Session #123: The Cyber Is Huge

For this edi­tion of the inter­na­tion­al beer blog­ging jam­boree Josh Weik­ert at Beer Sim­ple asks us to con­sid­er whether the inter­net is hurt­ing or help­ing craft beer.

1990s-style animated gif: man drinking beer.
SOURCE: Dodgy ani­mat­ed GIFS web­site. This would have been state of the art stuff in 1999.

Beer geeks got online early in the life of the internet: nerds gonna nerd.

We’ve some­times joked that if you pro­duced a Venn dia­gram of (a) beer geeks, (b) jazz fans, © low­er divi­sion sports obses­sives, (d) Who­vians, (e) IT pro­fes­sion­als, it would be more or less just a sin­gle big cir­cle.

Research­ing Brew Bri­tan­nia some of our best sources were ear­ly online chat rooms archived com­pre­hen­sive­ly, if clunki­ly, by Google. The big one, alt.beer, was found­ed (as far as we can tell) in July of 1991, long before Ama­zon, or Google itself, or any of our oth­er sin­is­ter tech over­lords. In fact, before the first web­site had ever been cre­at­ed – alt.beer exist­ed as threads of text. Here’s the char­ter post­ed around the time of its estab­lish­ment by one Dan Brown:

Alt.beer was cre­at­ed for the pur­pose of dis­cussing the var­i­ous aspects of
that fine malt­ed bev­er­age gen­er­al­ly referred to as beer. Wel­come here are
dis­cus­sions of rare and inter­est­ing beers, reviews of brew­pubs and
brew­eries, sug­ges­tions about where to shop for beer, and tips for mak­ing
your own.…

Not wel­come are the pletho­ra of tales of drunk­en stu­pid­i­ty that usu­al­ly
go some­thing like, ‘I guzzeled 5 cas­es of X beer, drunk­en­ly made a fool
of myself in front of a large num­ber of peo­ple, of whom I was desparate­ly
try­ing to impress a cer­tain one, and then spent the rest of the night
alter­nate­ly dri­ving a porce­line bus, and look­ing like road kill on the
bath­room floor.’ Almost every­one has heard or expe­ri­enced this, or
some­thing sim­i­lar, at one time or anoth­er.

(Does any­one know Mr Brown? It would be inter­est­ing to, ahem, chat to him.)

The ques­tion we’ve got is, how did appre­ci­at­ing beer ever work with­out the inter­net? To some extent enjoy­ing beer in the 21st Cen­tu­ry is a job of record­ing, cat­a­logu­ing and shar­ing infor­ma­tion, and the inter­net is bet­ter at that than flop­py discs in the post, or let­ters, or CB radio.

We’re not quite dig­i­tal natives – we remem­ber the inter­net arriv­ing and strug­gling to work out what to do with it once we’d looked at the hand­ful of web­sites that exist­ed in the mid-1990s – but by the time we got into beer we were ful­ly immersed in online cul­ture and looked there for advice and guid­ance. We’ve writ­ten before about some ear­ly sources of beer infor­ma­tion that no longer exist, notably the Oxford Bot­tled Beer Data­base (1996-c.2010). These web­sites – all text, frames, striped back­grounds and under con­struc­tion GIFs – told us which pubs to vis­it in strange towns, which beers to buy from the bewil­der­ing selec­tion at Uto­beer, and (not always accu­rate­ly) explained why cer­tain beers tast­ed the way they did.

The fact is, in 2017, online and offline aren’t dis­tinct spaces – the for­mer is inte­grat­ed into every­day life. When we go to the pub and see a strange beer on offer, we look it up on our smart­phones. We might take a pic­ture and share it on Twit­ter, Face­book or Insta­gram (hint hint) or write it up here. Some­times, we choose a pub based pure­ly on intel we’ve picked up on the inter­net – or, rather, that we’ve sub­con­scious­ly absorbed from the ambi­ent blur of shared infor­ma­tion that acts as back­ground noise in our lives. And often, online rela­tion­ships trans­late into pints shared in per­son with peo­ple we might oth­er­wise nev­er have known exist­ed.

And, for all the prob­lems with online infor­ma­tion – FAKE NEWS! – it’s much hard­er to be a beer bull­shit­ter now than 40 years ago because if you make a ludi­crous claim some­one can just look it up.

Has any­thing been lost? Per­haps inso­far as the inter­net enabled the Glob­al Repub­lic of Crafto­nia at the expense of the con­cept of the Local Scene. Mar­tyn Cor­nell has writ­ten about a time in the 1970s when, hav­ing tried some­thing like 14 dif­fer­ent beers from not only Hert­ford­shire but also sev­er­al oth­er coun­ties, he con­sid­ered him­self quite adven­tur­ous. Back then, the infra­struc­ture of beer appre­ci­a­tion man­i­fest­ed itself in local fes­ti­vals, local newslet­ters, and tips shared in the pub.

But this isn’t just a chal­lenge for the beer world – work­ing out a way to reap the ben­e­fits of glob­al con­nec­tions with­out the loss of region­al cul­tures is a much big­ger human issue.

Status update

We’re on hol­i­day, in case you’d won­dered. We’re equipped to blog once we get wire­less access (lots to update on from Cologne, Mainz and Hei­del­berg) but for now, we’re stuck with a com­put­er in the hotel recep­tion…

By the way – any­one noticed any weird prob­lems with our com­ments sys­tem or links from the blog point­ing to a spam search engine?

Crowdsourcing Breweries

This post at Spring­wise was brought to our atten­tion by our chum Char­lie.

The gist of it is, a com­pa­ny is start­ing a brew­ery and, for a fee, you can buy your way into the deci­sion mak­ing process. All the deci­sions, from the timetable for open­ing to the recipes for the beers it brews, will be decid­ed by the mem­bers of the trust.

This is what, in the mod­ern ver­nac­u­lar, is known as crowd­sourc­ing.

This is sim­i­lar to what hap­pened at AFC WIm­ble­don, an Eng­lish foot­ball club which was bought by its fans a few years back, and there’s a sim­i­lar brew­ery already oper­at­ing in New Zealand (Kier­an – have you come across this lot?).

Is this the answer to all those beer geeks who think they know bet­ter than brew­ers..?