LIFE ONLINE — Amber alert: Blogs abuzz about beer, by OTIS HART, The Associated Press, Monday, June 19th, 2006 01:04 PM (PDT)
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
NEW YORK (AP) – Microbrews share more than a few similarities with bands. They’re both found in bars all over the world, identifiable by label and genre, and often subject to illogical devotion.It only makes sense that the blogosphere is starting to buzz about beer in the same way it has about music.
“For 95 percent of people, it’s ‘gimme the Budweiser,'” said Jay Hinman, beerkeep at the Hedonist Beer Jive blog. “But for the 5 percent who are a little more intense about it, this will be a really cool resource.”
If there’s one thing that blogs do best, it’s cater to niche markets. In the case of craft beer, however, niche is a bit of a misnomer – the industry moved almost 7 million barrels last year and generated $4.3 billion in retail sales, according to the Brewers Association. And that’s just the 1,370 breweries operating in America. Throw in the international market and the 450 different kinds of Belgian beers, and this niche becomes an 11-digit industry.
Yet, compared to music and culture blogs, the lager-blogger movement is just a drop in the steinzeugkrug. As more sudspundits (yes, that’s a site) take to the net, their opinions just might change the way some of us buy beer.
TAPPING A TREND:
At first, most beer Web sites focused on home brewing, offering tips of the trade that were often too technical for those simply looking for a new brew. There are also megasites like beeradvocate.com, loaded with content but lacking in the charm and personality that have made certain blogs a morning ritual.
What people needed was a good beer blog, which is exactly what they got. Alan McLeod founded A Good Beer Blog (beerblog.genx40.com) in October 2004. While it wasn’t the first of its kind, the site has lasted the longest thanks to McLeod’s consistent – and consistently enlightening – updates.
McLeod reports from Kingston, Ontario, and covers a variety of brews you won’t find outside the northeast or central Canada, and the northern exposure has inspired others to raid the fridge in their hometowns.
“The beer blog allows people to understand that there are hundreds of beers out there to try and that they are likely drinking a beer now that they would soon put aside once they start the journey,” McLeod wrote in an e-mail. “So what you get is cross-reference, a place where you can find some ways of describing what you are tasting, places you can find reviews of books, even information on where to start hunting. Last week via e-mail, I helped someone find a Belgian white beer in New Mexico.”
Hinman runs hedonistbeerjive.blogspot.com from San Francisco, where he samples Northern California’s glut of superb brewpubs, many of which don’t make it out of the Pacific time zone. The almost exclusive access is one of the reasons beer blogging is a refreshing change from the standard piggyback practice of music blogs. When documenting regional microbrews, individual bloggers are almost guaranteed relevancy.
“It reminds me of where record collecting was before the Internet,” Hinman said. “There’s regional scenes, and back then there was only physical goods. So if someone in Milwaukee told you about a really cool band, they’d have to send you the single because otherwise you’d never know. There’s a lot of mystery about what’s going on in a particular town or country, and I love that.”—
WHETTING THE PALATE:
The limited availability of microbrews makes for a mouthwatering Catch 22. The appeal of reading about a beer like Deschutes’ Black Butte Porter is the same reason we can’t drink it. So what is one to do if he actually wants to taste the stuff? Unlike mp3 blogs, there’s no “right-click” option for instant gratification, but it turns out there are other not-so-legal avenues to explore.
Don Thompson runs For The Love Of Beer (orbitalr0x.blogspot.com) out of Warrenville, Ill., and has cornered the market on midwestern breweries. But when he wants a taste of the Pacific Northwest, help is just an e-mail away.
“I’ll do trades with people for stuff that isn’t available anywhere near Illinois,” Thompson said. “There’s a decent amount of people who trade through FedEx or UPS on the down-low. They tend to look the other way.”
That’s because shipping beer across state lines is, at best, frowned upon and, at worst, illegal. Each state has unique laws on the interstate shipment of beer, which complicates matters for breweries who might want to follow the wine industry and start shipping bottles direct to customers.
But as the blog buzz grows louder, brewers could find it harder to ignore long-distance love affairs. The wine industry cashed in last year when the Supreme Court ruled that laws in Michigan and New York forbidding out-of-state orders were discriminatory and anticompetitive.
“I think it will develop so that more and more people are trading,” Hinman said. “And if interstate liquor laws will allow it, more people will order stuff from other states.”
For now, brewmasters will stick to traditional channels and look to capitalize on the word of mouth. That’s a painfully slow process for the Internet generation, but beer companies are seeing this glass as half-full.
“It’s a great new source for a new generation of young brewers,” said Claus Hagelman of major-micro Dogfish Head Beer. “They don’t have to deal with the old network of finding a distributor and trying to get press at beer festivals and events, which can be difficult to afford. But if they can get press on the Internet, they may have more people asking for it, and that makes it easier to find a distributor partner.”
FIVE SELECT SITES:
Blog: A Good Beer Blog
Beerkeep: Alan McLeod (Kingston, Ontario)
Favorite Beer: Church-Key Brewing’s Northumberland Ale
Blog: Hedonist Beer Jive
Beerkeep: Jay Hinman (San Francisco, Calif.)
Favorite Beer: Anderson Valley Brewing’s Boont Amber Ale
Blog: Bridger’s Beer Log
Beerkeep: Bridger Wineman (Portland, Ore.)
Favorite Beer: Lucky Labrador Brewing’s SuperDog IPA
Blog: For The Love Of Beer
Barkeep: Don Thompson (Warrenville, Ill.)
Favorite Beer: Three Floyds Brewing’s Alpha King Pale Ale
Blog: Catch & Release
Barkeep: Donavan Hall (Rocky Point, N.Y.)
Favorite Beer: Brasserie Caracole’s Saxo (Belgian Strong Pale Ale)
Otis Hart is an asap reporter.