Monday, September 26, 2011

AN ODE, OF SORTS, TO "THE CELEBRATOR"

Back in the pre-Internet days, my pipeline to the broader world of beer in the early/mid 90s was THE CELEBRATOR magazine. Back then it was one of the only pipelines to craft beer in existance anywhere - particularly in the US. "The scene", as such, certainly existed, but on a far smaller plane than it does today. The only good beer store I knew about in San Francisco was a wine store on 24th Street who happened to stock a huge cooler full of weird local "microbrews", and they always had free copies of The Celebrator at the front of the store, and I always picked one up.

Just as I do today when looking at the beer-porn pictures in DRAFT or when reading numerous blogs, I'd work up a mighty thirst reading The Celebrator, as they documented everything happening on the west coast beer-wise at the time, with ocassional forays, as they still do, to Belgium, the East Coast and in the middle of the country. They filed, and still file, their dispatches like "scene reports" - stories of new breweries or new beers tasted - all underscoring the extremely regional nature of what was not yet known as craft beer. I was so into diving into this world that I conveniently and very cognizantly overlooked some of The Celebrator's worst qualities, and went and even paid to subscribe so I wouldn't miss an issue. It was a lifeline, it really was, and usually the only way to find out if there was a brewery in a town you might be visiting. Now there are regional clones like Ale Street News, Northwest Brewing News and others that are worth checking out for sure - Ale Street News in particular, as it appears to recognize that time did not stop when the internet appeared.

This is the thing about The Celebrator today. It's still kicking, publishing every two months as ever, and I'll bet they're doing just fine with all the new interest in good beer and the many advertisers who come to court such an audience. Yet it feels like a total anachronism. There's publisher Tom Dalldorf, still putting his own picture on as many pages as will fit it. There's old Fred Eckhardt, letting us know yet again how beer is good for us, and just how long he's been drinking it. There's yet another "salute to craft beer's pioneers", with the obligatory rolling out of Fritz or Ken or Rodger or any of the fellas with deep ties to this magazine for another round of huzzahs.

Check out this Dalldorf editorial in the latest issue, keeping in mind that we've never seen an explosion of new breweries, new business models and in young energy the way American beer culture has just in the past 2 years alone. He goes through an uninteresting litany of consolidations that have happened with big brewers and larger former microbrewers (Budweiser this, Pyramid that, Magic Hat this, Widmer that),, and on the basis of this completely irrelevant set of mergers by companies that don't even make halfway decent beer if they ever did, concludes that "All of this can mean more good beer made by fewer people". By fewer people?? I'll grant him that more good beer is being made in 2011 than ever before in our nation's history, but it has absolutely zero to do with corporations at the top, and everything to do with the thousands of young men & women - most far younger than me (and him) to be sure - pouring their creative energies into making it so. His own columnists, some of them not even long in the tooth, provide ample documentation of such - right next to the 1992-vintage ads for "The Stuffed Sandwich" and the "San Diego Brewing Company" still running in the mag.

Don't even get me started on their "Hop Caen" column of hideously unfunny beer-related news, nor the fact that they have a columnist who writes about Alaskan beer under the nom de plume of "Dr. Fermento" and regrettably calls the column "Aurora Beerialis". I'll still pick the thing up every time I see it, as it is my local beer paper, and continues to do a good job whetting my liquid appetite for west coast beer. If you're interested in ordering up a copy for your own perusal, check out their website and make it happen.

1 comment:

Sean said...

I concede that Dr. Fermento is lame, but I am ok with Aurora Beerialis.