There is a good article today in The Boston Globe about the brothers Alström and their baby BeerAdvocate. The article's alarmingly lax about the application of the umlauted "o" - the "ö" - but it's good anyway... yet when I got into it I started to get a bit verklempt:
"We definitely have haters. In my opinion, though, that's a true sign of success. If you're surrounded by just a bunch of people who agree with you, you're doing something wrong." As for critics who complain that BeerAdvocate is biased toward certain American beers - those that are "hoppy" and have a high alcohol content are often mentioned, he notes - it isn't the Alströms who prefer one style of beer over another; it's the "beer geeks" whose opinions they track.
Haters? I suppose that's what it might feel like but as far as I am concerned the Alströms are probably as important to my personal appreciation of beer as Michael Jackson, though I am not quite sure exactly why I think that. I have a different point of view with most things they write about and balk at the simmering cult of personality. I don't post to or even read the BA's forums much and find it just plain silly when they say things like "in Europe, brewers are treated like common workers. In the US, they're treated like rock stars." But they like beer. And they liked it enough to tell the world that what they think about beer is important, that you should like it and that they won't take no for an answer. If I look around the landscape of my digital world I can't find another source of that imperative, that assertion that if you don't like craft beer you may have something not right in the head.
That's one thing. The second is that they have harnessed the opportunity of the digital media better than anyone else. Sure, there are other digital meeting places but at this point in time, BeerAdvocate has won - and have staked that claim to victory through somehow perfecting the internet forum, a format that largely died off in relation to any other topic by 2002 and then leapt into the dizzying 1960s world of the monthly magazine. It's like they made the AMC Pacer somehow cool. I even suspect sometimes that the volume of material under their watch goes a long way to explain why the beer related topics on even wikipedia are so crap. They also leverage the power of the willing mob to achieve that presence, which makes their rejection of blogs in their first "Beer Smack" blog post both so funny and so telling. It is not enough to make digital media available and "user friendly" as the saying used to be. You have to make yours necessary and to do so you also need to make the alternatives implicitly less worthwhile.
Haters? These guys have framed the obsession, made a republic if not a democracy of it, beaten back the image of ever ticking Veg Stout and given us all a lifestyle choice whether we like it or not. And given the absence of an actual beer consumer organization in North America, the Alströms are the next best thing.