<P>Welcome to the first installment of the Josh Oakes weekly. This space will appear every Thursday here on Ratebeer.com and will feature news, insights and rants from yours truly. Sometimes I will have articles and interviews to present. Other times I will launch into full-blown tirades sure to offend the apparently delicate sensitivities that populate this fine industry.
<P>For this week, Iíll take it easy, and give my take on a few of the topics on our forums lately. First, there is the issue of Ratebeer as a community. Most of us regulars here at the great pub we call Ratebeer have known it to mainly be a beer website. That is the common bond we all share, of course, and there is nothing like discussing beer topics with like-minded individuals. Anyone who doesnít think this is a lot of fun probably isnít reading this column right now. But this past weekend some silliness started with people debating their favourite musicians, movies, etc. In other words, nothing about beer. Is this a good thing?
<P>I think it is. Why? Because this is a great pub weíve built here. And when you are in a great pub, you have great craic. And great craic often deviates from the topic of beer. The truth is, as much as we know about each otherís tastes in beer, we donít usually know very much about each other at all. As Internet communities go, we are pretty limited in that regard. I think we need to have more interaction, whether about beer or not. People should stand up and state their opinions and revel in the discussion/controversy that follows. Some people may come here for a respite from the real world, which is a great feature of good pubs, and thatís great. But even those who prefer to stick to beer conversation only can benefit from my next suggestion.
<P>We should also meet more often. As an example, the Burgundian Babble Belt is a tiny message board with far fewer members than Ratebeer. But when the call goes out for a Babblefest, people come from miles around Ė we had a good dozen meet in London this past August and very few of us were actually from London. Compare that with the plethora of lame excuses I heard for people not making the Ratebeer summer party, and I think it reflects somewhat poorly on Ratebeer as a whole. People should take a little bit of initiative to meet other Ratebeerians in their area. I see no reason why regular gatherings canít be held. Pick an event, or host your own, and put the word out. Report all feeble excuses to me and I will commence with the nuking. For example, the Cíest What Small Brewers Festival is a really good excuse for all Toronto-area Ratebeerians to gather in the same place at the same time. Failure to appear at this event will result in summary dismissal from the site. While I am joking about that last bit, I think it imperative that members of this community quit whinging and excuse-making and start getting together for some serious beer-tasting sessions! Take some initiative, buy a cask, and host a party! Get some local brewers out Ė they love doing this.
<P>Now that Iíve said my bit on that subject, there is another subject on the forums lately. The ďover-hopped, one-dimensional IPAĒ. The Imperial IPA, in other words. Although Rogue started this ďstyleĒ back at the 1996 Oregon Brewerís Festival, it has only recently taken off and now it seems that every brewery who has a reputation to maintain must have one in their portfolio. Europeans must be shaking their heads. It is an experience, to be sure, being blitzed by hops in this way. Sometimes that experience is fun. But I wonder if Americans have no capacity to appreciate subtlety anymore. Itís not that Iíve got anything against pushing the envelope. Itís better than the chicken-shit product most Ontario breweries are cranking out with their 20IBUs and light Golding aroma. But some time should be set aside to appreciate beers with assets that canít be measure in International Bitterness Units. Beers with style and subtlety, like the one the Germans, Czechs and English have been enjoying for centuries. There are a lot of great session beers in this world, and more attention should be paid to them. Itís not all about who has the biggest sledgehammer.