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A year of beer

Posted by Steve Greenlee  December 30, 2011 11:39 AM

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It occurred to me in the fall of 2010 that there was a hole in the Globe's coverage of lifestyle, food, and drink: We weren't writing about the craft beer revolution. New beers were hitting the shelves faster than ever, new brewers popping up left and right. Sales of craft beer were skyrocketing at a time when beer sales overall were down. And we were missing it all. As someone who enjoys all sorts of styles and is always looking for great new beers, I hungered to read about the craft beer movement in the pages of the Globe. Then it hit me: Why not write about it myself?

So in October 2010 I wrote my first beer column. The subject was west coast IPAs, mostly because a bunch of them had just won major awards at the Great American Beer Festival, but also because I happen to love extremely hoppy, bitter India pale ales and thought it would be an apt way to kick off the column. The response to that first column was overwhelming: Hundreds of emails poured in from readers who said they were glad to see the newspaper finally paying attention to craft beer.

What started as a monthly column has become almost a daily responsibility -- or, more accurately, a daily obsession. I quickly realized that I wouldn't be able to cover even a fraction of what's out there in a monthly column. I took the column biweekly last winter and then started the blog you are now reading. I try to post here at least three or four times a week, excepting vacations. I'd like to write something every day, but there is just not enough time.

As 2011 winds down, I thought I would stop and reflect on how I approach covering beer. I've been surprised and humbled by the response the column and blog have gotten. I appreciate all the feedback I've received -- in the emails and tweets you send me, and in the comments you post.

I don't profess to be some sort of brewing expert. I'm just someone who loves good beer and wants to spread the word about it. On the contrary, I am a student of beer. I read as much about beer and explore as many styles as I can. I try to sample as many new beers as possible, within reason. I am learning as I go, and I try to share with others the knowledge I acquire along the way.

A few readers have complained that I've focused too much on certain styles or certain brewers. Yes, I love a good double IPA, but I try not to write about IPAs disproportionately (though the IPA is currently the most popular of the craft beer styles). I also enjoy imperial stouts, hefeweizens, saisons, bier de gardes, abbey ales, and pretty much everything in between. I'm dabbling in sours and starting to come around. And, sure, I probably write more about Samuel Adams than any other brewer, but let's face it: What Sam does is news, especially in this town. Not only is the company a major presence in Boston, but it is -- by far -- the biggest and best-selling craft brewer in the United States.

All things being equal, I try to give ink to locally brewed beers, if only because I think there's an interest in drinking locally. I regret that I've yet to review a beer by Wormtown, for instance, or Jack's Abby; I'll try to get them in 2012. Indeed, I wish I could write much more about beer in general than I do, but writing about beer is only a tiny part of what I do at The Boston Globe. I spend the bulk of my time here as an editor, and I also write about jazz (another passion of mine).

I don't pretend that I can cover the beer scene comprehensively. And because I can write about only a fraction of the beers out there, I tend to focus on new ones rather than those that have been around for a while. I also tend not to write about beers that I don't think are very good. I'd rather spend my words recommending beers than advising people to avoid them.

In the end, though, my opinion about a certain beer is just that: one man's opinion. I'm not trying to be or, whose ratings aggregate the opinions of many reviewers. I also aim to write more for a general audience than for people whose knowledge of beer runs deep.

Mostly I'm writing this to say thanks. The response to 99 Bottles over the past year has been immensely rewarding. I'm grateful to all of you who've commented, written to me, followed my Twitter feed, and set me straight where I've erred. I appreciate the complaints, suggestions, and tips I've received; they mean that people care about the kind of beer news and reviews they're getting. Keep them coming. I hope to learn even more in 2012. Happy new year, everyone.

Email me at Follow me on Twitter @SteveGreenlee.

Gary Dzen

About 99 Bottles

Gary Dzen writes about craft beer here and in the Globe when he's not covering the Celtics for He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GaryDzen.

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