Hopefully Just An Intermediate Stage

One unfortunate consequence has arisen, as far as I see, from the relatively (or perhaps just otherwise) good thing that is the swapping out of amateur beer blogging for fewer paying opportunities for the writing. I wonder whether its only me but over the last year or so I have seen more and more comments like a topic being too nuanced for open discussion or, worse perhaps, the idea that one’s research is too personally important set out in a blog post. Concurrently, I have seen a lot of interesting voices drop away from the discussion even as, yes, some other interesting ones show up. Makes me wonder.

A few unfortunate things seem to have resulted. The research never ends up getting presented – or perhaps even finished – which makes us all the worse off simply through lack of information sharing. Publishers don’t turn out to be that interested, I guess. Then, because it is already labeled as important, when it is published there is an implication that it is not open to scrutiny. The good beer discourse seems especially immune to the normal sort of semi-academic rigor that other topics normally attract. Third, there seems to be a resulting shift such that the cleverness now sits in the person rather than on the page. It never does.

This is not an accusation. Just an observation. It may just be something driven by a tinge of regret that the golden age of beer blogging – and the inherently zesty dynamics – are more than a few years past us. It may be the bleat of the buggy whip salesman seeing his first automobile. Pity me. Yet, there is a more recent combination of homogenized perspective and disengagement that saddens a bit.These things do not seem to be happening in other areas of pop culture like baseball or music. I can openly proclaim that I think the Blue Jays suck but who speaks against the new hops?

Perhaps it’s just an intermediate stage. We may be at a point at which risks are too great so things naturally get clenched. Maybe its just part of a greater thing. While I was talking about the sorts of stories that appear in an daily Google news search for “beer” when I rushed off the footnote the other day, I wonder if I might have as easily created a similar list for beer writing. I hope that isn’t the case.

Happy to hear other views, by the way. If anyone is left who does that sorta thing. And links to interesting new writing most welcome.

One thought on “Hopefully Just An Intermediate Stage”

  1. [Comments from the old blog system from the time of the original post…]

    Bailey – September 26, 2016 7:50 AM
    I can’t speak for others but… 1. We still write regular blog posts, often including stuff that we probably *could* sell if we were willing to bend it to the desires of an editor. 2. We sell some stuff because it helps to pay for the travel and beer that informs the stuff we don’t get paid for. So far, it’s all ended up free to access at some point anyway.

    In the last six months we’ve seen complaints that (a) beer blogging and writing is too negative and (b) that it’s too positive. Our perspective, as ever, is that it’s somewhere in between, about where it should be. If you want to read nothing but people laying into breweries, it’s out there, it’s just that (I think) it’s very often boring ranty crap that’s more about the author than anything else.

    When people say something is too nuanced for open discussion aren’t they really saying that the open discussion is no fun? That it makes them miserable, or bores them, or that at the very least they get nothing out of it? Certainly there are some discussion we’re fed up of having because everything that there is to be said has been said, and no-one’s minds are being changed, i.e. whether ‘craft beer’ is a useful term.

    I get the feeling, because we’ve discussed it a bit by email and in comments here, that one of the closed discussions you have in mind here is the ‘ethics’ stuff we’ve put in our monthly email newsletters from time to time. The reason we do it there rather than on the blog is really simple: it’s a bit boring unless you’re engaged to the Nth degree, or are a blogger/writer yourself. We are trying to make the blog about beer and pubs, avoid blogging about blogging, and write the kind of blog we would like to read, which is one that spends comparatively little time bitching about other beer writers.

    But, yes, academic debate is good and healthy, and maybe there should be more argument. Just not necessarily more bickering.

    Alan – September 26, 2016 9:35 AM
    Thanks for that. Actually, it’s not the ethics. I have to apply ethical analysis in my job – so that is sort of a hobby interest that is tested in the beer writing work. In a sense that’s all Guinea pig observation for me in a way. No, it’s all the people who have stopped doing exactly what you do and I try to do with the history. Displaying primary research. It’s irritating when folk think interviewing a brewery owner serves as that. Why do people believe th first thing out of the mouth of folk in business is what actual occurred? Figure out how to get handed documents. Ask former business contacts.

    I was quite surprised at Ron’s shock earlier this year when I asked a brewery owner about hid debt load and financing. Thought I was quite rude I think. But the guy and I then had a cheery talk about the money side. I suspect other do the same and don’t write about it. Too rude. Which unhappiness of mine might qualify for what you call bitching about other beer writers. I just think of it as wanting to know the actual full story rather than the PR / owner’s bio stuff that gets passed off.

    Like you, my perspective is exactly where it should be as fundamentally we write to please ourselves. As folk drop away, we simply get fewer perspectives. Which is ultimately where boring truly resides.

    Stan Hieronymus – September 26, 2016 11:15 AM
    Are you following this blog? http://www.beer-simple.com/ Lots about brewing, but the “culture” stuff has its own category.

    Bailey – September 26, 2016 12:12 PM
    “I just think of it as wanting to know the actual full story rather than the PR / owner’s bio stuff that gets passed off.”

    But I don’t think this is something we had and then lost. Early bloggers weren’t asking hard questions of brewers — they hardly ever actually spoke to them, as far as I can recall.

    So interviews that are relatively gentle is a step up from no interviews at all.

    Michael Jackson, Roger Protz, Richard Boston… none of these people are/were hard-hitting scrutineers. (Jackson was more critical than he liked to let on but you had to learn to read the code.)

    Alan – September 26, 2016 12:41 PM
    Stan: I have not so let me have a look. By the way, I had to cancel out of driving 16 hours west to the writers forum in Kentuky. I have to drive 16 hours east to my law school 25th anniversary. My old pal from Singapore is coming. Sorry to be missing this opportunity.

    Alan – September 26, 2016 12:55 PM
    Bailey: [Can I call you Ray? ;-)]

    Very good points. Maybe I am comparing the rigorous of the histories with the standards for contemporary writing? Gentle is too uninformative for me. And I do think there is increased gentleness though I do take your point. Do not take it as a backhanded insult when I say that your work presents with a very pleasant voice. I know you have suffered some grief in asserting this stance and I am a fan of how you’ve achieved it. [I am considered kind and nice in my circles] But blogs in the past were more rough and tumble even if, as you say, that didn’t get into the owners office. The lack of what used to be called a citizen journalist approach now verges on triumphalism and association. The writer as a contributing part of an arc of success. The writer as a player like the brewer.

    Due to this I see odd things. I cringe when the craft brewers complaint about normal municipal or regulatory processes get in the way of the cool craft brewery is treated softly. I think the story of the burden placed on craft brewery worker in the US is being missed. Over here, not having CAMRA, there isn’t even a legit voice against manufactured inflation. I see successful business treated to pretty robust analysis all the time on these sorts of topics – but only in in other sectors. Who speaks to this?

    Jeff Alworth – September 26, 2016 12:58 PM
    On the example of financing–I just don’t care. I should, because it’s becoming a bigger part of the story (over-leveraged breweries are more likely to opt for buy-outs). And I know from chatting with the kind of regular folk (i.e., non-industry) who read my blog that they don’t care, either.

    On the other hand, I just got paid by Travel Oregon to write a short piece on breweries using spontaneous fermentation, and I have way more material than I could use. That will find its way into blog posts for sure. So it can go both ways.

    Alan – September 26, 2016 1:14 PM
    Ray: here is an example of the then and now. Here we have someone I respect praising the admission of the manufactured inflation of a few years back. When this occurred all one heard were denials.

    Jeff: that is interesting as I often think you are nipping at the edges of business related matters – which I would include workers’ conditions in craft breweries. I am not particularly driven by readers’ interest but do get your point. So does this mean beer is actually a junior topic not worth the scrutiny? Like ethics, I have to deal in business matters, developments many sizes larger than most construction of craft breweries. I see plenty of public interest in those sorts of matters – but that might be because of the public aspect. Yet profitable breweries getting public funds to open branch plants? Nuttin. Even when effectively they impose on the markets of local existing breweries.

    You know, the only one non-mega brewery that does seem to attract discussion is Sam Smiths. But that is in the UK where there is a greater tradition of public dissent in business matters. Plus they seem to be weird.

    Bailey – September 26, 2016 2:16 PM
    “Maybe I am comparing the rigorous of the histories with the standards for contemporary writing?”

    Very possibly. When we wrote Brew Britannia we found it much easier to get people who were retired, or talking about ventures from 30 years ago, to be open about problems and disputes; we can’t blame people who are trying to run businesses *today* for being cagey and careful, and refusing to discuss their finances, terms of contracts, etc.. National newspaper business journos might have some leverage but it’s hard to see what a blogger can do to make someone talk about something they don’t want to talk about, especially without access to lawyers (like those business journos have) to make sure they don’t get themselves in trouble quoting off the record material, or gossip, or information they’ve found by digging in the bins.

    Alan – September 27, 2016 10:00 PM
    All very true – but, still, do you ask or do you withhold even that, assuming there is no point? If no one is asking, it’s likely no one in the trade is having to ask themselves if they would like to explain more about the inner workings of the craft beer business. After all, once upon a time there was The Anonymous Brewer. Could that be revived? I wonder.

    Also, if it is true that no one is even asking can then we all admit then that the stuff craft brewers do say about the business sits somewhere between puffery and a load of crap?

    Bailey – September 28, 2016 3:58 AM
    We sometimes ask if we suspect there’s a particular story to be got at; usually get a polite rebuff. What more can you do?

    Again, though, I think you’re expecting something from beer writing that isn’t found in *most* pop culture writing. Film directors and actors always say (indeed, are contractually obliged to say) that their latest project is going great, they love their colleagues, it might be the best thing they’ve ever done, even if it’s a steaming pile. Does sports management happily share commercially sensitive information with reporters, let alone bloggers? (I genuinely don’t know but assume not.) In fact, compared to most fields, I suspect brewers are still relatively un-moderated, with fewer hawkish PRs hovering to shut down conversations.

    Where profiles of brewers can be interesting is in revealing personality and attitudes. Give someone chance to talk about themselves for long enough and they’ll often reveal a bit more than intended. Not necessarily ‘dirt’ but obsessions, attitudes and insecurities, which help explain the what, how and why.

    One thing that sometimes makes pop culture interviews feel hard-hitting (falsely, in many cases, when you actually look at the content) is when the subject is portrayed as an arsehole, or the interview itself is confrontational. I don’t necessarily think beer writing needs more of that but I guess it *might* be nice if there were more profile pieces that didn’t feel like two pals having a laugh together.

    Alan – September 28, 2016 8:41 AM
    I think that’s it. After all his time it’s so stunningly boring to read the faux friend stuff, to watch missed opportunities go by. I actually find many brewers pretty dull. That’s why the history works for me now. The dead have no reputations to uphold. But beer is so interesting than that so it’s fun to look in corners where others shrink, shirk. It seems to attract such odd behavior, from regulation quirks to now phony gourds.

    Last year I noted the owner and executives of Boston Beer selling off shares and got grief from a few clueless about business, suggesting I was anti-business. A few month later the same observation was picked up by investment commentators. The records simply spoke for themselves. It was cringeworthy but frankly expected.

    It can wear but there are ways to put it in context. Wine is a bit more open so serves as a good model for a next step or at least hope. The objectivity of terroir helps as do the more obvious supply chain facts. The grapes can’t be from anywhere. Plus there is a tradition of consumer side best value hunting. It isn’t as extreme as the difference between bluegrass (no money so more honesty) and top 40 pop music (pure puff) but it’s a useful comparator.

    Jeff Alworth – September 28, 2016 12:53 PM
    “So does this mean beer is actually a junior topic not worth the scrutiny?”

    No–it means it rarely gets my scrutiny. We all have the aspects of a topic we care about, an approach we use to unearth it. My interests are pretty diverse, but the labor angle would take more energy and attention than I have to give to it. So I nip at the edges.

    Alan – September 28, 2016 2:52 PM
    Good way to put it. Goes along with the idea there are no beer experts as the general topic is so broad and faceted. Expertise lies in specificity.

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