Tuesday, September 20, 2011

AN INTERVIEW WITH NAT WEBSTER – aka THE BEER ROVER

People who can string together more than one good sentence about beer, enough to make you laugh or want to read beyond those two sentences, are exceptionally few and far between. If that writer or blogger induces you to drink a particular beer or visit a particular establishment without first torturing you with acres of purple prose, all the better.

That’s why we at Beer Samizdat felt it our duty to reach out to San Diego’s Nat Webster, aka Rational Realist – aka THE BEER ROVER. His blog of the same name has been one of a very small handful of go-to destinations for those who actually find a modicum of value in reading about good beer, as opposed to simply drinking it. Through his decidedly non-purple prose, I’ve learned about the exploding and experimental San Diego craft beer world, and ticked off at least a couple half-dozen beers I need to hunt down. He’s a man of wealth and taste. Let’s see how he submits to a Beer Samizdat grilling.


Beer Samizdat: Give us some background on The Beer Rover – the person, and the blog. Who are you, and what brought you to the grand pastime of beer blogging? 


Nat Webster: I am just a regular guy who likes beer. After college I started in the corporate world and thought I needed to learn about wine.  I learned enough about wine to know that I liked beer better.  The blog started mainly as my response to beer writing, and thinking I could do as bad as most beer writers.  I have a family and a non-beer day job and I don’t frequent all the festivals and bars. Most of my beer drinking is done at home with dinner.


Beer Samizdat: How would you describe the current craft beer landscape, and how has is changed and evolved since you started your blog in 2007? 


Nat Webster: The current craft beer landscape seems hipster / trendy, which is OK.  Craft beer has gone mainstream, and restaurants with InBev as their sole beer supplier are going to struggle.  Many restaurants have a few beers worth drinking, but there are still plenty of restaurants with horrible beer selections.  Even though craft beer is trendy, it has a long way to go before it reaches saturation.  Plus, it’s good to see young people drinking good beer instead of fat middle-aged bald guys, which is my beer geek stereotype.

Beer Samizdat: What sort of impact do you think The Beer Rover blog has had on craft beer drinkers in San Diego and/or worldwide? 

Nat Webster: I’d like to think I’ve had some impact, even if it’s just someone trying a beer he or she hasn’t had in the past, or going to a restaurant with a good tap list, or avoiding restaurants with a bad beer selection. 


Beer Samizdat: You’ve been a delightfully outspoken critic of “beer journalism’s” old guard and the sort of status quo, worship-the-originals sort of writing that characterizes these folks. Can you say a little bit about this, and the approach that you take to counter this? 

Nat Webster: Awful beer writing is one of the inspirations behind The Beer Rover.  It is hard to read the “beer journalists,” because not only is their writing usually bad, they tend to focus on boring topics.  Who cares about the lack of “session” beers, isolated temperance movements, or a beer dinner the writer hosted?  I try to write on topics and beers I find interesting.  The professional beer writers seem to write to the small group of other beer writers and kiss up to industry insiders.  In general, I’ve found beer blogs as the best source of good beer writing and relevant information.  The beer industry needs its Jancis Robinson, who can make a wine I’d never want to drink from a region I couldn’t find on a map compelling and interesting.  This person will come from the blogosphere.

Beer Samizdat: Tell us a little bit about San Diego as it relates to beer these days. It wasn’t long ago that I associated San Diego with Miller Light, Corona and if I was lucky, a Karl Strauss amber ale. Now it’s a world-class hotspot that’s even helped define the IPA style. Walk us through what’s changed over the past 5-10 years. 


Nat Webster: I remember those Corona and Coors Light (in my case) days, they describe my college days and into lasted into my late twenties.  I remember Karl Strauss’ opening and it was a beer drinking revelation.  San Diego is an unlikely spot for a beer renaissance, with its dominance by the defense and tourist industry.  I’m not sure, but maybe the fact that LA has no beer industry (The Bruery excluded) played a role in San Diego’s beer prominence.  More importantly, San Diego saw a number of breweries that started in the mid-1990s as breweries only (Stone Brewing, Ballast Point, Alesmith), and they did not exclusively sell their beer through a brewpub, which was the old 1980s model.  (External distribution has always been part of Karl Strauss’ model.)  These guys needed distribution to survive, so their beers got more exposure than they would have had at one restaurant.  Plus, I think there is the opinion among local brewers that the success of one brewer benefits all brewers.  Throw in that whole West Coast IPA thing and you have a strong mixture for success.   Part of me (brain cells and liver) are glad San Diego’s beer scene has evolved as it has, because I’d probably be dead if double IPAs were around back when I was in college or my early twenties.


Beer Samizdat: What are the best breweries in the San Diego area right now – particular ones most of us haven’t heard of – and why? 

Nat Webster: It is hard to pick just one.  Sometimes my opinion switches depending on what beer I had last night.  Alpine Brewing makes incredible IPAs, and I can’t think of a bad beer from Ballast Point.  There are a number of start-up brewers that are just starting to get distribution – Iron Fist, Manzanita, Hess and Mother Earth Brew, to name a few, but we’ll have to see how their beers compare to bigger established brewers like Stone, Alesmith, Ballast Point and Green Flash.  I have had one IPA from Mother Earth Brew that was excellent.  I want to try more beer from Lee Chase’s Automatic Brewing, which you can get at his Blind Lady Alehouse.


Beer Samizdat: What about places to buy beer – is San Diego starting to get beer-only stores that cater to the, uh, “connoisseur”? 

Nat Webster: A new beer-only store, Bottlecraft, opened in late May in the Little Italy neighborhood of San Diego. There are some small grocery stores with excellent selections, such as Olive Tree Market Place in Ocean Beach.  These stores offer tastings, and at Bottlecraft, you can buy and drink a beer on site.  Some independent grocery stores (Windmill Farms and Baron’s to name two) have decent craft beer selections, too.  It is much easier to find good beer now than it was even three or four years ago.


Beer Samizdat: Are there things that annoy or repel you in the craft beer “scene” right now? Lay them on us. 

Nat Webster: The crowds. You now need reservations weeks in advance at Stone Brewing’s World Bistro and Gardens.  The Pizza Port by my house in Ocean Beach is packed every night.  I joke with my wife that it prints money.  I won’t even go to the Blind Lady Alehouse due to the crowds.  My friend jokes that he has 2:00 pm Blind Lady cut-off, because after that it’s too crowded.  If a place has good beer, the crowds will find it.  Overpriced beers in small glasses annoy me, too.  I know what a beer should cost, and an $8 beer in a 8oz glass is unacceptable.


Beer Samizdat: Finally, what’s the single best beer you had in 2010, and the Beer Rover’s #1 all-time beer and brewery? 


Nat Webster: The best beer I’ve had so far this year is Pretty Things’ Jack D’Or saison.  It caught me off guard how good it was.  Stone’s 15th Anniversary Ale is close behind, along with two sours, Lost Abbey’s Red Poppy and a Belgian, Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge.  This is a cop-out, but I don’t have a favorite all-time beer or brewery.  On a regular basis, I like Ballast Point’s IPAs (Big Eye and Sculpin), Stone IPA and Alpine’s Nelson, but it’d be hard for me to pick just one.  For special occasions, I’d have to choose Dupont’s Avec Les Bon Voeux. 


You can read THE BEER ROVER blog here and follow Nat and his drinking & documentation exploits on Twitter as well.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Great to see one of my favorite bloggers interviewed by another favorite.