That Messy Messy Democracy That Is Beer Writing

Stan H. and E.S. Delia have both written posts in the last few hours that go to the very heart of beer blogging. Stan’s post “The end of beer writing as we know it?” and Mr. Delia’s “On Beer Writing” both explore the relationship between blogging – an amateur form of expression – with profession beer expressions like movies or beer magazines. Dalia writes:

The bigger issue is the nature of beer writing. Carroll quotes filmmaker Anat Baron’s take on beer writers versus beer bloggers, implying that the writers’ assessments were more astute or level-headed than that of the beer bloggers. I don’t get paid for this, so perhaps my opinions are less valid.

Nothing is so embarrassing as when condescension meets foolishness. It reminds of the old joke “what do you call a doctor who got ‘D’ in first year anatomy?” The answer is, of course, “doctor.” Like Dr. Johnson said of nationalism, this sort of idea about professionalism can also be the last refuge of a scoundrel. For further study on this idea, I suggest you seek out the works of Ivan Illich. You may not agree with the idea that professionalism in itself carries downsides but the perspective is nonetheless worthwhile.

Fortunately, both Mr. H and Mr. D reject such poppycock. Both suggest the far better idea that beer blogging is not in any way illegitimate and in fact can uniquely advance the discourse on beer culture in ways that profession beer sometimes can’t. Delia reminds us of the need to look to and weigh content. Hieronymus looks with hope to innovation and new beginnings. Sure, there is a lot of crap in blogging as well as failed technicalities like poor grammar. But there is also a lot of crap in magazine writing and in documentary film making as well as failures such as the business botch of misplaced trust in an illusory homogeneous craft beer community which will buy your tickets or purchase your subscriptions like unthinking autobots. What has been going on for years – and what some still don’t get – is that all this writing is a collection of disorganized personal explorations which, like this post exemplifies, feed each other and weave another part of a large tapestry with ideas. It is a better more complex and richer way.

Thirty-three years ago, Bill Gates complained about the very same thing in relation to software “hobbyists” but he as wrong, too, as history has proven.

When Should A Beer Blog Pay For Itself And The Beer?

Interesting to note that there are two comments today from pro-writing bloggers (ploggers?) mentioning how their connection to the blog connects directly or indirectly to income. Jack Curtain over at his Liquid Diet states:

…I want to once again express my deep gratitude to everyone who sent me their best wishes and especially those who generously “tipped the bartender” as a result of this posting, including one very kind snail mail of a brewpub gift card to which I will put good use. It is both demeaning and embarassing to ask for money, but I also think that the time and effort which goes into this site warrants some support now and then…

Jack is a writer who brings incredible experience as a newspaperman, beer columnist and published author. Another leading beer writer is Pete Brown who also touched on this idea today when he wrote:

“…I may be using some of the answers to this for a commercial project for which I will be paid money. If this offends your sensibilities and you feel it contravenes the unwritten ethics of blogging I apologise.

I find these comments somewhat unfortunate. Not because there shouldn’t be politeness in the world of beer writing but that this should not be an issue at all. I have been a very lucky beer blogger. See, I get ads and do so in a significant part because I have been doing this beer blogging for so long and have built up an insane body of work (1,543 posts and exactly 5,000 comments as of today). And I hope that body of work is also entertaining and informative. Beer pays for itself though those ads and has done so for three years now. It’s not a fortune and I spend it wisely. I don’t go to beer fests, don’t jump on planes to Europe for all those drinking sessions with Knut or Ron or Jeff or Pete (and a whack more to be sure) or drive deep into the US with Lew and Jay and Stan (and to be sure a whack more, too) – and I sure don’t buy every $32.00 Norwegian porter that I have recently seen foisted upon the shelves of beer stores in the northeastern US. But I do buy beer and gas and hotel rooms and generally use the money and goodwill the blog generates for sustaining my interest and also – as the impending Christmas Photo Contest 2008 prize list should show – to thank you for your support (…and mucho mucho gracias to those fine brewers who have already agreed to forward prizes.) I even have to pay taxes on the revenue as business income after deducting expenses as it is not incidental. I actually think that is very neat.

But that is not the real point. The real point is that there is yoinks and yoinks of money in beerand those who write about it should be supported by those who make beer, sell beer, distrubute beer and market beer….and maybe even those who are interested in reading about beer. I am not about to hit you, my readers, up as a result of this. I am not having an epiphany of how to make riches out of this gig. I do this because I like it. But if you are that part of the readership selling a beer, wouldn’t it seem clever to you that a few well placed ads for that beer collectively costing less than one print ad might be worth your while? As far as I am concerned there is a group of perhaps teo to twenty beer bloggers who deserve serious global attention for this sort of marketing. In addition – and this is even more to the point – there are dedicated and interesting local scene beer bloggers who should be supported by that local scene. If you are a microbrewer and you don’t know who your local beer bloggers are you are missing a huge opportunity. And, to be honest, if you are a brewer launching a new beer and you are not sending out samples by courier to beer bloggers as many brewers do (thank you very much) you are frankly pretty close to being out of line. Why would you expect your fans to be doing all the new media innovative heavy lifting they do for you and your beer without some recognition and compensation? Why is the incredible opportunity they present not part of your business plan?

By the way, I am neither embarrased to point this out or expect your sensibilities will be offended. Not that Jack or Pete are wrong in having such good manners but I think we should be a wee bit more realistic about all this – realistic about how money and new media work in the new craft beer economy. Now, excuse me as I am off to Twitter this post and place a link on Facebook to spread the word.

The Hieronymi Were Here…As Were Steve and John!


So beer writers Stan and Daria and family were here getting a break from the camper on their world beer tour 2008. As it turned out, so were Steve from Beau’s and John o’ Church-key. Between them the lads drove 500 km to get here and as much to get home – nothing compared, however, to the Hieronymi land cruiser which hit the 10,000 mile mark yesterday. And, after hours of great beer and some good chow I threw together, I came away from what I will call the first Kingston Symposium on Craft Brewing realizing I pretty much know nothing about beer. Zippo.

Hanging around with such people of the beer is always a great education but listening to two such knowledgeable beer thinkers as Stan and Daria (who is also a recent winner on Jeopardy) over a whole evening with two of Canada’s most interesting young brewers was pretty amazing. Not to go blow by blow through the beers but I shared some Ontarians including our local Barley Day’s Wind and Sail Dark, some Stuart’s Natural and made some fairly snazzy scallops in a pan with a slug of Wellington Dark. Good Ontario and Quebec craft cheeses also shared the table.

We talked about beer price and value, the regulatory challenges of the Ontario market and the Canadian border as well as the opportunities a province that is trying hard to catch up to our southern neighbours provides. We also poured bottles of Steve and John’s brews including Beau’s flagship kolsche and Church-key’s West Coast IPA – as well as half year cellared bottles of Bog Water and Lactese Falcon, that beer that begs to be next to a rib-eye. Each of these showed really well and, in their comparison, begged the question as to which better expressed Ontario-ness: the traditional Algonquin Park canoe trip invocating bog myrtle or the funky blue cheese tang of the beer of the 22nd century. I just made that up. I am sure John will pick it up as the LT’s catch phrase.

To finish, we popped the tangy spicy dry and quite fascinating Fuego del Otono, a seasonal chestnut beer which is also very under-priced from Jolly Pumpkin. Stan and Daria had passed Dexter on a Saturday when the brewery was not open so it was fair to include it in their year-long continent hopping search for the essence of global local beer. By the way, that last beer is one of the ones that make me think there should be a web based auction for craft beer where beer lovers could set out what they would pay for a beer. If Ron at Jolly Pumpkin would set me aside a mixed case of beer like Fuego del Otono for pick up when I am in the neighbourhood, I would definitely pay $11.99 or a bit more compared to the $8.99 I paid for this one last fall at the ever excellent Bello Vino of Ann Arbor. Other beers of the moment might not get such a price boost from the set you own auction, if my suspicions are correct.

In the end, one in the morning came far too soon and, as with the best gatherings like this, I came away having added understanding as well as happily convinced in how little I still really know. There is so much to learn about good beer. For one thing, I now crave New Glarus Spotted Cow and may have to drive to Wisconsin just to get me some more.

Following The Hieronymi Around The World


I have to admit that beer blogging has given me far more than I have ever given it. Through beer blogging I have electronically met a particularly rich seam of the most gracious and generous folk in the English-speaking world. One of the finest is, of course, our pal Stan Hieronymus, author of Brew Like A Monk as well as a bazillion articles on brew – not to mention the blogger-in-chief at Appellation Beer.

Stan and the family are on a round-the-world tour trying all the local beer they can meet and next week I have the honour of hosting them for supper (and maybe more if the RV fits) as the south-easter Ontario representative of all things beery. I have put away a few fine local beers – including that growler or two I plan to snab at Sackets Harbor NY, my actual most local brewer as the crow flies. We’ll be over there next Sunday for the return of the annual 1870s vintage base ball game. I have invited a couple of interesting brewers to join in a small backyard symposium but am still a little at loose ends, trying to figure out how to make the moment worthy and fun.

Well, lo and behold, I just found an extra way to do the right thing by Stan – they’re keeping a blog of the trip called The Slow Travelers. More about big roadside attractions and less about about beer but that is good. It will help us get a sense of Stan, the family and my pleasant duties of their host. As far as I can tell, I need to make a giant paper mache dinosaur and place it by the curb to truly make the date a hit! We may have to see about that one.

Rock Stars? Enough With The Analogies Already!

So…you guys got any good beer in there? Some Saison Dupont maybe?

Earlier today, Stonch pointed out the somewhat strained tone of this press release floating around for a beer event half a day’s drive to my south in which one is promised that we may “[m]eet the luminaries of the craft beer world…[v]ery few events offer the opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with the “rock stars” of the craft beer world.” To be fair, I am not overly concerned with the world of PR and calling the fine brewers who will be there luminariesis a perfectly fine way to describe those in the forefront of any endeavor. But rock stars? Here is my trademarked immediate and rash comment:

This is the sort of marketing that led me to ask last year whether we love the beer or the brewer. “Celebrity” in itself only detracts given the immediacy of beer and the need to manage our understanding of their work and their ideas about beer – much of which is interesting and important but is utterly undermined by the characterization of “rock star.”

Besides, I like my rocks stars to be rocks stars and I expect them to point out – with all the outrage of the outcast (if they really be rockers) – all the bullshit around us. So, you may ask yourself, what would Joe Strummer or John Lennon or Johnny Cash have thought of this press release? Is this the Elvis of 1955 or the Elvis of 1972? Where do you place each name?

Rock star…I know what I think. I think they could as easily be called the “game show hosts” of brewing or even “the Beckhams” of beer – seeking fame now that they perhaps are not even the best on the pitch anymore. “Rock star” is so sold out as a term that it should be considered something of a backhanded compliment. Is that what they want to have thought of them. I doubt it. I say this is bad PR.

I suppose that was a bit harsh, a bit over the top with the whole fat Elvis thing¹…but when I think rock star I also think of The Darkness or even Spinal Tap which leads me to wonder which brewer so dubbed has turned it up to eleven? Or that line from Road Warrior about the guy known as “The Ayatollah of Rock-and-Roll-ah” as illustrated above. And really…is “rock star” enough? Are they not as much the Jedi Knights of brewing? Isn’t that, you know, just as stunned? Maybe some Old Testament imagery would help me understand who these brewers are?

How far can such dislocated hyperbole take us? As we continue our collective search for good beer and an understanding the place of craft beer, of its value and its appreciation, there are these uncomfortable moments of description popping up. Descriptions that have shades of elitist puffery as well as clumsy grasping for the right – but definitely earnest – word. I don’t know but is it too much to ask to ask for a little humour? Say what you like about borgy forums but I take the slightly metal-esque presentation of the Alströms as a bit camp. Maybe its because I am that novice masters shot putting metal and punk fan with the lifetime Ben Grimm Fan Club membership but I associate my association with beer a bit like they do – with a bit of self-effacing humour…they are being self-effacing, right? As with the unfortunate and often unwarranted eureka moments from some writers on brewing, I don’t think of all this stuff as some sort of rare and precious gift, a prize for the mantelpiece or something linked with celebrity. For me, this feeling of mine is informed by Knut’s label ølhund [aka “beer dog”] or Lew’s preference for the simple “beer fan“, the egalitarian joyful celebration of how were’re all in this together, we happy band, we cheery lot. Just enjoy yourselves.

I know. It’s a lot to extrapolate from one slightly unfortunate reference. But it’s beer we are talking about, right? Right?

¹[Ed.: ie. “Elvis: to young to die, too fat to live…”]

Beer Fan Terminology Update

What with all the April’s Fools joke posts as well as at least one seemingly authentic blog funeral announcement, it was good to see an true advance in the thinking about being a beer nerd/fan/geek and, as usual, the news comes out of Scandinavia as Knut describes:

I don’t care much what I’m called. When I talk to my wife, I refer to (in Norwegian) my beer friends or beer mates. I would not use the words connoisseur or aficionado, either, but it is probably the most spot on description. There is a Norwegian term that is slightly old fashioned – beer dog. I kinda like that.

The word in Norwegian is even better: ølhund. So “beer hound” is born. It has the nerdiness of “rock hound” as well as the cool of “You Ain’t Nothing But A Hound Dog”. While pivar is pithy, can any other language group top ølhund?

The Beer Drinkers’ Bill Of Rights

A depiction of the first debates on the rights
of beer drinkers, Greece 4th century BC.

I’ve been thinking about this beer stuff for a while now and have decided that it is right and proper that a Beer Drinkers’ Bill of Rights for us all be established. Any bill of rights, after all, is just a statement of fundamental law under which the many and individually weak define their relationship with powerful forces controlling a jurisdiction, whether they be the state or in the trade. That being the case, it is time that we admit that we have a jurisdiction of our own, that we assert the existence of the nation of those who love beer and that we define some elemental principles which the people of that nation hold to be self-evident

To that end I propose as follows:

1. All have the right to beer, the right to own beer and the right to their own beer.
2. Local beer shall be available and shall be excellent.
3. Beer shall not be taxed in undue proportion to other consumables.
4. Beer, including its constituent elements, shall be explained and explicable to the drinkers of beer.
5. Regardless of the source, beer shall be snob-free, plainly advertised and made available with minimal intermediaries, both in terms of consultation and transaction between the brewer and the drinker.
6. Beer shall be offered in a variety of packaging formats which shall include low cost formats.
7. Beer shall be safe and shall be accepted as a wholesome food and shall be recognized as an important and moderate agent in the pursuit of happiness.
8. The diverse rights to and of beer enunciated herein shall be guaranteed subject only to such reasonable limits as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

It may be the cold medications, sure, but I am convinced of the need of this. There may be amendments and additions to this list which can be submitted to via the comments as a form of constitutional assembly. Further, commentary upon each right shall be enunciated though discourse.

Your Mid-Autumn Beer Magazine Update


I have written about beer magazines before but a recent stop at a book store made me realize that there are more magazines out there than ever and that it was maybe time to do some comparing. And, along with that, some consideration of what the deal is as I’ve always wondered who buys these publications. Maybe even though there is way more information about beer on the internet that is more up to date, we all know that you look like a dork taking your lap top when you go for a hair cut.

  • All About Beer: This is the elder statesman of these five magazines, well into its 28th year of publication if the volume numbering is anything to go by. I have the November 2007 issue which sports the natty and welcome new layout and design. It has articles, flashy ads, columns by a number of the usual suspects, reviews by a number of the usual suspects as well as the fantastically useful “Buyers Guide For Beer Lovers” or BGFBL. The BGFBL in each issue takes a large number of known examples of a style, ranks them and give notes for each. A very useful information packed magazine that has taken a good look in the mirror and freshened its look. A small amount of gratuitous cheesecake in the vital 34 word article on America’s sexiest bartender. Audience: the US beer geek over 30 who maybe once was a frat boy.
  • Beer: This issue is the first and will be the last I buy. It really isn’t aimed at the craft beer buyer – though it may be aimed at the young krappht beer fan. This issue has plenty of short articles that include trade PR cuttings from two months ago, a piece on how to tell one macro industrial brew from another and interesting bit about how to get a bartender to give you free beer. Oddly, there is plenty of cheesecake but much of it, even on different articles, seems strangely to be from the same photo shoot. Audience: the US frat boy with aspirations of one day being a beer geek over 30.
  • Beers of the World: this UK beer mag now in its second year contains ads, now old trade PR cuttings, a lot of articles of three to five pages with a UK and European focus. My October 2007 issue has a good regional focus on Wales, notes from a visit to Bamburg, as well as a history of hops in under around 700 words and one by a usual suspect describing all of pale ale that might hit 1200 words…OK, I didn’t count. My only complaint is that articles of this length rarely get too deep or provide information that you have not seem the same author repeat elsewhere. But the review section at the end is the best in all five magazines as it is written by the same one guy issue after issue creating a consistent body of work. Plenty of bright photos and really no skin. Audience: the people who read Stonch’s blog yet who want to also learn more from a source that does not include his pal’s body functions as recurring characters.
  • Beer Advocate: I am happy with my subscription to the Beer Advocate magazine. It is likely the most focused of the group and the least cluttered with ads. This is a mag for the 5% of the beer market into craft beer in the USA. There is no cheesecake – unless a very bald Alstrom head counts…which it might. There are stale trade PR cuttings, which is a bit of a disappointment, but there are good long articles following the given theme of any issue. The reviews are very well done, logical and comparatively lengthy. It sort of has a new cast of usual suspects which is good if you are reading more than one magazine. It tends to present itself as relating to rocking out. Audience: former frat boys in their 20s and 30s who still wear black t-shirts and want to go one a beer tour with Stonch and his pals.
  • Draft: Thank God for a magazine that doesn’t have “beer” in the title. Except it seems to have a sub-title and even a sup-title as the full name is “The Beer Enthusiast’s DRAFT: Life on Tap”. Things are a bit cluttered up there on the cover. This one has been publishing for a year as of the September/October 2007 issue and also has beer page after page of huge ads, articles, some trade PR clippings and a well laid out beer view section. The articles are fairly long for a beer mag – not National Geographic but sometimes you have to turn more than two pages. There is a good focus on beer and food over a number of items as well as an odd cover interview of Randy Quaid in which I learn he likes golf. No cheesecake. Audience: people in their 30s and 40s who can name three Randy Quaid movies, who really don’t think about the frat that much and like to drink craft beer and other stuff.

In the end, I have to make choices. I won’t buy Beer again. All About Beer and Draft may become a once every six months thing. Beers of the World will get my money three to four times a year, mainly due to the UK content, and I will renew my Beer Advocate magazine subscription every year. One big problem I would face committing to more is the necessary high level each takes to ensure the largest potential geographical audience which leads to a certain generality. And, while they all have nice beer porny photos, it would just cost too much to get them all and, after all, blogs are giving it away for free.

So do you buy beer mags? Which and why. Confess.

Beer And Philosophy: The Book Is Out!

bapIt is either out or I have just received my copy but either way it is all quite exciting to have a book in my hand with a chapter written by me. So, of course, I read my chapter first and found myself thinking that I could have written most sentences better and that I hoped I didn’t lose all the legal footnotes…though I suspect the sensible editing was afoot on that one. Then it strikes me – I don’t know – can I do a proper book review when I wrote about one-fifteenth of the thing? I don’t have any percentages deals or anything. But I can be pure of heart with the best of them can’t I? So let’s see.

Price? Reasonable. This is a trade paperback meaning it’s going to cost you a decidedly reasonable $13.57 on an Amazon pre-order. The book covers a lot of ground, partitioned as it is into segments entitled “The Art of Beer”, “The Ethics of Beer”, “The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Beer” and “Beer in the History of Philosophy”. Fascinating stuff. And with chapters by Garrett Oliver and Sam Calagione (not to mention me) as well as a forward by the late Michael Jackson (no mention of me) there is plenty of familiar names for the average beer geek.

But it is when the book goes beyond the expected that it gets really interesting. Except for the crew named above, the rest is written by Phds (pronounced “fudds“, professors and a dean. Egads! I See Eggheads! Yet, they bring the egg down off the head and…and…OK, I can’t finish that analogy but rest assured this is interesting stuff. An example: in the chapter by Rex Welshon, Chair of a Philosophy Department in Colorado, explores Nietzsche’s relationship with the drink opening with the philosopher’s observation that a “single glass of…beer in one day is quite sufficient to turn my life into a vale of misery.” I recall my philosophy professor recounting his wife’s observation that she was not so much disappointed that Nietzsche thought all those things so much as that he wrote them down. Perhaps the same might be said about him having that beer. Another example? Neil Manson, a professor from Mississippi has his bio right next to mine (which falsely claims he can drink more than me and you. Lie – I simply choose not to), has provided a dialogue of the Socratic sort (I think) on “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Beer” which seems to talk about God a lot as three characters drink. Neato. It’s like what you think your dinner parties were like the foggy-headed next morning. And there are about ten more of these sorts of chapters.

So…bottom line…get this book. I earn nothing more from saying so yet you will gain incalculably from the procurement.

A Brewery, A Literary Tour And Another World All In One

Her: I sure hope no one mentions this ever again.
Him: Me, too. How unlike us. Best to bottle it up. Pass me another.

An interesting combination of two of my interests may well come together in Nymburk, some 30 kilometers east of Prague, where a brewery, Postřižinský Pivovar, helps continue its story as a local brewery, how the brewery altered the life of an author – and how the brewery itself became a character in the life of the community through the author:

The brewery, operated by brewing firm Pivovar Nymburk, has strong historical and literary connections with Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, who was raised in the brewery grounds and wrote “Postřižiny” (Cutting It Short) about his childhood encounters with the brewery workers. The book was made into a hugely successful film in 1981 by director Jiří Menzel, who recently adapted another Hrabal work, “Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále” (I Served the King of England). The brewery now uses the literary connection with Hrabal as a marketing tool, and the writer’s amused face stares out from the labels of most of the bottles of Postřižinské Pivo sold in the Czech Republic.

That speaks volumes for me…but sadly more over what is not than anything. We in the English speaking world are so concerned about avoiding making connections about beer and locality and community that we forget that our behavior must seem fairly bizarre to other cultures. Just from my own experience I can think of a bar owning pal who was barred by the local regulator from selling a drink he had come up with that referenced Anne of Green Gables. Recently we’ve seen some US states call out the lawyers and tribunals to keep Santa off beer bottles. Heck, in the chapter of the upcoming book Beer and Philosophy that I penned I noted that the law of New Brunswick barred representations of beer in family situations in advertising. We can’t make fun of fictional characters or even describe what actually is – because to do so we point out there is beer in our lives. Because that would be, I guess, dangerous.

And yet we do all this despite knowing we all have tales of our own how beer characterized the community. I can only speak to my Maritime Canadian youth but we all heard how Moosehead’s Dartmouth brewery had the free tap for those working on the floor and wondered why we didn’t all drop out of undergrad and apply for a job. We knew teetotaling farmers with the case in the barn. We knew the ties between Halifax’s Keith brewery and the VE Day riots when the youth of the town invaded the place and drank the brewery dry, likely some knowing relatives – maybe those above – who had some stories. We even watched ads just a few years ago for Alpine beer and how it was not worth making a career for yourself away from home because you might not be able to get your brew…and probably knew people who likely took the advice.

In many ways, beer frames (or at least colours one corner of) what you are and what you could be expected to be….but you really shouldn’t talk about it. Beer is such an interesting touchstone for our collective denial of what we are. Far better to focus on what we think we should be. Somehow it exemplifies all the danger in life we were warned of – even though we happily live it with anyway. Weird stuff.