The virtual becomes reality: Sean Besser Hank takes his online skills to the Stella Artois World Draught Masters Championship...and wins. (Stella Artois)

A four-man judging panel (among them last year’s champion, Chris Myers, and Bart Vandaele, owner and executive chef of Belga Cafe) scored the contestants on personal flair and adherence to a nine-step pouring ritual that begins with the “purification” (a thorough rinsing of the glass in cold water) and concludes with the “bestowal” (wrapping a doily around the stem of the glass and serving it with the logo facing the customer).

The annual contest is open only to amateurs, not professional servers. The 33-year-old Hank works for a security firm and likes to homebrew in his spare time. He says he hasn’t tended bar in 12 years. An at-large contestant, Hank gained his berth in the competition by using his mouse and keyboard to pull a virtual glass of Stella Artois in an online game on Facebook. Hank scored 95 out of a possible 100 and was randomly selected from the top scorers nationwide.

Manipulating a mouse to tilt a virtual glass at the proper 45-degree angle doesn’t necessarily translate into real-life bartending skills. Last year’s wild-card winner finished well out of the money. But it worked for Hank, who will now represent the United States on Oct. 26 in the international finals in Buenos Aires, where he’ll vie for the trophy with master draughtsmen from Belgium, the Ukraine, New Zealand and 24 other countries.

Hank’s victory, plus the recent death of Steve Jobs, led to me reflect on how the computer age has transformed the beer industry. One of the first to test the possibilities was Gene Muller, founder of Flying Fish Brewing Co. in Cherry Hill, N.J., who solicited advice for beer styles, brand names and label designs over the still young Internet in 1995 — before he actually brewed his first barrel.

Today, you can download a smartphone app that will lead you to the nearest store that carries your favorite brand. You can critique a new beer and scope out other folks’ evaluations on sites like and You can use Facebook and Twitter to check on the latest releases from your favorite brewery or follow the progress of a new microbrewery in the startup stage.

The ’net has also fueled the recent trend of collaboration beers, allowing brewers on opposite hemispheres of the globe to sit at their computers and swap notes.

The Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Del., recently teamed up with Google to formulate a new brew, first soliciting advice from thousands of Google employees worldwide on what type of beer they’d enjoy imbibing, then working with a steering committee to hash out an actual recipe and source the ingredients.

The result, URKontinent (German for “original continent”), pays homage to Pangaea, the hypothetical supercontinent that existed 250 million years ago before it broke up into today’s land masses. Dogfish Head markets a beer named Pangaea, but URKontinent incorporates a different roster of ingredients. It’s basically a Belgian-style dubbel (a strong, dark ale brewed with roasted malts and candy sugar), to which the Dogfish brew crew have added California honey, toasted amaranth from South America, green roiboos tea from Africa and wattleseed from Australia.

You can read more about URKontinent and check out a video on the beer’s making here. The initial five-barrel batch of URKontinent was brewed at Dogfish Head’s Rehoboth Beach brewpub and was still on tap there as of last Friday. The brewery plans to repeat the beer and give it a wider distribution.