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Oakes Weekly - March 13, 2003

Your new mission...
Oakes Weekly March 13, 2003      
Written by Oakes

Vancouver, CANADA -

<P>I've been thinking about what Ratebeer is and what Ratebeer has accomplished. We've really only just begun to tap our potential as a community - beer lovers that is. We're only now just getting ourselves organized. It's been slowly building for the past few years. Before the web, of course, local groups got together. In Europe, consumer advocacy groups were coming together in the 70's and 80's, and in North America this era saw the rise of homebrewing clubs and in Canada at least CAMRA chapters and local consumer groups.

<P>With the rise of the online beer community, I think that beer lovers are expanding their horizons. Here at Ratebeer, we are essentially co-ordinating beer knowledge from around the world. And I do mean world - we have sizeable contingents from the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and Australia. We have members in China, in Belgium, Italy, the Czech Republic and England. We've even got Moldova covered! I love this. I love reading about foreign brews and dreaming of the day I'll get my hands on them. You don't have to be a country-hunter to appreciate what the rest of the world is doing, either. Take a look at linc or rodolito's ratings from South America and tell me you don't want to explore the microbreweries down there.

<P>Surprises abound in this wide world. Some make it to North America - Hitachino Nest White, Lion Stout from Sri Lanka, the beers of Italy's Baladin brewery. Others do not make it. But they're still great and still worth finding if you have the chance. The sorghum-based Nigerian version of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout is amazing. Angkor Extra Stout from Cambodia is very cool. France and Japan have so many interesting beers it's scary. International trading, much less travelling, is not a cheap endeavour. But it's a lot of fun. And even if you don't want to bear the expense of acquiring exotic microbrews, it's always worth your while to learn about them. It's very inspiring to read about exotic stouts and dunkels, and micros making a go of it in faraway lands. I for one get a rush thinking about drinking a great microbrew in Bangkok, Shanghai, Istanbul or Athens. The best part is, it's not a fantasy - you can actually do it.

<P>Some websites that to me are great resources for international beer are:
<P><a hrefhttp://www.bento.com/brews.html>Bryan Harrell's Japan Newsletter - Bryan Harrell is Japan's answer to Tim Webb. On this site hosted by a Tokyo food & drink guide, Bryan talks about beer bars, microbrews and imports in Tokyo and Japan. Some of those microbrews sound astonishing - pushing envelopes your favourite brewery's not yet heard of (if only Kuaska were here he'd start arguing that the Italians have been doing that for years!). And I personally have Popeye on my "Bars I Most Need to Visit" list. It is one of my missions this year to learn (and teach) about the Japanese micro scene and Bryan's site is my guide.
<P><a hrefhttp://www.bambergbeerguide.com>Bamberg Beer Guide - Most beer lovers have heard that Franconia has a brewery every ten feet, and that they all make amazing beer. This site is compiled by an American, Fred Waltman, who has extensive experience in Franconia, and the contributors are very knowledgeable. This site will shatter any illusions you might have that a beer-hunting trip to Bamberg can be accomplished in a couple of days. Lots of photos and general travel info as well.
<P><a hrefhttp://www.artisanpress.com>Beers of French-Speaking Europe - This site came about to market a couple of books on beer - one on France, the other on Wallonia. The site itself, though, is quite extensive. They outline each brewery, list the beers, display photos and give tasting notes. Ratebeer admins are amongst the heaviest users of this site.

<P>Another thing I love about Ratebeer is that steep increase in the level of interaction between members. Face to face meetings are standard procedure now, whereas when I first wrote six months ago about us needing to do more of this, it was rare for Ratebeerians to get together. The Events Page helps a lot in this regard, too, and I love seeing big numbers for these gatherings. Whereas last year it was like pulling teeth to get a dozen people to the summer party (this despite having the world's most mind-blowing assortment of beers on offer), we've got 20 names down so far for the 2003 edition. I expect double that number will be present, once everyone sorts out their travel plans. That's some fine work, lads and lasses, and let's keep getting together and strengthen this community. (Oh, and who'll be the first person to travel overseas to attend the summer party? Any takers this year?)

<P>In the first Oakes Weekly, I wrote about Big Rock Brewery, and how they were going macro. Well, since then, they have ramped up production and marketing of Alberta Genuine Draft and introduced Big Rock Honey Brown and Joe Stiff's Hard Root Beer. You can make the determination for yourself as to whether this is a craft brewery or not. They have increased their marketing presence, at least here in Toronto, which is expected. I still remain confused as to how they expect to stay on a high-growth course in their new income trust structure. Keep going back to the markets to pay for each expansion? I hope that's not their plan, because this is a rising interest rate environment and the bloom is coming off the income trust rose awfully fast.

<P>Speakings of Big Rock, they are spoon-feeding Michael Jackson his own words. On the <a hrefhttp://www.bigrockbeer.com>Big Rock website, they use a quote from Jackson declaring Big Rock's lineup to be Canada's most unique brews. Yes, Jackson was a big supporter of Big Rock at one point, as BR was one of the earliest micros in Canada. But there is no chance in hell that Jackson would utter those words today, in the face of Dieu du Ciel!, Unibroue, Church Key, Sailor Hägar's, and dozens of other Canadian brewers whose lineup does not consist of a honey brown, a lager, a light-tasting brown ale, an American Wheat, and bland Rye beer, a porter, a light lager, and an Irish ale that is a shadow of its former self. But Canadian breweries have a habit of leveraging their history (no matter how tenuous the link to today's reality) in order to market their product.

<P>That's it for this week, I guess. You have your mission - get out and explore the entire world of beer. Even if just from your computer screen.



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