The Session #123: CyberBrew

The SessionThis month’s edition of The Session is hosted by Josh Weikert who writes Beer: Simple. Josh asks us to consider the role of the internet in craft beer:

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?

Topics might include:

  • Marketing beer in the internet age
  • The astounding influence of beer bloggers to make or break breweries (just kidding, but seriously, what’s the effect of all of this quasi-journalistic beer commentary on the drinking and brewing public?)
  • How are beer reviews (expert and mass-market) affecting what gets brewed and drank?
  • Are beer apps for tracking and rating overly-“gamifying” beer (or does that make drinkers more adventurous)?
  • Just how fast do aleholes on message boards and elsewhere turn off prospective craft beer enthusiasts?

I think we all know the answer to the main question which is: all of the above. Throwing the internet into the mash has done all sorts of things for craft beer, good and bad. And in this case, I’m considering “craft beer” in the context of, yes, the microbreweries. I don’t know if anyone has considered the effects of the internet among macrobrewery beers—do Bud drinkers really concern themselves overly much with ratings websites, message board chatter, and so on?

Of course not to say the internet has not touched upon the macros. But it’s via craft/micro. Consider the backlash and outrage towards Wicked Weed Brewing this past week as news broke that they are being acquired by AB InBev. Online, of course. With angry social media posts, articles on blogs, arguments on the message boards. The brewery being bought has to deal with all of that—the social media manager(s) in particular have it rough as they are the first (on)line encountering the vitriol.

But then again, it’s not going to make-or-break Wicked Weed going forward, and I doubt it’s even much of a blip in consideration on the AB side of things.

(As an aside, this article on Good Beer Hunting on AB’s buyout strategy which just came out is worth a read. A good summary quote: “While everyone thinks that AB InBev is truly interested in getting into craft and building these brands (which is a secondary goal at best), I submit that maybe buying craft breweries is more of a tool to devalue the craft category and increase the brand equity of their core legacy beers. The impairment charges AB InBev could face are worth billions more than any craft brand they have purchased, and those purchases would be a small price to pay to save a legacy brand. These craft brands, whether they realize it or not, may just be pawns in the AB InBev game of chess.”)

Here is what I see as the positive’s in the internet’s influence on craft/micro beer:

  • Bringing awareness to a much wider audience of the beers and breweries available. When I started on the internet, heck when I started this blog, there were only a few online resources for finding breweries. (I considered and even got a start of making The Brew Site an online directory.) Sites like BeerAdvocate and RateBeer, apps like Untappd, even (especially!) breweries’ own websites have exposed many more people to many more good beers and breweries.
  • Helping to boost small but worthy breweries who should get more attention. Not only exposure, but favorable reviews, interactions from the breweries themselves, and internet-word-of-mouth definitely elevate good and great beers that might have otherwise languished except in their local communities.
  • Connecting people. I know some people hate the term “beer community” but that doesn’t change the fact that there is one, made stronger and more diverse by being online. Not only people connecting with people, but breweries connecting with people too.
  • Archiving data and history. This sounds weird maybe, but it’s an important point for me. Being able to go back in time, as it were, and look at a brewery’s website from 10, 15, maybe even 20 years ago is huge. Or I will dig back through my blog archives to find history on a Bend brewery from a similar era. The internet is a boon to unearthing unknown history and information that should be of interest to all of us.

It’s only fair to list the negatives, too:

  • Loud and negative commentary hinder the community and the beers. Sure, it’s a minority of people but as we’ve seen with the internet, a few very loud bad apples and/or trolls can amplify a negative message that ends up getting a disproportionate amount of attention.
  • Beer snobbery. In the age of the internet, everyone becomes an expert, and too many people develop obnoxious tendencies to become know-it-alls. This gets amplified—see above. Who is this helping?
  • Fake news™. Actually this doesn’t mean intentionally fake, but incorrect and/or misunderstood news and history as well. That the internet makes it so easy to copy and paste and amplify adds to the problem. Look at the history of IPA and the online discussions/arguments/flamewars surrounding it. Or, imagine a brewery is incorrectly reported as gone out of business, which gets picked and repeated.
  • The rise of ratings sites giving a disproportionate view of the “best beers in the world/style/list.” This really bugs me, and the best way I can summarize my view of this is a rhetorical question: Do you really mean to tell me that a heavily-doctored and flavored Imperial Barrel Aged Stout from a small three-year-old brewery in Florida/Oklahoma/North Dakota/wherever that less than 0.000001% of the population has actually visited is the best beer in the world?

Okay, enough drum-banging for one weekend. I have a particular view of the internet and beer because I’ve been doing this blog for so long, plus I work in the web industry. Same for this new generation of beer drinkers coming up who only know life online. It would probably be too easy to write many thousands of word exploring this topic, but I’ll leave you here with just over 1,000.

In the meantime, I’ll open a beer today, check it in on Untappd, maybe post a picture to Instagram, and then consider a blog post. Cheers!