Not only am I able to add these guys’ blogs (and a few of their favorite blogs) to my own blogroll, but I get a better impression of what Austin’s blogging scene might be like.Of course, Austin has some Metrobloggers. It’s quite possible that these folks may meet occasionally, thereby providing the local blogger with a YulBlog-like experience. But it’s still more fun to meet bloggers with whom you share some interests (in this case, respect for craft beer).After all, it’s all part of the social butterfly effect.
Started thinking again. This time about a way to repurpose messages on the HomeBrew Digest into a kind of database of brewing knowledge. I can just see it. It’d be ah-some!
Anybody knows how to transform email messages from well-structured digests into database entries? Seems to me that it should be a trivial task, especially for someone well-versed in Perl and/or PHP. But what do I know?
That venerable HBD mailing-list contains a wealth of information about pretty much every single dimension of beer homebrewing. For a large number of reasons, content from the HBD.org site turns up quite often in Web searches for brewing terms.
One issue with the HBD, though, is that it’s a bit hard to search. There used to be a custom-built search feature on the site but we now need to rely on Google and AltaVista. This wouldn’t be too much of an issue if not for the fact that those engines search complete digests instead of individual messages. So the co-occurrence of two terms in the same digest can be due to two messages on completely different subjects.
Another issue with the HBD (as with many other mailing-lists) is the relatively high redundancy in message content. Some topics came cyclically on the mailing-list and though some kind souls were gracious enough to respond to the same queries over and over again, the mailing-list often looks like an outlet for FAQs. Among HBD “perennials” (or cyclical topics) are discussions of the effects of HSA (hot-side aeration), decoction mashing, and batch sparging, to name but a few technical issues.
Unfortunately, it looks like the HBD might need to be retired at some point in the not-so-distant future, at least for lack of sponsorship. Also, Pat Babcock, the digest’s “janitor,” recently asked for mirror space and announced the retrieval of some of the older digests (from the late 1980s).
Of course, there are lots of other brewing resources out there. So many, in fact, that it can be overwhelming to the newbie brewer. One impact of having so much information so easily available about homebrewing (and commercial brewing, for that matter) is a “democratization of beer knowledge.” Contrary to brewing guilds of medieval times, brew groups are open and free. Yet a side-effect of this is that there isn’t a centralized authority to prevent disinformation. Also, because the accumulated knowledge is difficult to peruse, people tend to “reinvent the wheel.”
In Internet terms, the HBD is the closest equivalent to a historical source. Few other mailing-lists have been running continuously since 1986.
Luckily, all the digests since October 1988 are available as HTML files. And the digest format has remained almost unchanged since that time.
All of the content is in plain ASCII. Messages never exceed a certain
length. IIRC, line length is also controlled. And HTML was officially
not admitted. Apparently, some messages did contain a bit of HTML
code, but that shouldn’t be an issue.
Here’s what I imagine could be done:
- “Burst” out digests into individual messages (with each message containing digest information)
- Put all the individual messages (350MB worth) into a Content Management System
- Host the archived messages in the form of a knowledge-base
- Process those entries for things like absolute links and line breaks
- Collect messages in threads
- Add relevant del.icio.us-like tags and slashdot- or digg-like ratings
- Use this knowledge-base for wiki-like collaborative editing
- Assess some key issues to be taken up by brewing communities
- Add to the brewing knowledge-base
- Build profiles for major contributors and major groups
Because I couldn’t help it, I started writing down some potential tags I might use to label messages on the HBD. It could be part “folksonomy,” part taxonomy. For one thing, it’d be useful to distinguish messages based on “type” (general queries about a brewing technique vs. recipe posted after a competition) since many of the same terms and tags would be found in radically different messages.
As a reply to Liz Losh’s generous blogpost on my passion for beer and coffee culture(s).
My tone is clearly much less formal than Losh’s. Hope it still fits and doesn’t bring down the quality standards expected from her blog.
Quoth Losh’s post:
Doesn’t consigning brewing of coffee and beer in private homes eliminate third spaces for social interactions with a cross-section of people and opportunities for discussions and debates? Isn’t it like putting yourself in a cul-de-sac with a garage door facing the street in that you aren’t participating with neighborhood businesses? Enkerli strongly disagreed, since beer-making involves large quantities, parties, and collective beer making sessions. He thought that it was a powerfully social activity and one that was often situated in specific neighborhoods.
Probably overstated my disagreement about eliminating third spaces. Was mostly trying to describe what I had observed from the beer and coffee world(s). Basically, wanted to emphasise that making coffee or beer at home is just one of several activities done by members of those networks. And those activities often push people to go and consume beer or coffee outside the home.
Actually, discussing this is helpful to me because it reinforces the point that what I’m observing has more to do with “craft beer culture” (or “culinary coffee culture”) than with homebrewing (or making coffee at home).
Haven’t tried to find out whether or not homebrewing and home coffee making might prevent meaningful interactions between coffee/beer geeks and “the rest of the (local) community.” Really, that’s not my type of work. My impression is that those DIY activities might have those “decreased participation” effects in some contexts but such effects haven’t been apparent to me on any occasion during the last few years of observing and participating in beer and coffee geekery.
To be clearer, and specifically focusing on (beer) homebrewers. Making beer at home has become a fairly common activity in North America since the 1980s (when the legal status of homebrewing in the United States was finally cleared up). But my focus isn’t beer making as an activity. It’s a social network which revolves around “handcrafted” beer. This is one network I have been connecting with for several years, now. And, IMHO, it’s the core of the so-called “craft beer revolution.”
Many people brew beer at home for purely financial reasons. While these are technically “home brewers,” they are not taking part in the social and cultural dynamics that I aim to eventually describe academically. In fact, while those “thrifty brewers” are known to the “beergeek” crowd, they are considered as complete outsiders to the “craft beer revolution.” Typically, those who brew for financial reasons use cans of hopped malt extract and dextrose powder to make beer. On the homebrewing side of the craft beer movement, all-grain brewing (making beer from scratch, with the malted barley, hops, yeast, and water) is the normative method.
I guess we could use terms like “casual,” “dedicated,” “careless,” “serious,” “extract,” and “advanced” to make distinctions between those types of “homebrewers.” But we’re talking about such different worlds here that emphasising these distinctions seems irrelevant. So, when I talk about “homebrewers,” I almost always mean “serious, dedicated, advanced brewers who care more about beer quality than about costs.”
(It’s quite interesting that, in OZ, the term “homebrewer” refers to people who make beer at home to save money while “craftbrewer” refers specifically to people who brew beer for “serious” reasons.)
The homebrewers I tend to talk about aren’t casual brewers, they often spend rather large amounts of money on beer and brewing equipment, they frequently send their beers to large competitions, and typically belong to brewing associations (“brewclubs”). In the United States, many of them are card-carrying members of the American Homebrewers Association. AHA membership gives them access to a rather “serious” technical magazine on brewing techniques (Zymurgy) and discounts at local brewpubs all over the United States (and some parts of Canada).
The typical brewclub has monthly meetings as well as a number of beer-related events. In large urban areas, brewclubs can have a very elaborate structure, with annual fees, bulk purchasing accounts, etc.
The keen observer with an eye toward folklore might notice that these sound like the “quilting bees” which were served as a way for North American women to unite and eventually form “grassroots movements.” Given Losh’s political bent, I feel compelled to note this similarity, even though I care fairly little about political involvement on the part of homebrewers.
Interesting that Losh should say that I teach “folklore and ethnomusicology” at Concordia. While I do teach a course in the anthropology of music which is, in fact, labeled “ethnomusicology,” the courses I’ve been teaching at different institutions in the past five years were all in anthropology. However, I did serve as an associate instructor for a large course in folkloristics at Indiana University for three semesters during part of my Ph.D. coursework at that institution. And I do consider “folklore” to be among my fields of specialisation. Of course, Losh probably got her notion about my teaching from the fact that I’m finishing a Ph.D. at Indiana University’s Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. 😉
Some brewclubs also serve as “beer appreciation” groups, similar to wine-tasting (and emphasizing the fact that beer is chemically more complex than wine). While beer-tasting can be a solitary activity, sampling beer with fellow homebrewers (and beergeeks) is common practise for serious beer-lovers. Perhaps more importantly, homebrewers frequently use a set of guidelines while tasting beer. These guidelines, from the Beer Judge Certification Program, often serve as a shared knowledge base for “beer literacy.” The BJCP’s main purpose is to train judges for homebrewing competitions. When I eventually do publish some academic work on craft beer culture, I’ll need to have a rather large section on the BJCP, competitions, and so on. Among homebrewers, I’m known as a vocal opponent to the BJCP guidelines. I do recognise, however, that they serve important functions in the context. (I simply happen to think that there is more to beer than evaluating it through set standards and I see the effects of the BJCP guidelines as broadening the gap between actual beer appreciation and the general public.)
One thing which was already clear to me when I gave a talk on craft beer culture at an surprisingly pleasant food and culture conference, is that craft beer culture is geek culture. As geek ethnographer Jenny Cool was present during the conversation which triggered Losh’s reaction (Cool and Losh are friends), I actually wanted to steer the conversation toward the issue of geek sociability, using homebrewers as an example.
Homebrewing is social because geeking out is social
(To simplify things a whole lot, someone could say that “geeks” are something of the “somewhat sociable” equivalent of “nerds.” To caricature, the type of sociability involved is that of the stereotypical “basement hacker.” Some of “them” might in fact be antisocial human beings. But “they” become less unfriendly with like-minded people. Especially when “they” feel there is “smartness parity” in terms of intellectual prowess. Going on a limb, someone could say that what has been happening in the last thirty years, thanks to computer-mediated communication, is a steady increase in the opportunities for “basement hacker-type nerds” to interact with one another. These interactions might occasionally lead to meaningful social relationships. In the context of increased social capital given to computer-savvy people, geekness becomes almost cool and geeks are “more social” (according to a broader social group) than the “nerds” who had been stigmatised for so long.)
Homebrewing as an activity was facilitated by changes in its legal status (and by the alcohol regulations in general). Beer geekery is embedded in the increased prominence of online communication. Pre-Internet beer people were pretty much just “beer nerds.” Today’s beergeeks are almost all Internet-savvy and many beer-related activities happen through mailing-lists and websites. (Usenet newsgroups used to be fairly important but, since 1994 or so, mailing-lists and websites have pretty much taken over.)
As is the case with many other groups, online interactions give way to face-to-face interactions, friendships, and elaborate support systems. Meeting at brewpubs to sample beer and “talk shop,” beergeeks are bonding. And this type of bonding often creates strong… bonds. I personally have a large number of anecdotes which reveal the strength of the bonds among beergeeks. And, as a social scientist, I’m fascinated by the phenomenon.
Going back to Losh’s points(!), I might say that beergeeks are connecting more with broader social groups than the homebrewers she seems to have had in mind. Using the “think global, drink local” motto, beergeeks (including homebrewers) are situating themselves in complex social systems. They/we talk about important social and political issue.
And we do drink good beer.
Currently entering a recipe in BeerTools Pro. A few quick comments. Overall, I do like the program but it’s not revolutionary. I have a lot of ideas about a complete brewing database program, including brewclub and brewshop features. I wish I could code in PHP/MySQL just so I could implement some of these ideas.
- Responsive staff (even on a Sunday!)
- Ease of entering ingredients
- Searching for ingredients
- Add multiple times
- All ingredients view
- Download from BeerTools.com
What I had to learn to do (or could be made clearer in the UI):
- Back-tab to select next ingredient in recipe’s list
- Grams before quantity (to prevent conversion)
- Distinguishing between database ingredients and current ones (price, vitals)
What’s not so neat (bug or bug-like non-feature):
- Doesn’t automatically add .btp to template filename (so file isn’t recognized as template)
- Direct heat adds volume
- Can’t export to common formats
- No stage for grains (mash or infusion)
- Recipe ingredients aren’t added to database directly
- Style listed by BJCP numbers, field can’t be searched
What could be neat:
- Duplicating ingredients in database
- Search all ingredients
- Add ingredient on double-click
- Grains and adjuncts together
- Multiple additions same grain (adjust proportion)
- Add schedule steps visually
- Mash volume in schedule graph
- Style templates
- Date field (calendar)
- Multiple dates (recipe formulation, brewing, tasting, etc.)
- Download data for new ingredients
The last few items are somewhat connected to what I have in mind for the ideal brewing application. What I envision is really more than recipe formulation. It includes references between batches, tasting comments, lots of observations, blogging features, beer-related social networking, etc.
I really should blog about my “vision” but that will have to wait for another day.
This one is more of a web log entry than my usual ramblings.
Executive Summary: Life Is Good.
Here’s an old message I sent to the Members of Barleyment brewclub mailing-list, a while ago.
——– Original Message ——–
|Subject:||Beer Explosion and Other Cautionary Tales|
|Date:||Mon, 1 Mar 2004 09:04:41 -0400|
|From:||Alexandre Enkerli <email@example.com>|
Got back from the in-laws this morning. The house smelled like beer. Not really a good sign. Had brewed a batch and bottled another one on Thursday. Left Friday afternoon. Thought the yeasties didn't need their herder for the weekend. The new Scotch Ale seemed happy, bubbling in a cool carboy with blow-off tube. The bottles of Mep were all warm and cozy, didn't seem to want to transform into little bottle bombs, yet. Where's that smell coming from? Oh, well, people were in the house during the weekend so if a catastrophe happened, they probably know about it. But let's check the bottles, just to make sure. Snif. Snif-snif. Sniffffffff... Nope, no b.o. (beer odour) here. Fine, then. Talked a bit with SWMBO before she left for work. Thought about going back to bed (got home before 7am). Hey, it's Spring Break for everyone, right. But no /Girls Gone Wild/ shooting in perspective. Just this beer smell... Speaking of beer: how's the new batch coming? It's always cool to check on a fermenting beer. Except, that... OMG! What's that thing where the carboy used to be? Did someone put it somewhere else? Looks like it. An empty beer pack isn't where it was on Friday. But, wait. This is the t-shirt that served as a carboy-jacket. Why's it all wet? And where's the Scotch Ale? Hey, the blow-off tube's still here. So is the wine bottle at the end of the blow-off tube... Uh-oh! Oops! There you go. That's where the b.o.'s coming from. And that's where the carboy morphed into a pile of shattered glass in a pool of wort. Smells good, though. Let's learn some lessons: a) Murphy's Law applies to brewing b) yeast can be mighty strong c) a rubber stopper can stick to a carboy more strongly than the carboy's walls themselves d) a blow-off tube shouldn't be constricted e) there's a reason to have a headspace above fermenting wort in a primary f) it's a good thing to have your fermenters in the basement g) carboys break fairly cleanly h) a 5 gallon carboy filled with about 4.8 gallons of wort might make a mess of ca. 1.5m^2 i) New Brunswick's blue plastic bags for "dry" trash aren't really sturdy j) there are situations where beer odors don't smell so good k) it's probably a good thing to open-ferment ales in primary ["Whoooooo are you? Who-Who? Who-Who?"] Sara's surprisingly not in the mood for beer this early in the morning, so Warrick's the one taking the pictures and sending the yeast to Greg for DNA analysis. Al establishes time and cause of death: carboy explosion. Grissom, using his in-depth knowledge of brewing, establishes a timeline. Lag time was probably around 9–10 hours, blow-off tube was blocked after 30 to 48 hours, pression accumulated at a rate of 2 PSI/hour, carboy exploded about 66 hours after pitch-in, most of the wort dried off in the remaining 18 hours. Stokes notices some mud-like substance on a fragment of glass. Analysis comes back: precipitated protein, yeast sediment... Yup, it's trub. But how did it get there? Catherine tours brewpub to identify the victim. The brewmaster at the pub: "Hey, it looks *somewhat* like Scotch Ale, but real Scotch Ale would be maltier and bigger." A botched attempt at Scotch Ale? A lagered Tripel? Maybe... Ale-X, not in Vegas References/Apologies to: http://www.homebrewers.com/product/600671 http://www.hum.utah.edu/english/faculty/brunvand.html http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~insrisg/nature/nw00/laFontaine.html http://www.edwards.af.mil/history/docs_html/tidbits/murphy's_law.html http://www.cbs.com/primetime/csi/main.shtml
I hope this might help others, if only as a funny anecdote.
[UPDATE: Press release. Much clearer than the Hour article…]
This could potentially be big for craft beer. A code of ethics for alcohol adverts.
A bit like video game manufacturer who propose rating systems for their own games, members of the alcoholic beverage industry in Quebec are trying to regulate their own advertising practises. According to the article:
Under the new code, the following has been forbidden:
- Using alcohol content as a sales argument
- Associating alcohol with violent or asocial behaviour, or with illicit drugs
- Sexism or the association of the product with sexual performance, sexual attraction or popularity
- Implications that the product improves physical or intellectual capacities, or has health benefits
- Encouraging drinking games or excessive drinking
- Making the product particularly attractive to people under 18
- Showing images of people who look younger than 25
- Showing disrespect for those who choose not to drink
By proposing such a code of ethics, the industry may possibly bypass government regulation. It also shows that its members are willing to go some distance in changing their practises.
Educ’alcool‘s message, associating responsible (moderate) drinking with taste, is well-established in Quebec culture and this code goes in the same line. By contrast, in the U.S., advocacy for responsible drinking is criticized by academics and health specialists. IMHO, this criticism has the effect of encouraging younger people to binge drink, with sad consequences. Educ’alcool and Quebec’s alcoholic beverage industry are probably trying to avoid such a situation. Although it might sound counter-intuitive, binge drinking is not beneficial to their bottom line. After all, nobody wants to get sued for the death of any of consumers.
The main apparent target of this code is beer advertising, especially on television. While Quebec has its share of beer ads with scantily clad women, even ads for some of InBev’s Labatt products are somewhat more subtle. In fact, the French-speaking versions of commercials for Labatt bleue have, over the years, represented an alternative to the typical "beer gets you laid" message. As typical of Quebec culture, these ads have used humour to carry their message, often with puns and other word play. For instance, one of the most recent ads uses a zeugma and the names of several parts of Quebec (strengthening the association between the beer and Quebec cultural identity). It also describes the beer in its association with food.
Which brings me to the interesting point about craft beer. While beer advertisement is typically full of what this new code of ethics seeks to prohibit, craft beer positions itself in exactly the same line as Educ’alcool and this code of ethics: taste and responsible drinking. The only television ads I’ve seen for craft beer were made by Boston Beer company for their Samuel Adams products. These ads usually emphasize the brewing craft itself and have been discussed by many members of the craft beer crowd. An important point is that they’re quite effective at delivering the message about taste, quality, sophistication, and responsibility. (Actually, I wore a Samuel Adams t-shirt yesterday, after reading about the new code of ethics. Didn’t even notice the possible connection!)
Any craft beer person will argue that craft beer always wins on taste. So if the new marketing message needs to focus on taste, craft beer wins.
It’s quite striking that the code of ethics mentions people looking older than 25. IMHO, it’s overstating the case a bit. IMHO, nothing is to be gained by avoiding the portrayal of members of the 18-25yo age bracket in advertising for responsible drinking. This demographic is not only very important for the alcohol industry but it’s one which should be targeted by the responsible drinking movement. Educ’alcool does target people who are even younger than that, so that they "do the right thing" once they’re old enough to drink, but there’s no reason to let people down once they start drinking. Eighteen-year-olds are not only learning the value of responsible drinking, they’re integrating responsible drinking in their social lives. And they’re learning how to taste alcoholic beverages.
Apart from age, characteristics of craft beer people are usually the same as those of the target market for beer in general. But their emphasis is really: taste, distinctiveness, sophistication, and responsibility. Again, perfect for the new type of ads.
Speaking of beer marketing, the issue of Montreal’s Hour indie weekly also has a piece on the importance of beer sponsorships for the success of events in the city. Coincidence?
Here's the draft of my presentation for a food and society conference at Boston University this past Thursday.
A blog version should follow. Comments are deeply appreciated!
What do they expect, the Chicago Beer Riots? Actually, the situation bears some similarities as it's about laws that are not enforced.