What I May Think About When They Write About Beer

Jeff has written a good piece on the results to be drawn from the experience of being part of a NAGBW judging team:

We had 34 entries that were published in probably ten different publications, and they ranged from very short reviews to lengthy pieces on styles, equipment, or process. One entry on a bit of brewing history ran on for thirty pages. When you immerse yourself that deeply into something, you have a chance to see patterns and habit–not all of them good.

He gives four themes for better writing and then concludes that for “… those of you who read beer books, magazines, and blogs, what would you like to see change? Where do we need to go as we evolve?” Good thoughts. I know not who the “we” he speaks of are but the structures of his thinking are top drawer, spot on. I appreciate his experience as I was on the beer book judging panel. We reviewed more books than I have toes. While I have the normal number of toes I still consider that a reasonably sizable number so, as a tool for use in counting like books, I am sure you will agree it represents a fair quantity indeed. And while I won’t spill the beans on the jury room deliberations, it is fair to say that I also drew some lessons, like Jeff, from the experience. What shall they be? Let’s see:

=> Write something new: There are subject matter themes, structures and literary tricks that look awfully familiar. This may mean they are comforting. That also means they are ruts. Deep ruts. Want expend some intellectual value into the book? Don’t bother with the preface by the guy who once brewed but now plays, takes sabbaticals and owns a lot of shares in a big craft brewery. Want to write a “complete guide” to understanding beer? At least acknowledge all those who have written the same books before you. Better? Don’t write it. We have enough.

=> Do some reading. If you find you have used a whale analogy about over-priced beers but haven’t clued into that this might be a Moby Dick reference, you might want to do a bit more research to understand the implicit implications. And if you don’t know that much about beer history, don’t bother jabbing down that ale in America before lager brewing came along was sour, murky and foul. You will be wrong and look silly.

=> Don’t expect moolah: There is no money in beer writing. Few live on the stuff and many find a way to turn a large investment of resources into a very small return. Read this. See? Plus, a chunk of beer writing is aimed at placing a name in the media, getting the author to the next writing or leveraging the next, wow, collaboration opportunity. It shows. No one cares. Nothing dates a book more quickly than goals beyond the covers. Focus on the text. Don’t waste my time (… and I get review copies.)

=> Don’t write to be liked: Stan warmed my heart when he wrote “I’m not certain what sort of audience this… will reach” when he discussed The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer at the beginning of this year. As I explained, it was written to express. It was also meant to challenge and offend and make people laugh. And it did. The two brewing histories – Albany and Ontario – have been more traditional in structure but have raised lots of interesting questions and solve some puzzles, too. They were itches that needed to be scratched.

Good lessons? Could be. Now, Jeff asked questions at the end. I won’t poach his questions. Answer those questions over there. If you need to respond, if you are dawn to react to me you might want to ask yourself things like “is Al nuts?” or “how bitter can he get?” Frankly, I don’t care what you think or do but if you are going to write don’t be fawning, boring, dumb or wrong. Be yourself. Unless you like to be fawning, boring, dumb or wrong. Then be someone else.


One thought on “What I May Think About When They Write About Beer”

  1. [Original comments…]

    Jeff Alworth – September 24, 2014 8:45 PM
    One of the reasons we started the Guild was to provoke ourselves into better, more informative writing. Good that we’re starting that process. I’ll keep thinking…

    Craig – September 24, 2014 11:39 PM
    Thank you. I was wondering if anyone else noticed that in terms of Melville, metaphorically speaking at least, a “white whale” does not mean elusive and greatly prized, as it often gets tagged in association with beer.

    At least Moby Dick isn’t required reading of every high school in…oh wait.

    Alan – September 25, 2014 7:34 AM
    We really need NAGBW to adopt Mr. Thinking Chimp as it’s logo, Jeff.

    I love the Moby Dick misread, Craig. The battle between the natural and avarice. The whale winning. Not to mention Melville is the grandson of Peter Gansevoort, Revolutionary hero for the cheater side and brewer of Albany Ale.

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