Let me tug on your coat about something.
A lot of the time, the craft beer movement is defined not so much by the drinkers as it is by the brewers and the people who write about beer. You’ve got a lot of different beer bloggers and columnists and legitimate experts talking about what makes a good beer, or whether a brewery is going downhill. Sometimes, the discussion can get pretty heated. It has done in the states recently. There’s an ongoing flamewar about Session beers (beers under 5% alcohol which can be consumed in quantity over several hours). While that might set the course for trends in the immediate future and bring to light some previously underappreciated offerings of very high quality, it’s an extremely localized form of beer appreciation.
I’m not here to talk to you about that. I’m not even here to talk to you about beer nerds who are looking for the rarest of beers. I’m here to talk to you today about people who actually go out and drink whatever high quality beer is available and enjoy each others’ company.
It’s only over the course of the last four or five months that I’ve become aware of a group called the Toronto Beer Lovers. It’s an interesting group for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that these aren’t folks who are involved in the craft beer industry. These are just people who like good beer and aren’t nerdy enough to spend a whole lot of time arguing about it online. It’s a sizeable group and currently they weigh in at 889 members.
Think about this for a second. If one of the primary ways that people are convinced of the benefits of craft beer is word of mouth, then the Toronto scene has nearly a thousand loosely organized people who are spreading the word. They’re not doing it because it benefits them directly. They’re doing it because they enjoy going out to the pub and trying new things. If they like something, they’re probably going to spread the word. They might even bring their friends along. That’s a bigger deal than you might imagine.
Maybe the most interesting part is that they’re doing it from a consumer perspective; looking for value for money and events where their members are most likely to have fun. Reethi Jagannathan is sort of their de facto leader along with a couple of other people (Craig and Michael) who organize events and gatherings. Because they’re aware of the size of the group and they don’t want to overwhelm a pub on a busy night, they post that there are a certain number of spots open for the event and then people RSVP.
It works out surprisingly well. Apparently there are about 100 hardcore members and the rest of them sort of rotate through. This not only means that there are always people willing to attend events, but also that there are always going to be new people to talk to. If you go to the same pub all the time, eventually you’ll hear everyone’s stories. In this case, the rotating cast keeps things fresh.
I caught up with them at The Rhino on Tuesday night and hung out for a while. By the time I got there, there were about 20 members of the group. At one end of the line of tables they had grabbed, they were doing a sort of unofficial beer tasting to determine what they thought of the beers that were available on tap. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the things they were tasting. Black Oak’s Marmalade Saison was in the same lineup as a number of the Great Lakes beers that are being featured there throughout the week.
Usually, if you go to a beer tasting, people group certain styles of beer together. That’s not what this was about. This was early in the evening and they had purchased a number of things that just looked interesting and got everyone to try them. It makes a lot of sense. If there are a lot of new beers on tap and you’ve never tried them before, it’s a pretty good way to figure out what you should order. Plus, it creates a lot of discussion, not about the technical facets of brewing or about the IBU content of the IPA, but simply about what people would like to have next.
It’s a good reminder that for the most part people just want to have a good time. Beer is many things, but it excels as a social lubricant. Most of the time beer isn’t about art. I write about some high flown concepts sometimes, but I’m going to be pretty quick to concede that a lot of the time, you just want to unwind and have fun. This is beer appreciation as an excuse to bring people with common interests together. And that’s pretty much the whole point of the brewing industry. It’s awesome.
If you go out to any number of the Ontario Craft Beer Week events, you’ll probably meet people from the Toronto Beer Lovers group. You might want to consider joining them. Not only will you drink good beer, meet interesting people and visit pubs you’ve never heard of, you’ll have fun. I did.
Also, it should be pointed out that Robohop from Great Lakes is an absolute hop monster. It’s pretty much the reason that I decided to take Wednesday off from Ontario Craft Beer Week. If you want to wake up feeling like you’ve got a hop vine growing out of your cerebral cortex, then Robohop is the beer for you. Sweet Christmas, is that a hoppy beer. I mean, just take all of the hops in the world and throw them in the kettle why don’t you? Holy jumping cats. Son of a motherless goat and so forth.