These beer lovers can sip a stout and tell you whether it hints more of coffee or chocolate.
If you're wondering if that local brewery will ever create a wheat beer, they can tell you exactly when, what it will taste like and the name of the brewmaster.
They are beer geeks — major league craft beer buffs — and they are increasingly tapping into social media to keep up on the latest in the foamy world of malted grain beverages. Even casual beer fans are starting to stay plugged in.
Craft beer — which used to be known as microbrew — is growing in popularity, and Facebook, Twitter and other social media are helping to drive the trend, said Julia Herz of the Brewers Association, a Colorado-based industry group. Small independent brewers, known for innovation, produce craft beers. Think brews with hints of nut or fruits such as apricot and cherry.
“Craft beer has become mainstream just enough that there are people always looking for what is new,'' said Bob Sullivan, vice president of sales and marketing for Boulevard Brewing Co., in Kansas City, Mo. “They want to be the first to get it, try it and talk about it.”
Events such as American Craft Beer Week, which started Monday, illustrate the trend. Local beer week celebrations include the two-day Omaha Beer Fest at Aksarben Village on Friday and Saturday.
Phil Doerr, a self-proclaimed beer geek in Bellevue, is one fan who follows his passion online. He reads beer blogs three or four days a week, along with an online summary of the latest craft beer news.
He looks for new beer release dates, updates on activities such as Omaha Beer Fest and even such details as whether a favorite brewer uses locally grown hops, which can make a beer taste fresher.
Smartphone apps also help beer fans connect.
Darrell McMillan, an Omaha craft beer fan, uses an app called Untappd that enables him to rate new beers as he drinks them, tell other beer fans where he found the brew and post a picture of it.
McMillan used the app recently to tell beer fans what he thought of a brew from California-based Green Flash Brewing Co.
“It was fantastic,'' he said.
McMillan and Doerr, who brew their own beer at home, also follow commercial brewers on Facebook, including LaVista's Lucky Bucket Brewing Co.
Lucky Bucket, which started brewing nearly four years ago, has 6,500 followers on Facebook and more than 2,000 on Twitter. When Lucky Bucket prepared to launch its first-ever wheat beer this spring, the brewer tweeted updates such as its flavor (light and citrusy) and its March release date.
Lucky Bucket also will use social media to spread the word about its first-ever American imperial stout — a robust beer with 12-percent alcohol and aged in whiskey casks — that will be sold for only one day during the brewer's annual summer party in July.
Nationally, the number of craft brewers has grown to 1,900 in the past six years, a 35 percent increase, according to the Brewers Association.
Nebraska and western Iowa now have at least a dozen craft brewers, more than double the number five years ago.
Omaha craft beer retailers such as Brix, Beertopia and even a well-stocked Hy-Vee near 144th and Q Streets also use Facebook, Twitter or both to keep customers linked. Beer Crazy, a retailer in Urbandale, Iowa, that stocks more than 600 craft beers, connects through social media as well.
Fans follow updates closely and respond quickly when a new beer, such as the popular Boulevard Chocolate Ale, is available.
“The way information gets out there today is like wildfire,” said Herz of the Brewer's Association. “It's very powerful.”
Boulevard re-released the Chocolate Ale in January. When Brix received its first cases, the store posted the news on Facebook. Within 30 minutes, customers arrived to buy it.
Brix initially received 12, 25.5-ounce bottles of the ale and had to limit customers to one bottle per person because demand was so high.
“When we introduce a new product, it's almost a frenzy,'' said Justin Halbert, general manager of Brix at Village Pointe in west Omaha.
The beer shop at the Hy-Vee near 144th and Q Streets saw that same quick response when it posted on Facebook that it received a new beer called Ruthless Rye, a spring brew with a hint of grapefruit.
Aaron Bush, manager of Beertopia in midtown Omaha, said anticipation for a beer release can build into a major event.
Beertopia receives dozens and sometimes hundreds of calls in the weeks leading up to the release of a new beer or the re-release of an existing one. Customers want to know when it will arrive and how many bottles they can buy.
People have even lined up at the door before the store opens to buy a new beer, like they did last fall for one called Bourbon County Stout.
Trent Wachner, assistant professor of marketing at Creighton University, said social media is a good fit for the craft beer industry, partly because small brewers don't have big budgets for traditional marketing and advertising.
Plus, craft beer drinkers are devoted, he said.
“When people are passionate about a topic, that is where social media really shines,” he said.
Angela Arp of the Nebraska Brewing Co. in Papillion said news spreads quickly when her brewpub posts a tasting or other event on Facebook. That happened last fall when the brewpub posted that it was adding dried mushrooms to its popular seasonal pumpkin ale, giving it a maple flavor.
Customers drained the 5-gallon cask within 30 minutes.
Sullivan, the Boulevard Brewing official, said bloggers also play a big role in building excitement over craft beer.
When brewers are planning a new beer, he said, they must submit information, which can include ingredients and alcohol content, to a federal agency for what's called label approval.
Those details are public information and are available on a Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau website when the label is approved, he said. Bloggers regularly check that site and write about what beers brewers are planning, sometimes months before the new product is released.
“There are no secrets,” Sullivan said.
He said bloggers overall do a good job and boost the craft beer industry, but sometimes a blogger can create headaches for brewers and retailers.
Bloggers sometimes find out a new beer's tentative release date from a retailer, distributor or brewer and post it.
If there are delays in the release, beer fans can become frustrated when the new brew doesn't show up in stores or flow from taps when a blogger said it would, Sullivan said.
“Some blogger says the beer is going to be awesome and we don't even have it in bottles yet,'' he said.
Nate Bell, founder of nebraskabeerblog.com, said his site typically runs information about a new beer only after the brewer confirms release dates and other details.
Bell said he and others who blog for his site monitor Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of brewers, retailers and pubs. He started his website in 2007 and, he said, it's getting more and more use from beer lovers.
“Everybody wants to know first,'' he said.
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