitter Taste Live starting I was emailing Jay about how this needs to be integrated into each month's edition of The Session. It was, as I said, like being at a beer fest, the crowd moving around you. It is not like a quiet seat in a pub not like the lecture hall feel of an organized tasting. It was not exquisite like a food and beer pairing. All of these experiences are valid and they are different. Sitting in the family rec room on the computer as kids run around and sports are on the TV will not replicate them all. But it will mirror some aspects of those things and create new ways of thinking about what conviviality means in relation to craft beer.