I donít scour the statistics here the way that some folks do, but I like to check them out once in a while. One that has really been heartening lately in the Most Top 50 sampled. I remember the big fuss the first time someone sampled all of them. Now the highest has only tried 43 of them. Itís becoming increasingly difficult to try all of the Top 50 nowadays, and that is quite deliberate.
You see, we at Ratebeer feel that promotion of all great beer is important. Weíre not content to simply promote the most widely-accessible great beers. People have in past asked us to increase the lower limit for inclusion in the Top 50, and this is why we havenít. We want you to know about Drie Fonteinen Frambozenlambiek. We want unknown beers like Great Divide Hercules to get exposure. We love seeing cask-only English beers like Crouch Vale Brewers Gold Extra getting their due respect.
I would actually like to implore the English contingent to ďswarmĒ the great beers of your land. Hunt them down with the aggression and passion of your American cousins. For as long as the best English cask ales are only getting two, three, or four ratings, theyíll remain unknown and unheralded.
You see a similar situation here in Ontario, actually. It sucks as a place from which to trade because our best beers arenít bottled. Youíve really got to come here to experience them. Itís hard to get much love in that way, but the Ratebeer Best is a good place to start.
The way I see it, this type of exposure for lesser-known brewers and beers is critical to the future of great beer. We talk a lot about brewers such as Victory, Unibroue, AleSmith, Stone, Three Floyds. But I remember a couple of years ago I was packing for a move and came across an old All About Beer. In the back, where they announce brewery openings, was listed Victory Brewing Company, Downington, PA. It was a bit of a reminder to me that greatness doesnít happen overnight. Somewhere, somehow, somebody had to give love to Victory early on in the game.
The truth is, Ratebeerians are the people who should be doing this. In marketing speak, we are the ďearly adoptersĒ, who are the first to get excited about new products, and generate the buzz that drives the rest of the populace into becoming customers, too. Now, the way I see it, most of us know about small breweries doing great things. I think that when that is the case, we need to be as evangelical as possible. Anybody who reads my column regularly knows that Denisonís, Scotch Irish and Mill Street are three kick-ass breweries in Ontario. Itís true that I drop those names a little more than their place in the world beer hierarchy would suggest I should, but thatís because Iím here and they are too. That makes me the one who needs to champion their cause. MartinT has long been the champion of Dieu du Ciel! in Montreal. Now everyone wants to try their beer. But weíve all got breweries like that in our neck of the woods.
Me, I love to check out unknown brewers. I didnít go to the Michigan and Maine beer fests last year because they were the biggest or baddest around. If that was my gameplan, I would have simply forgone both and taken in the GABF. And lord knows, I was probably the only one who did the Michigan fest and ignored the Bellís booth. But I found great beers anyway. The star of the show was a beer nobody had ever heard of before Ė Royal Oak Summer Wit. Hopefully this beer will get a lot more attention this summer, because it deserves it.
Which brings me to Brewtopia. You can see on the web page that this event is going to have a lot of big name micros in attendance. Of course Iím looking forward to trying new things from them, like the Liquor de Malt, but Iím also quite interested in the smaller breweries.
Iíve sampled my way around western New York, but the eastern portion is still quite unknown to me. Big House, Ramapo Valley, Black Forest, Blue PointÖI just donít know anything about these guys, but Iím looking forward to learning.
For example, I talked for a bit with Pete from Blue Point. They are the only bottling micro in Long Island (except for the rare bottles from SPH). But hereís what I like Ė aside from the strong ratings theyíve received on Ratebeer Ė their flagship is Toasted Lager. This is a product with some production similarities to steam beer, though it isnít quite to that style. It also benefits from a fire-heated kettle, which adds a little tinge of caramel to the brew. To me, it sounds like an interesting twist on a well-worn theme. Breweries that show the willingness to be a little different even with standards (Chicory Stout, anybody?) often turn into brewers who can generate a lot of excitement. Throw in a little marketing success Ė like winning Best Tap Handle in America (Blue Point Summer Ale) and some well-respected neighbours (SPH) and you can see that there is potential.
Now, I havenít tried their beers and am merely theorizing, but itís not a difficult picture to paint. The missing ingredient is the market. Drinkers who love the beer are vital. Beer lovers who encourage others to try the products and encourage the brewers to experiment or offer constructive feedback are also vital. The starting point for all of this is a few sips. No brewer can turn into Victory or Dogfish Head if people donít give their beer a shot in the first place.
Thatís where we come in. At Brewtopia, and at every other festival this summer, and every pub visit and every road trip.