Last week, the Brewers Association released the 2009 numbers for craft beer sales. Once again, it was good news for smaller breweries such as Atlanta’s Sweetwater and Athens’ Terrapin.
While the big beer companies, including No. 1 ranked Anheuser-Busch InBev, have been reporting some of the worst sales numbers since the 1950s, in 2009 craft beer sales were up 7.2% by volume and 10.3% by dollars over the previous year.
Nowhere is the enthusiasm for craft beer more evident than on Internet beer review and rating sites such as Beer Advocate (beeradvocate.com) and Rate Beer (www.ratebeer.com).
Now boasting memberships in the hundreds of thousands and reviews in the millions, the sites are run by and for beer geeks intent on searching out the world’s best and rarest beers. Not surprisingly, they tend to have little interest in the likes of Budweiser or Miller.
On March 6, the Brick Store Pub in Decatur hosted an annual afternoon meet-up for Beer Advocate members, dubbed the Holy Mother of Gatherings. The atmosphere was like a private beer festival, with nearly 100 participants bringing noteworthy beers to sample and share with other Beer Advocate members. A silent auction and raffle giveaways added to the festivities.
“Last year we probably had 70 people,” said Lance Deen, one of the Decatur member organizers. “The crowd has gotten better and better each year and so has the sharing. We probably have 500 beers to sample this year, and people are really going out of their way to bring in a lot of cool stuff.”
Among the rarities were hundreds of beers not currently available in Georgia. Cigar City Maduro Oatmeal Raisin Cookie brown ale from Florida tasted exactly like you might expect from its name. Jack Daniel’s barrel-aged Town Hall Czar Jack imperial stout from Minnesota was one of the most highly anticipated offerings. And a bottle of Westvleteren 12 Belgian quadruple ale, arguably the rarest beer in the world, was enjoyed off in a corner by a secretive few.
Name tags identified members both by their Beer Advocate handles and their real names, so that Lance Deen could be recognized as “Rusty Diamond.” A few of the beer geeks in attendance were crossover members from Rate Beer.
Better known as “kp” online, Keith Peterson of Woodstock is currently No. 9 on the Rate Beer site, and the only American in the Top 10, with 8700 beer ratings.
To honor the rival rating guru, a few Beer Advocate members managed to rig the first round of the raffle, making Peterson the lucky winner of a tiny pink baby doll T-shirt.
“Last year I won a baby doll in the raffle, legitimately,” Peterson said. “So now I guess it’s a tradition.”
In that spirit, Brick Store beer manager Lee Dickson described the gathering as a giant “geek-out,” gleefully singing those words to the tune of “Le Freak” by Chic, while conducting tours of the Brick Store’s beer cellar.
“We’ve always done Beer Advocate gatherings,” Dickson said. “But it’s usually 10 people. This is a meet-and-greet on a whole other level. We’re welcoming new faces to the community of good beer and getting a chance to see some old friends. And man are we enjoying some fine beer.”