On-Line Connections to Far-Flung Fellow Brewers

by Tim Tillman

Republished from BrewingTechniques' September/October 1993.

Logging on to computer networks enables you to make connections with thousands of other brewers. Far from limited to the tapping of fingers on keyboards, these connections can be vital and personal. Some network users are collaborating on recipe formulation, sharing the results around the "table."

Although brewing is big business across the globe, for many people it is an important hobby. And as any person in any hobby can attest, the best way to advance in a hobby is to keep in touch and be better informed. My brewing library increases every day. I collect books on brewing and beer (Miller, Jackson, Papazian, and others), recipes, magazines, and people's opinions. I consider all of these sources to be very valuable. I believe that my most cost-effective investment was subscribing to GEnie (General Electric News and Information Exchange).


GEnie allows users to exchange information on a vast number of hobbies, play on-line games, use travel and investment services, and much more. It is in many respects similar to other services such as CompuServe (city, state), Prodigy (city, state), and On-Line America (city, state). Tucked away under the Food and Wine Roundtable (page 1150) are categories 25, "Beer Appreciation," and 26, "Homebrewing."

Category 25 includes topics (subcategories) that host discussions about an array of beer styles ranging from standard American lagers to barley wines and imperial stouts. You can also find topics on microbreweries and brewpubs, an important resource for true beer lovers who find travel tips to make those summer vacations or business trips more enjoyable. Category 25 appeals to brewers and nonbrewers alike.

Category 26, Homebrewing, is dedicated to brewing. A wealth of information and exciting activities are happening all the time. The heart of the Homebrewing category are the question and answer topics, where novice and expert home brewers can get answers to questions in a timely fashion. These topics thoroughly cover ingredients, equipment, techniques, literature, and shops. Other topics cover club news, judging, and much more. Access to the Homebrew Digest via InterNet mail is also available. InterNet is a worldwide network of computer users, and the Homebrew Digest is a discussion forum on the "Net."


Perhaps some of the more exciting features of category 26 on GEnie are the activities. The variety of on-line activities is always growing. Currently, activities include on-line beer tastings of commercial products, organized tastings of home-brewed products, and on-line recipe formulation. An official club is even being formed. Beer tastings occur every Saturday night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Topics are often announced in advance. These topics may be based on style, region, or brewery. Sometimes the topic is homebrew or simply whatever you've got. Everyone is always welcome.

An on-line tasting is a unique experience. At the appointed time, folks begin to "gather" in a "meeting room" called a Real Time Conference Area (RTC). Beers are opened and poured, and their qualities are discussed. This is often an educational experience, because beer lovers can learn about many untried brews in a single evening. The tastings also allow people to become more familiar with each other, adding a degree of friendship to an otherwise sterile environment.

A natural extension of the on-line beer tastings are the occasional organized tastings of members' home-brewed beers. A member volunteers to be the organizer, and those who are interested electronically mail their shipping addresses to the organizer. The organizer then arranges "swap groups" (usually three home brewers) and distributes the appropriate shipping addresses to each member of the swap group. Brews are well packaged and shipped via UPS, then allowed to rest a short while. A date is settled upon for the tasting, and all swappers come to offer comments and critique each other's brews. A method for awarding prizes may be in place for the next beer swap.

The club, GEnie Users Zymurgic Lodge (GUZL), is currently in its organizational stages. The club's objectives are to provide beers for national competitions, gain recognition, and to garner club discounts for isolated members who do not have a local club to join.

Perhaps the most exciting development has been the on-line creation of recipes. In honor of GEnie, the first recipe was called Aladdin's Magic Lamp Oil Ale, or LampAle for short. For the first recipe, a generic ale was chosen as the style. We chose an ale primarily because many of the brewers lacked the ability to accomplish correct lagering. The recipe was designed to be brewed as both all grain and extract. The extract was Yellow Dog Malt from The Home Brewery chain. Knowing the manufacturer's stated composition of Yellow Dog Malt -- 87% 2-row Klages, 12% malted wheat, and 1% chocolate malt -- facilitated conversion of the recipe to all grain for the more advanced brewer. My suggestion that we use Yellow Dog Malt was accepted as a starting point for the recipe, others suggested adjuncts, yeast, hopping schedules, and priming sugar (honey). Some converted the recipe to all grain. Needless to say, recipe formulation provided much conversation. (See the box for the recipes for LampAle and the most recent project, LamPorter.)

After the LampAle was brewed and bottle-conditioned, it was swapped for evaluation in an on-line beer tasting. The general opinion was that LampAle was definitely one of the best beers that any of us had produced. Although subtle differences cropped up in each beer, they were all quite similar. The beers had a pronounced bitterness, and the hop flavor and aroma were well balanced with residual malt flavors. The most common fault was over priming. Apparently, too much honey was specified.

The LampAle project was so successful that many of the brewers were anxious to begin another recipe project. This time, the Porter was chosen. In addition to the organized swapping and on-line tasting of this Porter, we hope to be able to obtain a chromatographic analysis of the results from each brewer's attempt at this recipe. Each brewer has been urged to keep strict notes of their brewing process and obtain a water analysis. We have high hopes of being able to relate tasting results, techniques, and chromatographic results. Our tentative plan is to report the results in an upcoming issue of BrewingTechniques.


If you are a home brewer and have access to a computer with modem, I urge you to give GEnie or any of the other on-line services a try. Log-on information for each of the four services mentioned in this article can be obtained by calling a toll free number (see box, previous page).

If you choose GEnie and get your account established, finding the beer enthusiasts is easy. From the first available system prompt, type "M1150;1" and press the Enter key. This gets you to the Food and Wine Roundtable (page 1150). At the next prompt type "Set 25" for Beer Appreciation or "Set 26" for Homebrewing. The Set command selects a category from those available in the roundtable. From this point, reading the message base is simply a matter of selecting commands from the menu. To automate the process of message retrieval and reply, GEnie provides a program called Aladdin. To obtain Aladdin, type "Aladdin" and press the Enter key. Follow the resulting menus to download a copy that will run on your type of computer.

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