One theme exemplified in Hinman’s blogs is obscurity. From music to beer, geeks gravitate toward the fringe. The top RateBeerians and BeerAdvocates go the extra mile.
As for those extra miles, even standard tourists will visit a destination and perhaps sample some local brews. Beer geeks, at great expense of time and cash, hunt down beers and perhaps sample local culture. Ungstrup once flew to Montreal explicitly to gulp up all the Dieu du Ciel he could. Riley frequently drives up to five hours for new brews. Back in 2004, he drove six hours―each way―for Dark Lord Day at Three Floyds in Munster, IN, before the hullabaloo. “I got there three days after the release and there was a handful of people milling around the brewery and huge stacks of DL for sale.”
You can usually find Ungstrup at a pub in Copenhagen with his fellow Ratebeerians Papsø and Jesper Kjær, whose RateBeer nom de biere is Yespr. Over the years, some drinking buddies have found it hard to keep up with reviewing at their mad pace. Ungstrup’s mom is worried he drinks too much and he has a 12-year-old daughter who doesn’t know what to make of her dad’s hobby, but one thing’s for sure―she’s not interested safeguarding or cataloging his bottle caps.
It’s not just tasting, but reviewing more beers than most of us will ever try, that makes this faction strive to review as elaborately as possible. “I hate short reviews―especially of great beers. They deserve a lot better,” said Ungstrup. But he admits his fall short of poetry, although his friend “thinks that it would improve my chances with women.”
These beer geeks, in their determination and endurance, achieve more than personal satisfaction and possibly global, or at least virtual, celebrity. They help us, the common beer lover. As Wisem said, “Geeks are at the leading edge, prodding the craft scene.”
Mikkel Borg Bjergsø agreed. He is on RateBeer.com every day. Again, his beers such as Beer Geek Breakfast receive mostly rave reviews, but he said, “I use them to change things. If I read a bad review caused by a specific aspect in one beer I remember that the next time I brew it. It’s like having unlimited access to passionate, well-educated tasters and critics.”
AleSmith’s Zien, whose Speedway Stout is among his most respected beers (and not unlike Beer Geek Breakfast), also uses the sites to check in with his customers and co-geeks. He has gone as far as replacing bottles of his beer when necessary as a preventative yet appreciative measure, even when the beer geek clearly procured the bottle beyond normal distribution channels. That’s because, as both brewers agree, beer trading is a healthy way for a brewery to gain international attention.
Of course, it’s not always about worldwide notoriety. Ungstrup’s fortieth birthday beer never made it beyond the Netherlands, where it was brewed, or Denmark. Papsø also got a commemorative ale, in his case for his 10,000th review, brewed by Danish brewery Amager Bryghus. He told a story about his friend, Amager’s brewer/owner, who got permission to attend a huge blind tasting of extreme American beers despite the fact that his wife was going into labor.
Speaking of crowning, Riley prefers to review in solace, and said, “Before cracking the crown, I check the brewery’s Web site for useful information.” Then he’ll do a search for more. He’s even called up brewers. He keeps thinking he’ll slow down, but shows no signs.
As for our friends in Denmark, when will they stop raising the bar (no pun intended)? Ungstrup doesn’t see a need for this kick to end, jokingly envisioning a nursing home with an ever-changing beer list. “There are so many untried beers out there, so why stop? It makes for a good excuse to travel, see the world and meet old and new friends.”