Story last updated at 2:33 p.m. Friday, July 5, 2002

Stalking the elusive bird beer label
By Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

During a trip to Australia last year, Homer wildlife biologist Gino Del Frate scoured the continent looking for birds.

Del Frate wasn't sure what kind of birds he was searching for, but he thought he'd certainly know them when he saw them. Oddly enough though, the quest did not take place in the wilds of the Outback, but rather in Australia's state-owned liquor stores.

He hoped, with the discovery of a new species, he could win entry into an exclusive Homer-based birding organization, known formally as the International Bird Beer Label Association. The group is known informally as IBBLA, which is the kind of sound one might utter after an exhaustive search for a beer with a bird on its label.

At each successive store, Del Frate eagerly scanned the shelves, unperturbed by the constant interruption of clerks who invariably chimed in with "help you find something, mate?"

Finally, the rigorous search paid off, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game area biologist spied his birds through the glass of a refrigerated display case.

"There they were, clear as day," Del Frate said he thought, a flock of gulls in flight and delicately gracing the label on a bottle of Tasmanian-brewed James Boags Premium Lager.

Del Frate quickly collected his coveted birds and, after diligently tasting the product (waste not, want not), he peeled the label for safe keeping during the long trip back to Alaska.

Once back in Homer, he eagerly presented the find to the birding group.

Unfortunately for Del Frate, his efforts to win a spot on the famed bird list ended badly, after the group's review board rejected his submission.

Association cofounder Carmen Field recently explained that the "flock of gulls" looked more like a smudge of the label designer's paintbrush.

In an effort to be fair, Field said, she had contacted the brewery and learned unequivocally that the marks on the label were "definition in the sky."

"It's funny, because it looked like those little birds that you used to draw when you were a kid," a somewhat disappointed Del Frate said, adding that he would continue to hunt for a new species of bird beer. "It's a good excuse to search out and taste new beers, though I'm not going to quit my day job."

The 87 members of the International Beer Bird Label Association have discovered 179 "species" of beers with birds on their labels.

Field said she's certain there are plenty of bird beers yet to be discovered (hint: old beer can collections could be a fruitful hunting ground, though clearly not as fun as containers still full of beer.)

Still, with 179 bird beers and counting, new species are slightly less rare than the ivory-billed woodpecker.

The club gets a new submission every few weeks, Field said, but many are repeats or not actually birds at all.

For instance, a Griffin is a creature of myth -- half eagle and half lion -- and, therefore, does not count.

Much the way zoos once utilized big-game stalkers to supply rare animals, some members have employed the help of ringers -- semiprofessional brewers or avid beer drinkers.

Betty Seaman was rejected once before a "friend" helped her to bag Raven Cream Ale out of Vancouver, B.C.

The most recent member is Mike Schantz of Salt Lake City, Utah, whose deceased brother Tim was a longtime and well-loved Alaska birding enthusiast. Schantz made his submission during the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival last month, when IBBLA hosted, what else, a beer tasting and bird trivia contest.

Members come from across the U.S. and beyond, and with beers coming from countries from China to Chile, the list of birds represented is just as varied. Brewers are apparently very fond of eagles and other raptors. Roosters and, believe it or not, gulls also make a strong showing on the list.

Finding a new "species" is the only way to become a member of the International Bird Beer Label Association, which was founded a decade ago by Carmen and her husband, Conrad Field, and their friend Jack Grove.

The club's rules state: To become a contributing member of IBBLA, one must send a previously undocumented beer label or can (or full beer delivered in person) to IBBLA.

It's likely they will accept full six-packs, half racks or cases as well.