Beer On The Internet
Beer On the Internet
by Alan McLeod
You might be amazed at how much there is to read and learn about beer, breweries and brewing on line today. Through the combined efforts of professional writers, amateur hobbyists, brewers and beer stores, there is hardly an pub, ale or lager out there that has gone unreviewed or unphotographed, whether it is on a group review site, bulletin board or blog. This includes nearly all the craft beers and specialty imports available across the Great Lakes region. And as the Internet matures along with the craft beer industry, we are seeing more and more ways for dedicated beer geeks to get involved the brew they love.
The two kings of the beer review site world are clearly the Beer Advocate and RateBeer. Both web sites started in 2000 and each has thousands of reviewers, hundreds of thousands of reviews as well as millions of readers visits each year. As a first source of information on any beer you might encounter on your travels, both these web services provide a selection of views by people with a great variety of tastes and experience. They also provide pub travel and beer shopping information, and reviews. The Beer Community over at RealBeer.com provides a similar service.
These sites are a great way to find out what people think of a beer, but many people think different things about each of those beers, and once you have gotten into the beer-geek and of the opinion spectrum, your taste is likely as unique as anyone else's. In other words, results may vary. Another great service these sites provide is a cataloging of each brewer's brands, past and present, along with details like which ones are kegged and which are bottled, special brewing or ingredient detail, which ones will excite yours senses, and will ones will knock you off your bar stool.
Similar to these vast international communities of beery babble, local web-based bulletin boards provide the sort of focus, both on topic and even membership, that global services just can't match. Toronto's Bar Towel is a great example of a group board focused on one local community. The members meet each other off-line, shop at the same shops, visit the same pubs and collectively create a far more detailed view of their city than what is available on a site that seek to capture a vision of the entire world of beer.
I've been writing about beer for about three years now at my website, A Good Beer Blog. Blogs like mine differ from these large, busy sites as they are usually the work of one or a few people, writing just from there own point of view. Being blogs, there is a lot of cut and paste as well as a lot of repetition in that cutting and pasting, but the good ones have plenty that is new. My favorite has to be Knut of Norway's beer blog [http://beerblog.motime.com.] Knut travels all over Europe and takes us along to the pubs and breweries he visits. For more, check out The Beer Siteâs blog directory for a good selection [http://www.thebrewsite.com/reading_list.php.] There are a number of sites out there run by the professional writers, too. The most active in the Great Lakes region would have to be beer and whisky writer Lew Bryson, of Pennsylvania. His website is a massive resource for what is going on the industry domestically as well as around the world. He even uses the internet to keep his useful set of books updated, a very clever move. While beer papers (www.brewingnews.com) have had a web presence for some time, traditional newspapers have also gotten into the act, paying staff to run regular beer columns like the Beer Buddies of Rochester's Democrat and Chronicle [http://www.democratandchronicle.com], or the Beer Man of The Post-Crescent of Wisconsin [http://pcbeerman.blogspot.com/2006_04_01_pcbeerman_archive.html] or the Toronto Star's Josh Rubin [http://www.thestar.com].
Brew It Or Buy ItEven though the internet is well over a decade old now, beer shopping on-line has yet to truly take off. This is, when you think of it, not much different from the buying of many other tangible products--like sofas and bulk cat food--which, once upon a time, was supposed shut malls and grocery chains throughout the western world. Some shops are out there like the venerable Londonâs Pittfield Beer Shop [http://www.pitfieldbeershop.co.uk/aboutus.htm] which evolved out of a craft brewery which was a mid-â80s CAMRA award winner, but it caters only to the local British market to stay within the scope of the local law.
And while we may never see true global e-brewing, there are firms catering to the true beer geek, those fans desperate to select that one long-sought, truly rare monkish brew or local German craft ale. Try BelgianShop [http://shop.belgianshop.com] or the Cracked Kettle [http://www.crackedkettle.com], for example. The down side is the amount these services charge for shipping, as the weight of beer and the need to send it by courier combine to make a few beers cost about as much as a few cases. Far more reasonable from a shipping point of view are beer of the month clubs, like the one under the name of Michael Jackson, Beer Hunter [http://rarebeerclub.beveragebistro.com/join_rbc.html]. The catch is that with these services, you receive what is selected for you. Neither type of service is any threat to your local beer shop, but each in their way adds something that can extend what is available to you and your beer loving friends.
Homebrewing, on the other hand, is doing quite well on the Internet. There are numerous sites where homebrewers can swap recipes and even beer. Homebrewers have recorded years of interactive discussion of the internet, the most venerable one is the utterly unfancy Home Brewers Digest, with its valuable archive of daily questions and comments among the amateur brewing community dating back to 1988 [http://www.hbd.org.] In addition to this sharing among the fellowship of the craft, many of the shops that supply their ingredients are doing a brisk on line business. Itâs worth noting that every homebrew shop that advertises in this paper has their web address in the ad.
Some craft breweries may be accused of remaining in the two-dimensional old school Internet, where the feedback is limited to emailed comments back to the staff or maybe a visitorâs guestbook. Their sites may be bright and fun featuring information about the beer and even dancing beer kegs but they are not particularly participatory from the customerâs point of view. There are good reasons for this. Brewers are busy brewing and, except for the larger brewers, the fan base that the internet offers may be seen as too dispersed for the most part, too far from the actual beer that the brewery needs to put in the hands of fans. And the cost of paying staff to both trigger and moderate discussion might be too much for many smaller brewers.
But moving to a more responsive Internet presence is a great form of marketing and some breweries are already taking on the challenge of the responsive world of Web 2.0. Scott Gallagher of Rogue Ales told me by email that Rogue believes their website has to be informative about our beer and beer in general, but also entertaining.
We're currently revising our website to be more informative, adding video and tours, you'll even be able to sign up for the Rogue Nation online and take the pledge of Rogue-legiance. We're also going to have a blog and myspace page.In the Great Lakes region there are plenty of amateur bloggers, but the Flossmore Station Brewpub in Illinois is an example of another use of blogs--a craft brewer taking on the web to get in touch with his fans [http://flossmoorstation.blogspot.com.] Beauâs Brewing near Ottawa is blogging, too [http://beausbeer.blogspot.com.] The Internet is changing and craft beer is no different from any other part of life. Just as many people now use it to publish their thoughts on blogs or to get just the song they need through downloading, many beer fans expect to be able to express and share their own thoughts with each other and with the breweries they love. So while we may be a long way off from those web-based Trappist beer dispensing units some of us dream of, great beer is a generator of great discussion whether it is on the Web or on a bar stool.