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Oakes Weekly - December 18, 2003
EAST VS. WEST IS DEAD
December 18, 2003
As some of you may be aware, someone has been trolling the site for a "major beer publication" trying to gather information for an article about East vs. West, the subject presumably being related to American brewing, or perhaps beer culture. And why not troll around Ratebeer? After all, talking to our membership beats getting off your ass and seeing it for yourself. It's also how this guy wrote his last book (not Ratebeer, but another beer board) - did those people realize they were helping this guy make money while not getting paid themselves?
<P>Well, I'll do the guy one better. I'll save this writer the effort of mooching off of the hard work of the people who built and run this site. (You're welcome, Dennis, and next time you come down from that beer mecca of Richmond Hill, maybe you can buy me a pint to apologize for ripping off my story idea).
<P>You see, I wrote the same story a couple of years ago that this "major beer publication" wants to write now. At the time, I was a fairly recent arrival to Toronto from Vancouver. Coming from a place where the wonders of Seattle and Portland, to say nothing of every town in between big enough to have a McDonald's were at my disposal, I knew the West. I mean, as soon as I turned twenty-one, I was all about heading south to North America's Franconia. I could visit breweries in Ferndale, Bellingham, Anacortes, LaConner, Mount Vernon, Everett and Mukilteo all before even arriving at the gates of the Emerald City.
<P>I didn't know much about beer out east, and I didn't much care. But with one plane ride, I lived out east. Well, southern Ontario isn't really "east", but when you're from Vancouver it sure as hell counts as "east" when you first step off the plane. But when I got to exploring the beer scene, it was in nearby upstate New York, through which I discovered the wonders of Victory, Weyerbacher, Allagash, Dogfish Head, Brooklyn, Dominion and others. It was from that background of wide-eyed naivety that I pondered "Is the West Really the Best?"
<P>So if I wrote this article myself a couple of years ago, why is it such a silly idea today? Well, I'm not so wide-eyed anymore, and I can tell you that it is cliched, dated and ignorant.
<P>At the risk of sounding redundant, the East vs. West cliche is old. Whether it's New York vs. LA as a centre of media influence, the Lakers vs. the Knicks, or Death Row vs. Bad Boy, we've seen this movie enough times already. Perhaps that makes it more resonant to the simple-minded, but here at Ratebeer we're more interested in expanding minds than indulging in yesterday's tedium. I'd rather present new ideas when I write and take shit for them than to feed people pablum. Stronger media makes for stronger minds. If we serve up nothing but stale ideas, we've accomplished nothing.
<P>East vs. West in terms of beer is a dated concept anyway. Why? I'll tell you. Three Floyds, Great Lakes, Flossmoor Station. New Glarus, Schlafly, Lakefront. Goose Island, Kuenhenn, Kalamazoo. The Midwest may not have been much three or four years ago, but it is a brewing superpower today. These breweries have all made names for themselves. And they're not the only ones - there's depth in the Midwest now, too, with stellar individual products complementing the heavy-hitting lineups listed above. And that's not to even mention Colorado, which may or may not sit within the Pacific-oriented definition of "west" that persists in beer circles. Heading in to 2004, you can't talk about beer in the United States and only talk about east and west. You have to talk about the Midwest as well, because many of the most influential, best-crafted, most-talked about and most-sought-after beers in America come from that region.
<P>Beer drinking, you'll not be surprised as a Ratebeerian to learn, is not a provincial exercise any longer. Take a look at any Ratebeerian's list of favourite beers and count how many are from their local area. A few, likely, but not that many. Welcome to the wonderful world of...wait for it...the Internet. Ten years ago, people got excited when a new brewery opened in the next town over. They still do, of course, but now they also get excited about breweries across the country and around the world. I drew up a list of my favourite beers this year. They come from 15 states, 2 provinces, Belgium, England, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland and Scotland. The world of beer is too vast, the access to information too ready, for simple-minded geographic divisions.
<P>Before the likes of Ratebeer, it was different. Now not only can you read within days, hours, or even beforehand about a new killer brew, you can fire off a quick message and have a few bottles of it at your doorstep within the week. Information and beer-trading have obliterated the old geographic lines. The old-school ignorance has been replaced with a surfeit of information and access.
<P>East vs. West is dead. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a Christmas ale from a farmhouse brewery in France to attend to. (Thanks, Per).
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