To many the term ‘beer journalism” might sound like an oxymoron. It conjures up images of beer bellied bar flies waxing poetic on their about the floral notes in the most recent IPA they’ve discovered. This is the image that has been spreading around lately as the craft beer industry has turned a mirror on those who write about them.
Modern Times Brewery founder Jacob McKean proclaimed that the “In an industry with an almost total absence of real journalism, the cheerleading is virtually indistinguishable from the “reporting.” The implication is that most of the words written about the industry are by fan boys wanting to support their home town brewery or the brewer they befriended at a recent festival rather than digging further for objective facts. Unlike many industries the craft beer fan has direct access to their “heros” and a low barrier to entry to be considered a beer writer. You pretty much just need an opinion and a URL.
This sort of fan boy culture is great for promoting smaller breweries that rely on word of mouth rather than large ad campaigns, but it lacks the substance and depth that trained journalists know how to provide. Many times a beer geek blog will be long on surface details and ambiguous claims but rarely get to root of a story.
I personally don’t read many beer blogs, listen to beer podcasts, or watch video reviews of beers. Most of my craft beer information diet comes in small snippets from social media statuses and conversations with the people involved in the industry. The brewers, owners, bar tenders and fabricators are what interest me most about craft beer.
These people are the reason the industry is so unique and entertaining. I want to know the stories behind the breweries and beers they produce. Why did they decide to open a brewery in the middle of nowhere? What was the inspiration behind focusing only on red ales? How has the this previously shady area changed since the brewery moved in? Many times these stories are lost on those who focus on the end product.
If the craft beer cheerleaders could dig a little deeper to uncover the stories behind the beers they will find the substance that the community is looking for. I don’t think it’s a lack of journalistic integrity, because most are not rained writers. I think it is simply easier to write what you thought a beer tasted like then to run down a brew master for an interview.
Here are some of the easy outs that I have noticed in beer writing that I could stand to not see done for awhile.
Beer is not objective, it is subjectivity at it’s finest. What one beer geek finds offensive another may covet and praise. I don’t want to hear what something tastes like, I want to taste it for myself. If you are going to review a beer tell the story behind it while you drink it.
Top Ten Beer Lists
These are about as useful as reviews. They are designed to attract clicks not to educate and usually use obscure judgement criteria that are actually opinion based.
How Craft Beer is growing in popularity
These are great for the general masses but as a beer lover I know the story of craft beer vs big beer. I know that Shock Top and Blue Moon aren’t really craft beers but an attempt by big beer to steal some of craft beer’s market share. You are preaching to choir. Tell me something new.
Infographics that use pint glasses and kegs as clever replacements for bar graphs. I get it, you made a chart about beer and used beer to display that information. It’s only been done 100 times before and makes it harder to actually compare the numbers.
For an example of beer writing that inspires me read Michael Kiser’s Passport to the World is Through its Beer. Sure, this appeals to me specifically as a beer traveler but also tells a story that is more complex than the announcement of a new beer release.
In the end we are all writing about something we are passionate about. I myself am not a trained writer and still struggle to get motivated to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, but I do it because I love craft beer and travel. So if you love doing beer reviews keep it up, but if you want people to read it make sure you do it uniquely and get past the surface stuff and tell me something new.