Imagine a place where you can chat with fellow brewers, trade advice, gather recipes, learn more about brewing, visit microbreweries and brewpubs, read beer publications, and get the latest news on new beer releases. A place where you can zip from Plsen to Burton-on-Trent to Portland in the blink (or two) of an eye. A place with all the comforts of home and where you don’t have to worry about drinking and driving.
That place exists. All you have to do is rev up the computer, switch on the modem, and strap yourself in for a cruise on the Information Superhighway. Don’t forget to press the turbo button!
“Information Superhighway” is just a catchy moniker for the Internet, the electronic doorway to computers and computer users around the world. Use of the Internet has exploded in the last few years. Current estimates show that there are more than 38 million users worldwide. Some estimates predict that there will be more than 100 million host computers with Internet connections by the year 2000. Others say the Internet is the ’90s version of the CB radio and that it will fade away. Either way it’s an exciting medium, and all you need is a computer, a modem, some inexpensive software, and an access phone number — called a gateway — to hop on board.
Use of the Internet is free, but user access to the Internet is not necessarily free. There are many commercial Internet providers that offer a phone number and dial-up access that will get you onto the Internet. You actually use your computer to call their computer, which has a link to the Internet. In these cases you are not paying for access to the Internet but rather for the equipment and overhead of the Internet gateway provider.
You can subscribe to one of the big providers such as America Online, CompuServe, Prodigy, or eWorld. All of these services provide interfaces to the Internet. Once you are a subscriber, you can automatically access the Internet. The down side to this way of connecting is the cost. It is quite a bit more than you’ll pay to a local company that can give you access with less hand holding.
The advantage of using these services for Internet access is that they provide a graphical user interface that is extremely easy to learn and use. If you have young children, they could manage easily. If you don’t need all the pictures to find your way around (and if you can read a beer recipe, you are more than capable), a local company can get you set up and keep your bills way down.
Another thing the big providers offer is their own “forums” where subscribers can gather to exchange information and ask questions.
Big providers have built-in “browsers,” the software that makes it easy to peruse the Internet. Some local services provide browsers. Otherwise, you can get one of the commercial products such as Netscape or Mosaic, which can be purchased or downloaded free.
One of the most popular services available on the Internet now is the World Wide Web (WWW or “the Web”). The Web combines good-looking graphics and easy access. As the Web has become more accessible and popular, businesses have started to pay attention. In ever-more competitive bids to grab your attention, homebrew suppliers, breweries, brewspapers, even your favorite brewing magazine have put out pictures and information on the Web. The little guy has not been left out. The growing ease of creating a Web page means that many users who are not looking for profit can also post valuable information and recipes for public access.
The Web consists of individual “home pages” that can be linked together. On a page with a recipe that calls for a particular malt, you might find the words “malt extract” underlined and in a different color than the rest of the text. This is called a “link.” When you hit that link with your cursor, you are automatically taken to the home page of a shop that carries this malt. Perhaps you can order it by filling out a form right on that page. That page in turn may link you to a magazine with more recipes that use the company’s extract...and so on. You’re off and running.
Home pages can be located on any computer connected to the Internet. Because home pages are commonly interconnected through links, it is very easy to jump from one home page to another home page. It makes no difference if the first is in Nebraska and the next is in Europe or Asia. The connection takes place automatically, all within a matter of seconds. Jumping around from one home page to another is what has come to be called “surfing the ’net.”
You can find both software programs and text documents on the ’net. There are several different types of software programs available: freeware, shareware, and demonstration (“demo”).
Freeware is just what it sounds like — free for everyone. Shareware is software that is distributed with a free trial period. If you use the program and enjoy it, you are expected to pay the registration fee. It is an honor-based system that allows struggling software writers to flourish and continue.
Demo software is usually distributed freely but does not have all the capabilities of the registered version. Sometimes the number of items that can be saved or printed is limited, or certain features are disabled. After you get a taste of the software and what it does, you then send in the fee and get the fully functional version.
Whether you are on IBM, Macintosh, or a UNIX-based system, there is sure to be software for you. Much of the software is unique; some of it is similar to commercial products but much less expensive.
So how do you get this fabulous software? How do you find the recipes and information? Two important words for any web surfer are “Search Engine.” You may have heard of Yahoo (www.yahoo.com) or Webcrawler (webcrawler.com), and it is important to realize that you have not been set down in this foreign cyberworld without a map.
These search sites transform a confusing array of possibilities into an orderly list of categories. Step one for any homebrewer new to the Web: Point your browser to Yahoo. Choose “Recreation,” then “Hobbies and Crafts,” then “Homebrewing.” You will be given an array of interesting sites to visit, all in line with what you’re looking for. Or for a pot luck selection, go to the search line and type in “brewing” and see what comes up!
If you are interested in finding beer recipes, you’re in luck. The Cat’s Meow features 460 recipes for beers ranging from alt to weizen. Other brewing recipe lists are available, including recipes that call for using the spent brewing grains and the leftover yeast to make breads and other baked goods. There are even recipes for cooking and baking with beer.
If you have an e-mail account, you can subscribe (for free) to newsletters related to your area of interest. These newsletters are sent to your mailbox periodically and automatically. An example of this is the Home Brewer’s Digest (HBD). This newsletter is created and distributed several times a week and consists of questions and answers under topics such as “Help! Stuck Fermentation!”
Other mailing lists cover lambic brewing, homebrewing in the UK, and general interest beer topics.
Once you’ve signed on to one of these mailing lists (also called “listserves”), the information will keep coming until you “unsubscribe.” If you have an e-mail account that has limited server space, be warned: Sometimes these newsletters send a great deal of information. Make sure to unsubscribe before you go on vacation!
Another source of information about homebrewing can be found in the Usenet newsgroups. The Usenet (“User network”) is a collection of discussion groups on various topics. Information is posted much like on a bulletin board. The messages are given short descriptions and users can read and/or respond to any of the posted messages.
These are useful places to go when you have specific questions and don’t know where else to turn. The discussions there are every bit as lively as those going on in the more expensive “forums,” and there are lots of brewers on line willing to take the time to help “newbies” with brewing questions.
You’ll also catch some healthy debate on topics that range from the best microbrew to the worst extract kit.
Among the newsgroups you’ll want to check out are rec.crafts.brewing and rec.food.drink.beer (both are general-interest beer forums), as well as alt.beer, which looks at microbreweries, beer tasting, and many other general-interest beer topics.
So you’re on the ’net. You’ve found a program or some information you’d like to have on your home computer. Now what? If you are on the Web, it can be as simple as clicking on the item you want. Then, depending on the speed of your modem (whatever it is, it never seems fast enough), you wait for it to download.
The other method, FTP (short for File Transfer Protocol) is more complicated. Learning to use it and navigate through directories can be slightly confusing, but it can be made easy by some helpful software (called a “client”). For the Macintosh, one invaluable program is called “Fetch” and can be downloaded from a number of places. For IBM users “wsftp” can also be found all over the web. If you are looking for a good place to download software, the Virtual Library at c/net central is terrific; visit them at www.cnet.com.
If you are downloading a lot of stuff from the Internet, you might want to protect yourself against computer viruses. While most Internet sites have built-in anti-virus programs that keep their sites clean, there’s no guarantee. Prevention is the best course of action.
There are several high-quality virus checkers (such as Norton Anti-Virus) available both commercially and as shareware that help prevent computer viruses from getting into your system. It is well worth the investment.
Start Surfing, Dude!
The information age is here, even for a craft as old as homebrewing. Ignore skeptics and forge ahead! There are great recipes, calculators, products, and more just waiting to be found amid the chaff.
Besides, rumor has it that there is a lot of non-brewing information on the ’net too. Hard to believe that anyone would have other interests...
The following is a list of World Wide Web home pages that have homebrewing-related information. Home pages are maintained and updated at various intervals. Some change weekly, others will go unchanged for months. Many of these have links to other brewing-related home pages. To find them, type http:// followed by the address listed.
Brew Your Own Magazine: byo.com/BYO
American Brewer’s Guild: mother.com/abg
Association of Brewers (AOB): www.aob.org/aob
The Beer Page: www-personal.umich.edu/~spencer/beer/
Glenn Tinseth’s Hop Page: www.teleport.com/~gtinseth/index.html
The Real Beer Page: realbeer.com
The WWW Virtual Library: Beer & Brewing: www.mindspring.com/~jlock/wwwbeer.html
Cat’s Meow III Homebrew Recipe Database: alpha.rollanet.org/cm3/CatsMeow3.html