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Beaumont's Journal
Toasting 20 Years
In my e-mail this morning, the following missive arrived from Mr. Thomas Dalldorf, publisher of this fine journal:

[For the next issue] we will want to have some observations on the Celebrator’s progress over the 20 years of its existence, and since you are attaining “grand old man of beer letters” status, who better to put some international perspective on the role of beer publications and the growth of craft beer?

It figures that such a request should come after I somewhat uncharacteristically promised last column to continue my coverage of the Stockholm Beer & Whisky Festival in this issue, but no mind. The Swedes will wait patiently for their turn while I good-naturedly ignore my friend Tommy D’s impertinent insinuations regarding my age and longevity — the pot calling the kettle black, indeed! — and turn my attention instead to the past two decades of beer and ink.

According to my files, this is my 94th dispatch for the Celebrator, which I suppose does count in some way towards “grand old man” status. And while it does not quite feel like the proverbial “yesterday” that I first picked up a copy of this august publication while visiting San Francisco during a trip that forever will be recalled as “The Press Junket from Hell” (think abysmal organization, excessive road rage and Denny’s for dinner), neither can I quite believe it was some 17 years ago.

Of course, things have changed immeasurably during that period, both in the state of the global beer scene and in how we report it. On the latter front, for example, mailing in a diskette with a document formatted in WordPerfect is no longer considered an acceptable means of story submission, and my filing cabinets full of press kits and individual brewery files have now largely been replaced by Web resources and PDF files. For this, believe me, we’re all very, very grateful!

I’m not referring to the pleasurable effects of alcoholic indulgence, and shame on you for thinking I was.

It’s on the beer front that things have really changed, however, and I like to think that Tom, the Celebrator and I have played at least a small part in that change. (Not to discount others, of course, who have played much larger roles, from Michael Jackson, who I still at times have trouble believing left us last year, to Fritz Maytag and Jim Koch and even SABMiller’s Graham “I think [craft beer] is going to fade” Mackay.) There are those beers and breweries we have lauded, ’natch, perhaps along the way encouraging the purchase of an extra six-pack or two, and fewer that we have taken to task for their inadequacies. But I think the real key to the Celebrator’s influence these past 20 years may be summarized in a single word: buzz.

No, I’m not referring to the pleasurable effects of alcoholic indulgence, and shame on you for thinking I was. Rather, the buzz I have in mind concerns the vibrancy and excitement that craft brewing and the popularization of small-scale, artisanal beers, both domestic and imported, have brought to the world of beer in general. That’s the true buzz factor, and that is also what has allowed the specialty beer market to thrive.

Think about it for a minute. Back in the day, perhaps before you were drinking or maybe even aware of what we then called microbrewed beer, there were no beer columns in the newspapers, no interest from The New York Times or San Francisco Chronicle and only a scant mention now and again in BusinessWeek or Esquire. The Great American Beer Festival, which this year sold out every significantly expanded session, was back then a relatively intimate affair that attracted mostly Denver locals, and there were certainly no raters or advocates proclaiming their views on the Internet. Hell, the term “beer geek” hadn’t even been coined!

In other words, if you were a West Coast craft brewer with a story to tell or a new beer to tout, the Celebrator was pretty much your only outlet through which to do it. This paper was the bullhorn through which countless brewers, brewery owners and the occasional publicist bellowed their proclamations, and the more noise they made, the more others were inclined to take up the mash fork, fire the kettle and open their own brewery.

As is often, if not always, the case, the relationship was symbiotic: The Celebrator needed the breweries as much as the breweries needed the Celebrator. Like most commercial magazines, especially those that founded their business plan on the premise of giving away their wares for free, the Celebrator relied and relies upon ads, the vast majority of which come from breweries. That’s what pays for Mr. Dalldorf’s cottage in Napa and string of polo ponies, and a fraction of my bar tab over at Le Select Bistro, my Toronto local.

There have been dips along the way, naturally enough. The Celebrator has been a thicker paper but also at times a thinner one, and the specialty beer biz has endured its share of slower periods, including one in which The Wall Street Journal was rash enough to declare it all but dead. Throughout, though, this paper has held true to task, and most, if not quite all, breweries have held equally true in their support.

Think again: In 20 years, we’ve gone from where Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was “highly hopped” to where no double IPA is hoppy enough; seen the birth of barrel-aged beers, Brettanomyces-affected ales, brews twice as strong as was previously thought possible, and beers crafted without a speck of gluten; and discovered breweries both new and old from Scandinavia, Japan, Sri Lanka, Italy and Brazil. Who knows what the next two decades might bring?!

Frankly, I think Tom does. But he’s not telling…




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