Session 123: The Internet And Craft Beer

The trouble with the considering how the Internet and craft beer have interacted is that any old fool can stake a claim to knowing something, spend years rabidly building a personal brand and then – with no accreditation backing you but plenty of beer porn – hold yourself out as some sort of expert… and then expect folk to pay you and even (get this) come out to hear you speak as if in the presence of a special moment.

Me. That’s me right there. I’ve done all that. Fourteen years of it. Been quoted by The New York Times, too. All because of the Internet. In the January 2007 issue of Great Lakes Brewing News I got on the front cover with my article “Crafting the Internet: Beer On Line” which I am sure now springs immediately to your mind’s eye now that I mention it. (I used to do that sort of thing before I learned about the starvation wages of a freelancer.) It goes on for three whole pages and I take the time to generously discuss my beer blog, those of my friends as well as mentioning all the paying sponsors of the time that I could shoehorn in. What a corrupt wee jerk I was. What is it with this internet thing? Some things never change.

The interesting thing about the article is how essentially the structures of today are still the ones we use. BeerAdvocate and RateBeer are discussed as are pro writers like Lew as well as Mr. Rubin of the Toronto (Red) Star. Beers had started to be offered on line for delivery to your door. I complained that most “craft breweries” (look at me using the term that early) were behind the times, offering only an “email us” feedback loop for their customers – though I mentioned that Flossmoor in Illinois and Beaus here in Ontario had started up their own blogs.

2007. Framed. That serves as a reasonable benchmark for the question posed by this month’s hosts for The Session at Beer Simple:

This month, we’re taking on the internet and craft beer: is it a help, a hinderance, an annoyance, or all of the above?  How is beer drinking/brewing different in the internet age, and how is the internet changing the way brewers and craft beer drinkers do business?  

The odd thing about the question is the shortsightedness of the questions. Good beer in the sense of the micro brewing has been around for over three decades and, really, at least four if we understand the role of Peter Austin and the era of import bars. Similarly, as Boak and Bailey point out in their response to the question, alt.beer was founded around  July 1991. I would add BeerAdvocate was founded just five years after that. Plus, before use.net, the beer discussions of obsessives occurred in personal ‘zines and local newsletters whether published by CAMRA branches or that guy in New York whose name I can’t recall. Yankee Brew News was founded in 1989.

So, if we think about it, is the question really about how social media (post-2007) has affected craft beer (also pretty much post-2007)? If so, isn’t it a question about how social media has affected pop culture? I would think the effect on a craft brewery would be much the same as it might be in relation to a sports team or a pop singer. But the question as posed seems to include a unspoken bias or at least a foundation in unhappiness:

Just how fast do aleholes on message boards and elsewhere turn off prospective craft beer enthusiasts?

What an odd concept. As a third party observer why would one care if “aleholes” are turning off “prospective craft beer enthusiasts”? There is a word for both classes of person – strangers. Which is the problem social media has brought into all parts of the discourse. The presumption… no, the illusion of nearness. Brewers, bloggers, other fans and storytellers are all in the double bubble of the alcohol-laced social media construct. Associating what you find there with commonality or, worse, friendship is rife with peril. Some fools actually consider creaky big craft brewers heroes. Good Lord.

All beer is, as a result, properly understood as local and personal. The ecology is small and getting smaller with the return to more naturally scaled micro and happy tap rooms – and the slow collapse of big craft dreams much to its own surprise.

Should we be surprised? Has the internet lied? Or have we all lied to the internet?

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