Happy April 1st! Unlike last year I’m not going to be engaging in any shenanigans: the start of a new month means it’s the Session, the monthly beer bloggery extravaganza. Also because the people at Consumer’s still make fun of me when I go in for having bought Miller High Life.
This month’s topic comes courtesy of Beer Hobo and is “Beer journalism”:
What role do beer writers play in the culture and growth of craft beer? Are we advocates, critics, or storytellers? What stories are not getting told and what ones would you like to never hear about again? What’s your beer media diet? i.e. what publications/blogs/sites do you read to learn about industry? Are all beer journalists subhumans? Is beer journalism a tepid affair and/or a moribund endeavor? And if so, what can be done about it?
This is a tricky subject for me, because I’m obviously on the other side of it. I’m somebody in the industry that’s being reported on, and so I suppose my word should be taken as suspect. Actually, just always take my word as suspect, just to be sure.
On the one hand, I’m not really sure what people are expecting from “beer journalism” if they’re complaining about fluff. Beer is a beverage. A damn good one and one to which I’ve devoted my life, but it is not “important” in the way that inspires hard-hitting investigative journalism ((Although I also admit that that’s not quite true, as I hope to prove relatively soon, but likely not on CBW’s site)). Heather of Beer Hobo quotes Jacob McKean of Modern Times Brewery:
In an industry with an almost total absence of real journalism, the cheerleading is virtually indistinguishable from the “reporting.”
Mindless adoration is definitely a bad thing for the industry: I’ve said before that I want you to like CBW’s beer because it’s good, not because we’re small or we’re local or we’re a “real” craft brewery. That said, I would not be here were it not for the cheerleading of people like Michael Jackson. So, I suppose, you have to identify what you’re criticizing: I say outward-facing cheerleading is absolutely necessary for the growth of craft beer, but inward-facing writing — the sort of navel gazing preaching to the choir that’s basically all I know how to do — can stand to be critical.
Which isn’t to say that there isn’t any criticism anywhere. One need only look to Alan McLeod to see some of craft beer’s excesses and haughtiness called out. He’s not alone: Ron Pattinson is another go-to curmudgeon for me. “Curmudgeon” here isn’t an insult: quite the opposite, in fact! It’s refreshing to see people who don’t follow the LEGO Movie manta of “everything is awesome.”
This issue also isn’t unique to beer. I used to be quite the video game afficionado and still keep up with a few blogs. The question of what games journalism should be and how it can sometimes be little more than a shill for PR companies has been around for years. Add to that the factor that many, if not most, game reviews are written about review copies — ones that were sent for free — and the problem gets worse. Beer blogging isn’t immune from this either: Ethan and I got our start with the now-defunct Beer-O-Vision blog and once received a box of beer for “review.” It is of course completely possible to get something for free and be objective about it, but I know I was much more forgiving about a game I was reviewing when I was going to send a link back to the company that made it.
So, then: what do I want from beer journalism? I’m not going to claim this is the only worthwhile approach, or even one I’d want from everyone, but this is my goal:
I want beer writing to be transformative.
I don’t want writing that’s just about the beer. I don’t want news, I don’t want press releases, I don’t want reviews. I want f(x), where x = beer and the function is the author.
I’ve been experimenting with that myself, of course, with Music Box and Risk Legacy and basically all of my non-brewery-news writing. Beer isn’t put in the background, but it’s not necessarily the focus either. Even when writing specifically about a beer I prefer to be a bit more broad, vague. Colorful. Maybe it’s all just me being up my own ass, and I’m okay with that. I much prefer self indulgent wankery to dry listings of facts.
Which brings us to another part of this month’s Session: to share a piece of beer writing that I love. It’s no secret that I adore Pete Brown‘s writing: Hops & Glory is one of my favorite books and I hope we get to it in an upcoming book club. His recent Man V #BrewBurger really exemplifies what I like:
And initially, the beer is less than the sum of its parts. It’s doing what a beer does, being all cold and refreshing and helping out with a bit of palate cleansing action. Despite the temperature there’s a big hit of chocolate and bourbon, but it becomes less interesting in the face of the onslaught of flavour the #BrewBurger is packing. And then, the retronasal action kicks in. Despite the trauma it’s endured over the last day or so, the beer comes out punching, sneaks around the back of the palate and pulls in that boozy spiritousness, completing a whole chain of flavour elements and making them sing harmonies. Bourbon Baby is a very good beer, even this cold, even this agitated, even up against this burger. And there you are: dirty food and dirty beer together playing magic on your palate like an idiot savant virtuoso pianist made out of chopped beef and malted barley. Yet another BrewDog idea that sounds like it might be trying a bit too hard on paper, but makes perfect, stunning sense when delivered.
Reading that post I realized that, at my best, I am just ripping off Pete Brown. I said this to Ethan and he responded he didn’t think that was the case, to which I replied that only meant I wasn’t doing a very good job of it.
Well. One day, maybe.
I occasionally include a Youtube video of the music I’m listening to while writing a post. It’s Soundcloud-only, but you really do need to check out Flaming Side of the Moon.