In the Beginning
The journey of a thousand beers (or several thousand) begins with a single sip. We all have our romanticized recollections of where our expedition began.
Papazian, the guru who literally wrote the book on homebrewing, used his Beer Examiner blog to recall his first taste of beer―Ballantine Ale―as a four-year-old growing up in Cranford, NJ, proffered by his Uncle Paul. Sixteen years later in 1969, the Charlottesville police did more than reprimand him and his buddies who they busted with a case of cheap beer in their car. That’s when he moved beyond the industrial stuff and got into the “novelty” of homebrewing.
“My roommates and I homebrewed regularly and I eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering in 1972. But I think the beer made me dyslexic because ‘nuclear’ became ‘unclear’ and I pursued other paths,” said Papazian.
Before the Alström brothers became beer geek enablers by creating BeerAdvocate.com, Todd and Jason got sips of beer at the family dinner table. As the ’70s gave way to the ’80s and they ventured out to punk shows around New England, they glugged down cans of Guinness Export before radio spots for Sam Adams and Pete’s Wicked turned them onto microbrews. Not until the ’90s did they experiment with homebrewing stronger beers.
Riley, a neonatologist from Iowa who earned his top-billing on the site in terms of reviews, said, “the summer of 2003, I got a kidney stone. I read somewhere that beer drinkers get fewer stones,” which explains how he got started on his beer drinking avocation. He skipped the macros and quickly leapfrogged beyond the well-marketed imports when a Google search led him to the site and an intriguing sounding beer called Arrogant Bastard.
Sammy Wisem is the Canadian among BeerAdvocate’s most rapacious reviewers. His handle is NorthYorkSammy and his 3,628 reviews put him in second, though he has posted substantially more “Beerfly reviews.” He has written about 223 bars in provinces and states from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
Advocate Jim Brennan is building his beer review empire in Philly. Posting as NeroFiddled, Brennan has added 3,055 since 2000. The 41-year-old packaging manager at Flying Fish Brewery across the Delaware in Cherry Hill, NJ, is a Siebel Institute graduate. But at age 18, his clique―including his nephew and friends―would steal tons of beers from their parents’ garages and what not, spending all night drinking mostly Moosehead, Molson, Michelob.
Later, while a musician gigging at a local bar that poured English ales and Yuengling Porter, he imbibed beyond macro lagers and “kind of fell into homebrewing by accident.” Soon he advanced beyond the extract kit, geekily musing, “What did Yoda say? ‘Do, or not do. There is not try.’”
Whereas BeerAdvocate began life as BrewGuide.com, the other prime beer geek forum, RateBeer.com, began when software engineer Bill Buchanan and a drinking buddy needed a better way to record their beer notes from sampling sessions.
Piqued by the aforementioned Sam Adams radio blitz, Buchanan’s affinity for less mainstream beers found its footing at his local watering hole in suburban Detroit, a place called The Box Bar. “was floored when I saw that they had a 12-page beer menu,” he said. This discovery of fresh, interesting beers also led him to dabble in homebrewing. The Box Bar’s printed beer lists became scorecards with scrawled notes and after he relocated to the Atlanta area, RateBeer was born in 2000.
Were it not for that, there’s no telling what Ungstrup and his fellow RateBeerians, particularly his Copenhagen crew, would be up to today. At the very least, they wouldn’t be up to nearly 8,000-13,000 reviews apiece.