It is January 2017, and YourBeerNetwork has been live for six years. It’s time for a look back at our website, and to look ahead to what its future will be.
Our world, and the world of craft beer, has changed so much in six years! Harvey Gold, our editor, brought us together in 2011, with little in common except the pursuit of good beer, and the desire to share it when we found it. We knew it was out there, since we had tasted it in imports and homebrews–and then we discovered American craft beer and things took off.
First, we had to understand what craft beer was; then, we had to find it. There was so much to learn! We were beer neophytes, and could barely tell the difference between an ale and a lager. We brought our expertise to this quest, as homebrewers, biologists, food and wine experts, musicians, video producers.
Craft beer, by definition, is produced in a brewery that is small, independent and traditional. A “small” brewery produces less than 6 million barrels of beer per year. “Independent” means no more than 25% is owned or controlled by a non-brewer. And a “traditional” brewery produces its major volume from malted barley, no adjuncts.
We learned how beer is made. We learned the tastes of hops, and the difference between noble hops and New World hops; we rejoiced when new hop varietals were introduced. We visited hop farms in Michigan and Bavaria. We learned how flavor comes from the grain as well as the hops, and what the yeast contributes. We became experts in beer styles–we could tell a lager from an IPA from a stout in a blind taste test. We learned how sours and are created, and what a barrel adds to the flavor. We discussed the effects of beer on health, on dieting, on cancer, and on the brain. We went from neophyte to de facto beer specialist in less than a year!
It’s hard to remember how difficult it was to find a good craft beer back then, given the ubiquity of craft beers today. In the early years we sought out craft beer in regions and restaurants, and sharing our finds with our readers. Paul Ciminero and I ate and drank our way through bacon and beer in Chicago gastropubs, and lived to tell the tale–just barely. Harvey Gold filmed his spiritual experiences at the Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh. David Daugherty, always on the road, discovered crafts throughout the US.
As beer tourists, we sought craft breweries on the East Coast and the West Coast, in Boston, Hershey and Kalamazoo. We took road trips to Florida, Arizona, Michigan, Florida. We even went to Europe! We attended brewfests and sampled as many different beers as long as we could while still standing. I must have tasted hundreds of beers, and I remember many of them. We made friends of brewers, and I even wrote a book about our beer quests.
Soon, new breweries began to appear in our own backyards, from Akron OH to Northeastern PA. Some of these would eventually succeed and grow into large bottling businesses; others would expand and distribute locally; others still would remain small gastropubs, specializing in excellent food paired with beer. A few, sadly, sold out to Big Beer. Surprisingly, none of those early breweries failed; all are still around, contributing jobs and income to their local economy. What the craft revolution meant is that small breweries–which had all but disappeared because of their inability to compete with large breweries selling cheap beer–now had a fighting chance to compete. And compete they did, thanks to a growing, grass-roots demand for quality beer.
In a few short years the rest of the world caught on. By 2014 the number of craft breweries had almost doubled, and over a dozen new hop varietals were introduced. Crafts were beginning to appear in the best restaurants, which featured draft lists alongside wine lists. This was a great victory. No longer did we have to tell the waiter that we’d rather drink water, thank you. We could now eat good food paired with good beer, and tell the rest of the world about it. Along with the craft movement came an increasing consumer demand. Imports as well as American crafts began to appear in local stores and bars. No longer did we have to travel to find good beer.
As craft beer became more available, our beer tourism was supplanted by travel for other adult beverages, taking us to Bourbon country, Scotland, the cider fields of Michigan. We delved into the history of beer, so closely interwoven with the history of Europe. We studied goses, abbeys and oyster stouts. We paired beer with food, music, weddings and Oscar nominees.
After a time, brewers began to get bored, or having established wonderful beers in the more “traditional” forms, began to stretch. They experimented with unusual ingredients; they made ales with ancient grains; they seasoned brews in bourbon barrels; they made fruity and sweet beers; they added everything from bacon to hot peppers to coffee; anything to appease the non-beer-drinker. We saw watermelon ales, lemonade ales, sweetened ales seasoned with pumpkin spice or lemon grass.
While we still enjoy some, we tired of journalistically sampling new flavors and new styles; we just want to drink a good beer without having to analyze it, and now we can happily say there’s plenty of it to be had! We’ve come to realize that we liked to taste beer, but we like to drink IPAs, and we favor the classical styles.
Craft beer is no longer a hobby requiring study, travel, and resources…. at least for us. There’s still much going on, but it’s also now a mainstream business. It’s hard to walk into a new craft start-up and expect to find the owner-brewer at the bar, anxious to discuss his creations. American-style crafts are appearing throughout the world.
Craft beer has arrived, and we at YourBeerNetwork are thrilled to have played a part in it. But our time is over. We don’t have much more to say about beer. We are six years older, and no longer have the stamina –or the livers –to put down a dozen beers at a beerfest. Most of our staff have moved on to other things. Our editor and co-founder, Harvey Gold’s rock band of #geezerhipsters, Half Cleveland, has become busier and busier, streaming shows watched all over the world. Our other co-founder, Dave Daugherty changed locations and, based on lifestyle changes (no, he’s not in jail), cut back to the point that he’s no longer the wandering minstrel of craft beer discovery. Our Chicago Beat guy, Paul Ciminero hosts an acclaimed weekly music podcast, Transmusic Airwaves, and no longer lives in Chi-town, and Lane Steinberg who gave us the genius and oft hillarious Thrift Store Records/Cheap Red Wine is busy making a living and creating stunning music. As for me, I gave up home brewing and am leaving the Beer Clinic for the Medical Clinic, working on a new cancer blog, Ask-An-Oncologist.com.
Looking to the future, we will no longer be posting regularly on YourBeerNetwork. The site will stay open to maintain our unique and rich archive, for your comments, and for the occasional restaurant review, Oscar night pairings, and video. And we’ll keep it alive for nostalgia’s sake, too, so we can all look back to those early years of the craft beer movement and remember the fun we had along the way.
So Stay with us, check in, browse around as long as you like and… thank you!
Dr. Carol Westbrook – BEER CLINIC
Harvey Gold – EDITOR
In addition to her fascinating essays on a variety of topics to be found @ 3 Quarks Daily, also available from Dr. Westbrook: