Beer friends, time for a pop quiz:
- “Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy,” was written by which founding father?
- Which popular beer style was created to survive a long ocean voyage?
- Which atomic element has been added to beer to give it a comedic effect of augmented vocal chords to aid your beer enjoyment?
If you answered Ben Franklin, India Pale Ale (IPA) and helium then this article is for you. Despite these widely-held and generally accepted beliefs in the beer world, none of the above are true: beer historians say Franklin was talking about wine; plenty of beer styles survived the voyage to the British colony of India prior to the IPA, and that viral video showing two guys talking funny after supposedly drinking helium beer are fooling you because there is no way to force helium into beer that does not involve the violent gushing of beer as helium rushes to escape solution.
But don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story, right?
Craft beer and beer in general are fascinating subjects. Way, way, way before New England IPAs, the invention of the beer can, or even the Reinheitsgebot, ancient civilizations were developing ways to make beer. But here’s the thing: even after thousands of years of experiencing and studying beer, humans still don’t understand it all. In fact, all the technology and on-demand information at our fingertips today might be making our jobs as beer geeks more complicated than you realize. In the era of “Fake News” and viral videos, it’s time we hold ourselves as beer geeks to a higher standard. I call it “Beer Geek 2.0.”
Beer in the Age of Information
Remember when you couldn’t just Google it? Before Untappd and Beer Advocate or CraftBeer.com (heyo!), searching for information involved a trip to a library or bookstore or being a direct witness of something to learn about beer. I remember getting books on beer; “Complete Joy of Homebrewing” led to “Travels in Barley,” led to “Microbrewed Adventures” and “The Brewmaster’s Table” and so on. I traveled to breweries and ordered sampler flights and wanted to know what the beertender knew about the beers. When I was worried about whether my homebrew was fermenting, I dialed the shop where I purchased the kit from for moral support.
Today, if we have a question about beer (or anything), we hop on a smartphone or laptop. Within seconds we are staring at thousands of bits of information. While this might be a modern luxury, it no doubt comes with drawbacks. Unlike the books that I once poured through for answers, some of the information you’re finding is not validated or fact-checked. The information could be outdated, incomplete, incorrect, obsolete, complete fantasy, someone’s opinion or fact. To quote Abraham Lincoln, “You can’t believe everything you read on the internet.” (I read it on the internet.)
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The more information we are exposed to, the more we need to vet — and there is a lot of information on beer. Once information gets out, it is very difficult to reel it back. Who still believes in the old flavor map we learned about in grade school? That used to be gospel but has since been debunked. We can sense different tastes all over the tongue, and it turns out there are more than five tastes, too.
Then consider that beer is an experiential subject. We all know what one person experiences isn’t the same thing another might experience. In a world where we share our experiences constantly, it is easy for someone’s opinion or experience to be confused with fact or a truth.
Where would craft beer be without technology? Would craft beer be as popular as it is today if we did not have on-demand access to so much information? With so much, where do you begin? Any sort of standardized learning opportunity will help provide you with a framework for exploring craft beer. Reading books and blogs will too, but with any experiential subject, the internet can make it much more difficult to gain a solid understanding. And yes, seeing is believing, but it’s not quite understanding. Much of what I believed when I first got into beer has evolved to a more educated understanding. Challenging and checking widely-held beliefs allows for greater understanding and confidence.
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Not every fake story is malicious; sometimes the context gets lost in translation. I can recall a younger version of myself, zealously telling the story of IPAs traveling to India. It was a delightful story, but not quite the truth.
There’s nothing wrong with a good story, but in this age of information, as beer enthusiasts, it’s time to up our game. Call it Beer Geek 2.0. Scrutinize what you know and what you see to help ensure that the next generation of beer geeks has a solid base of fact-based knowledge to continue to push what we know to be accurate about the beverage of beer. There are countless more remarkable stories to hear and tell about beer — plenty of them are true too.