Vince Capano
is an award winning
member of the North
American Guild of Beer
Writers.  His column

Adventures in Beerland
is now a regular feature of
The Strings Of My Heart
Can you guess what this month’s topic will be?  I couldn’t either so I randomly picked this out of desperation.  Here
are some clues to my selection:  It’s real but it isn’t.  You drink beer with people but you are alone. You can have a lot
more than one for the road since you never get on one.  It can be a clatter of witty chatter or a silent bore.  You can
spill all the beer you want and your bartender will not give you a dirty look because he’s not there.  No you’re not at
the Twilight Zone Bar & Grill you’re in front of your computer enjoying a virtual happy hour.

More than a few breweries have been holding virtual tastings or happy hours with owners, brewers or in- house
experts as hosts.  I’ve seen my share of them and they have uniformly been (be a participatory reader and pick any
single word you like) -  dull, dim, windy, wearisome, wordy, dense, verbose, dumb, leaden, tedious, slow, sluggish,
tiresome, ho-hum, long-winded, irksome, and boring.  And that’s even with drinking beer while watching.  A lot of beer.

One thing I learned is that being an expert does not make one a good host, communicator, or teacher.  Even a
Master Cicerone, the expert of beer experts can make drinking a Double IPA, my favorite style, a chore.  By the end
of a virtual get together I saw just the other day I was ready to swear off beer and become a Bud hard seltzer
acolyte.  However I do admit the speaker got a lot better once I turned the sound off.  

It seems that anyone who is anyone in making, promoting, and selling beer feels obliged to help us drink more of
their product by doing virtual happy hours.  Even trade organizations are getting in on the action.  For example, the
New York State Brewers Association is hosting virtual happy hours every night of the week.  Take that you
temperance fans.  According to them, they are doing it “so you can feel transported to a taproom whenever your
schedule best allows it.”  Word to the wise - your transportation is a bit smoother if you have 3 or 4 beers before it

Some of these happy hours boast a variety of themes, discussion topics, or games.  Generally, however, it’s just a
talking head giving you an opportunity to learn something about beer that you probably already knew while none too
subtly touting their product.  It’s sometimes interactive if by that you mean you can write a question that will appear on
a sidebar that will usually be ignored.  From what I’ve seen the only time a comment/question is mentioned by the
host is if it’s from a friend or is a sly softball from an insider plant.  I mean how sincere can the question be when it
asks “why is your beer so good, so wonderful, and so, so tasty? “  I eliminated many more of the word “so” for the
sake of brevity and to keep anyone from throwing up.

Even the omnipresent near iconic, UnTappd is hosting virtual happy hours.  Why you ask when they’re a beer
rating/recording website?  According to them it’s because “we care deeply about keeping our community safe during
these unprecedented times. While we must remain socially distant for the time being, we want you to come join us
and drink socially…just virtually!”  Ah, fellas, you are just a bunch of web pages, you’re always socially distant.  Look,
I’d be happy to join you in a not virtual setting to “drink socially” but I have a feeling you’ll never pick up a tab.

Some breweries seemingly have realized that watching one of their virtual happy hours is like sitting in the back of a
classroom during last period on a Friday before a long recess while a substitute teacher drones on about the
Bulgarian methods of crop rotation so they have tried to jazz things up a bit.  The Milwaukee Brewers Association’s
most recent Virtual Happy Hour featured appearances by broadcaster Brian Anderson, Brewers Pitcher Corey
Knebel, Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman, Brewers Manager Craig Counsell, Ron Shelton, former Minor League baseball
infielder turned film director and screenwriter known for his films about sports – including Bull Durham (he earned an
Academy Award nomination for that.)   They talk sports and drink beer but if you seriously want to feel like you’re in a
virtual ballpark spill some peanuts, yell out some random cuss words, and charge yourself triple for a beer.

Gaining a lot of traction (not with me) is the concept of a virtual beer festival.  Many have “sold out” despite the
limitless expanse of cyberspace.  Half Time Beverage, a big time craft beer retailer who have sponsored some
outrageously great real beer festivals in the past, held a virtual one in late June.  In it they brought “breweries straight
into the homes of beer fans”.  For $89 you got a case of 11 usual suspect 12oz. craft beers shipped directly to your
home. You also got to “attend” the fest by watching a live stream of tasting sessions.  Th-th-th-that's all folks!.  What
the heck did you expect for $89?

Most people however have opted for their own virtual happy hour using Zoom.  I don’t know how many people “most”
means but I do know that Zoom reported revenue growth of 169% from the previous year in its first-quarter earnings
report and nearly doubled its revenue guidance for the full year.  It seems that the coronavirus pandemic drove
millions of new customers to the video calling service and it is now a household name.  I only know about it because
just before sheltering in place was mandated my broker told me to sell all the shares of Zoom I had.  He said we were
working on a retirement plan.  Turned out it was his.  

These self organized gatherings of friends and fellow drinkers don’t need a discussion leader, pontificating host, or
underlying agenda.  They just need beer and a computer, in that order. It’s fairly easy to do.  Choose a platform as in
Zoom, create a meeting time, and send out invites to friends or relatives or people who owe you money. Each person
sits down in front of their computer with a supply of beer of their choice – wine, liquor, and even Bud Light are also
allowed. Then it’s time to begin.  I recommend you start each session by asking two basic questions – what beer are
you drinking and what glass are you using?  For those few in the group that really care about the answer you can
then ask “why?”  If they answer “why not”, everybody drinks.  It’s a Zoom rule.

For the record Zoom and other platforms do not require your happy hour to have even one person drinking beer.  
Insane, I agree, but at least they require alcohol be present.  I attended one virtual happy hour where the theme was
Star Trek.  Each invitee was strongly encouraged to create a cocktail based on the show.  One guy made a version
of Saurian Brandy, another Klingon Bloodwine, and another Vulcan Sazerac.  Needless to say as a true beer guy I
was knocking down my homebrewed Romulan Ale. And for serious trekkers yes it was blue and no I didn’t use food
coloring.  Well, not much.

Zoom, can actually hold 100 people at the party, which is nearly 98 more than the number of people I could talk into
doing one with me.  While it is the most fun and de rigueur of meeting formats, the downside is that the free version
kicks you off every 40 minutes. Of course if it’s not going well that's an upside.  Zoom also lets you pick any
background image you want.  I suggest one of your favorite breweries that probably won’t be allowed to reopen until
phase 321 of the government’s master plan.  It will add a needed touch of pathos to the proceeding.

When your session begins it’s best to look like a video-chat pro.  That means having two beers nearby at all times.  
There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of expounding on the meaning of the universe when you have to get
up for a refill.   It’s also a good idea to know where the camera is on your phone or computer (generally it's a small
black dot just above the screen).   Do your best to look at it and not at the screen, your friends, or anything else
when you're talking. This is especially true when pouring your beer since you will then surely spill it all over yourself
to the great enjoyment of everyone involved.

Like all social gatherings,a virtual happy hour relies on good manners to keep the experience pleasant for all. Just
like in the physical world.   Excessive blabbing, as opposed to regular bar gibberish, is a no-no as is staring at your
phone or bringing a surprise guest unless of course it’s Chuck Norris. Once he was exposed to the Coronavirus. The
virus is now in quarantine for a month.

If you are hosting the party,meaning you are the one who sent out the Zoom link, you have a responsibility to your
guests. Depending on your settings, you may have to be in the session before anyone else can join. Be ready to
welcome the group, and once everyone’s online, do introductions if needed.  Following the example of professional
sports leagues that identify players by their former college affiliations you should use the person’s pub of choice.  For
example it’s not Brian from Manhattan, it’s Brian from the Cloverleaf Tavern; likewise it’s Glenn from Hoover’s Bar,
and Livingston from Livingston’s Tap Room (I forgot if he was named after the bar or it was the other way around).  

It’s always the host’s call if the guests have to wear a face mask.  If that’s your choice I recommend a short tutorial on
how to drink a beer with it on.   After all that’s the reason for this get together in the first place.

You and your drinking buddies should definitely give a virtual happy hour on Zoom a try. It clearly beats drinking by
yourself even if that's the only time you can be sure the conversation will always be amazingly intelligent and witty..
Odds are after just one session you’ll become a card carrying Zoomie and sing its praises like I do….. literally.
All together now -

Twas like a breath of spring, I heard a bottle sing
About a b
rew set apart
All nature seemed to be in perfect harmony
Zoom! Went the strings of my heart

I still recall the thrill, guess I always will
I hope 'twill never depart
Beer with those friends of mine, a rhapsody o
Zooom! Went the strings of my heart


click to contact vince
July 2020