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Oakes Weekly Dec. 19

How the Media Perceives Beer
Oakes Weekly December 19, 2002      
Written by Oakes

Vancouver, CANADA -

<P>One of the many jobs I do around Ratebeer is editing the "Brew News". Basically, how it works is that we have a search engine that seeks out the latest, freshest beer news it can find. It scours news agencies online for articles containing words like "beer" and "brewing". With the click of a button it gives me a dozen or so articles each day from which to choose our pieces. I used to do a bit of work at a site called beerflavour.com that did the same thing. But what you typically get are pieces that may contain the words you're searching for, but aren't really about beer. Sometimes it's a piece from the Israeli city of Beer Sheva, but more often the beer is incidental to the story. It is my job to weed those pieces out so that all of the stories that hit the site are about beer and brewing, in some way that makes them worthwhile to Ratebeerians.

<P>In this, I've noticed some trends, which I wanted to talk about. For example, the best source for brewing news is the UK. Beer-related issues get a lot more mainstream press over there, whether it be pub laws, commerce or just writing about new beers available from local brewers. In Australia and Canada, the vast majority of the news comes from the business pages. In the United States, however, the story that needs to be told is the stories I don't tell on the website. The vast majority of stories hailing from the US that contain the word "beer" are from the crime pages. Every day, headlines are given to stories about "teenage beer parties", bars fined for "serving beer to minors" or two people whose crashed cars were "strewn with empty beer cans".

<P>To me this speaks volumes about the way that the mainstream press in the United States views beer in comparison with the other major English-speaking nations. In Britain, beer is a business story, and a social one as well - a fun part of life to be discussed in the same pages as movies, music, wine and food. Down Under and Up North it is big business. In the US, beer is the source of all evil. Rarely do you come across a story that treats beer as a member of civilized society, even in the business pages. Stories about "underage" drinking are big news down there. As worrisome as this is in and of itself (I sure as hell never went to trial for minor in possession), it is even more worrisome that beer is always mentioned as the culprit. Not alcopops, which you know are consumed at any high school party. Not hard liquor. Not even the demon weed is mentioned, and we all know how zealous Americans can get about that stuff. If a driver polishes off a bottle of rye and crashes his car, he was 'drunk'. If a driver drinks a case of light lager, or a forty of malt liquor, he was 'drunk on beer'.

<P>I do not know precisely how this situation has come about, but from seeing day in and day out the treatment that beer gets (and make no mistake, I can count on my right hand thumb the number of times that any distinction was made between a quality beer and swill), it is clear to me that there are some serious issues with this beverage in the United States. Not with people drinking it "underage" or drinking it and then crashing their cars, but with the rampant promotion in the media of beer as a beverage to be associated strictly with criminal activity.

<P>Were you to read the papers in the States, you would be forgiven to think that nothing good comes of drinking beer. The American media needs to buck up and start telling a balanced story. The consumers of American media need to rise up and let their voices be heard. Beer is not a crime story. Drinking beer is not a criminal act (even "underage" drinking, which is so commonplace it should never warrant mention in even the most insignificant small-town weekly). Beer drinking is a social act. It is also a small business story. People should question their editors why beer is only found in stories about stupid people doing stupid things. They should question why they aren't reading a few more stories about the intelligent people who are brewing, selling and drinking what are surely some of the world's greatest beers. The last thing you'd ever expect is the American media not to brag if they were the best in the world at something, yet that is exactly what you've got. It is a truly sorry state of affairs.

<P>Switching gears, this past weekend was another excuse to hang out with Ratebeerians. I hosted a small Christmas party, with executive chef Mr_Kimchee, and guests of honour daboskabouter, Radek, joey_capps, and DougShoemaker. We ate a lot of good food - mussels made with Maudite, chili with St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, some excellent apple toffee cheesecake that Doug brought, and some of the fine breads from Alchemy Bakery. Everybody brought a handful of beers - surprisingly there was only one beer (other than the leftover Maudite) that everyone had already tried. So we worked our way through the Bar Harbor range, including a former top ten in Cadillac Mountain Stout (nice, but not that nice).

<P>We had a couple from Agassiz Brewing of Winnipeg, a couple from Dogfish Head that I hadn't had in a while, some Sweetwaters from Georgia and imperial stouts from Weyerbacher and North Coast. Later selections included the ultrapotent Vetters 33 from Germany, and the famous Malheur Brut Reserve, which caught everyone's attention for its uniqueness.

<P>The event was evenly paced, so everyone got through their beers without more than a little inebriation (Radek's fine quotes and Doug's destruction of my kitchen notwithstanding). Everyone rolled out the door and a good time was had by all. I hope to meet a few more Ratebeerians over the holidays, and quite frankly I would encourage everyone else who has the opportunity to do the same. Great beer, great food, great people - that's how it should be over the holidays.



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