Beer people are good people – or how I learned to stop worrying and love the Twitters
I’ve traveled around the country a fair bit, and suffice to say that it doesn’t seem like every town seems to have as thriving a community of craft beer lovers interacting with one another on a daily basis and really controlling the conversation about beer via online forums in such an interesting way as here in the Space City. Houston’s critical mass of beer people on social media tools (especially on Twitter) has been a reinforcing factor to the growth of craft beer in this town over the past four or five years. So how did we get here?
I’d hypothesize that this dynamic is driven by two things — one is simple geography and two is the nature of how the Internet (and the tools it has offered over the years) makes it easy for people that aren’t face to face to have meaningful conversations about common interests.
Geography is a simple factor: Houston is damn spread out, and if you turn the clock back 10-15 years ago, good beer was relatively hard to find. There were basically no craft beer bars in suburban neighborhoods, and selection at grocery stores was just getting going. Being a ‘regular’ at the few craft beer pubs meant you made it in once a week or so — and so most great beer you tried was at home. Go back a few more years and the options were even more limited. You just weren’t out and about seeing (and talking with) other people that loved beer the same way as you. Interaction online was the easiest way to chat about that great pint you just had.
So, factor number two is simply how the beer community grew in this town based on those geographic limitations — and used the tools the Internet provided to make that growth easier.
My introduction to this world came, ironically enough, through ‘old media’. First was Scott Birdwell’s beer column in the Houston Chronicle. Scott, the owner of DeFalcos Homebrewing Supplies, was a key voice in the growth of the Houston beer community in the mid-90s — during the first wave of Houston breweries and brewpubs. Later, I stumbled on Bev Blackwood’s (among others) work chronicling craft beer in Texas in the Southwest Brewing News. Those resources (along with Bev’s public access series ‘The Malt Show’) were my first introduction to the very idea that appreciation of good beer was something that others thought about more than me — and I was intrigued. As my interest in beer, and specifically homebrewing grew, I found the Foam Rangers email listserv, which while a little bit silly (okay, a lot silly) was basically the only source I had for timely Houston-based news about beer, beer releases, and breweries.
However, a real catalyst for the Houston beer community happened on a clipboard over on Fairway Park Drive in the late ’90s. I’m referring, of course, to the signup sheet for the Saint Arnold Army email list. Back when Saint Arnold was first starting to really grow and the Saturday tours were big if 50 people showed up, that email list was the way you found out about the key events that Saint Arnold was putting on around town — the best way to know when and where a big group of super cool Houston craft beer nerds were going to go out and talk beer with the folks from Saint Arnold. I learned about beer, brewing, and why I like what I like by chatting with people at Saint Arnold tours and events. The Saint Arnold Army was a game changer for the Houston beer community — breaking down the barriers of our geography to give the few (and later the more than a few) of us a place and a reason to get together, see one another, and talk about beer.
But, as great as it was to have an area brewery blasting out information about pub crawls and special events along with some limited discussion on beer happenings on email listervs and in monthly beer newspapers, things really didn’t take off until Twitter launched and gave beer people a place to chat about what they were drinking and what they thought about it, in real time.
I joined Twitter in late 2008 and pretty quickly changed my handle from an indecipherable set of characters I had used for years as my email address to something a little more identifiable — @beer_chris (thanks @jodycakes, for naming me). At about the same time, the community of beer people that had been carrying on with one another in the comments sections of one another’s blogs and on the (then) new Houston Press blog site for food and drink joined up. We had an instantaneous community, and, most importantly, Twitter gave us a much easier way to convey identity and personality than simple handles on blog comment posts.
We all started to interact more frequently — daily, hourly, whenever we were drinking good beer and wanted to share the experience — and as beer culture grew stronger in Houston, the Twitter beer community reinforced that strength. For a time, Twitter became the best way for a new beer business to get the word out to the community on any beer news they wanted to share, and to a certain extent that’s still true today.
No article on social media and beer in Houston would be complete without a comment on the Twitter Bottle Share phenomenon — a coordinated weekly event on Wednesday nights to open, drink, and comment on a beer or a style of beer using Twitter and identified using hashtags. These weekly get-togethers in the digital world were a ton of fun and a great way to have cool conversation with other beer nerds. Like lots of things in the transitive world of Internet social media, #TBS ran its course, but it was glorious fun while it lasted, and was one of the seminal moments that showed how strong Houston’s Twitter-based beer community had become.
As the beer culture in Houston has changed over the last 5 or so years, Houston’s beer community and the tools it uses to interact has continued to change, too. Untappd and it’s gamification of drinking and commenting on craft beer has been a major factor in changing the way the Houston beer community uses Twitter — moving much of the discussion of ‘what I’m drinking’ away from tweets and into check-ins. The growth of beer culture overall means that the community of beer lovers in this town are no longer defined by the tools they use; everyone uses everything — Twitter, Facebook, Untappd, BeerAdvocate forums, beer subreddits. Finally, there’s just so many more places all over this sprawling metropolis to drink and enjoy good beer that people are talking more often face to face than perhaps ever before.
However, changing the tool doesn’t change the fundamental underpinning of what makes Houston’s beer culture so great — it’s built on this strong foundation of passionate, knowledgable, and curious people…individuals that enjoy a good beer and like to talk about it with one another. Those beer people are indeed good people, and they power the Houston beer community no matter how they share that passion with one another.