Friday, February 02, 2007


When I decided early last year to school myself at a deeper level in the world of craft brewing & beer, I headed for the magazine racks to see what publications would be available to guide me in my journey. Sure, I’d been picking up THE CELEBRATOR for well over a decade, and I think I bought a homebrew magazine once by mistake, thinking it was about publicly-available microbrews rather than filtration tips & hop varietals. Turns out that last year there was really only one nationally-available glossy that fit my description: ALL ABOUT BEER magazine. So I subscribed. A year later, I guess I’d have to say I’ve learned a few things from it, but that I’m overall only moderately impressed. What I like about it is that it will often spend multiple pages on an obscure corner of the beer world; say, the tiny farmhouse breweries of rural Belgium, or the introduction of chocolate into modern strong ales, or an article last issue about mead, of all things, that I found really enlightening. The people behind the magazine, which is based out of North Carolina, are on a righteous crusade to bring great beer to the masses, and every issue aims to hit somewhere between the beer snobs and the beer neophytes. I think that’s the right approach, and in general, they do it well. My beefs with the magazine center around how generally milquetoast the writing is. Rarely does someone stray off the reservation of cheerleading for everything & anything craft beer related; a bad review, or calling some lame-ass brewery on their swill, just doesn’t seem to exist here. They have this panel gimmick where 3-4 well-known beer writers (Garrett Oliver, the often incomprehensible Michael Jackson, etc.) review a given new beer, and the harshest thing you’ll ever hear anyone say is that they like another of the brewery’s beers better. Scathing! I wish this magazine went out on a limb a little more and gave the discriminating beer geek a better roadmap beyond “craft beer good, Budweiser not-so-good”.

Enter BEER ADVOCATE magazine. As I’m sure you’re aware, Beer Advocate has the strongest “brand” in the online beer dork world, and deservedly so. Their web site is easily the best of its kind on the web, and they foster the sort of opinionated, daring, experimentally-tinged beer drinking & writing mentality that I believe this chosen micro-scene needs more of. They’ve done so well online that they recently started up a monthly magazine offline. I volunteered to be a charter subscriber, and I got the first issue just after New Year’s. For the most part I was quite impressed. The writing is a large notch better than All About Beer’s, reflecting a slightly younger target demographic and the attitude to match. Like the online site, the magazine is disproportionately taken with the “big beer”/strong ale/high-alcohol phenomenon, something that I think is great for the craft but which will ultimately be a blip on the radar – since so many of these beers flat-out suck. They have their eye on the under-the-radar trends that will evolve this industry/hobby, though, and the writers appear to be immersed in it so deeply that I’ve no doubt that if it’s interesting, and something you/I should try, it’ll get written about here. My complaint is simply that the layout had enormous font sizes and graphics that took up half a page, so that an article that should’ve been 2 pages max ended up being 4 wasteful and strange-looking pages. I’m guessing they’ll find their feet here – the first issue of anything is an experiment, and in total these fellas have come up with the US’s best beer magazine ever to my knowledge. If you’re as far-gone as I am with this obsession, I’d recommend subscribing to both, as their both worthy and subscriptions to each are $19.95 for the year. Then pick up your local free rag (Ale Street News, Northwest Brewing News, The Celebrator etc.), surf the links you see on this site to your right, and then you’ll know far more than you need to know about this strange, off-putting, relationship-wrecking obsession.

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