I’ve finally decided to take a stab at The Session. For those that don’t know, the Session is a monthly question posed to beer bloggers across the interwebs. The question can be about nearly anything in the beer world, and the question can be suggested by nearly anyone. This month’s question was put to the web by Heather Vandenengel of Beer Hobo, and poses the question: “What role do beer writers play in the culture and growth of craft beer? Are we advocates, critics, or storytellers?”
For my own personal taste in what I like to read in beer journalism, I find myself reading the pieces that approach subjects like a story. I can understand a beer better when I know the surroundings and the company that this beer or brewery were shared over. I realize that is a bit hypocritical of me, given my rather precise beer reviews, but it is something I have been working to change for a while now with my own writing. As far as online beer journalism goes, I like a nice quick story. I hate reading long pieces (again, that is a problem with my own work) and I often find myself skipping through them to get to the good parts, like how the writer felt about the beer/brewery/etc…
I think that beer writers as a whole are a nice mélange between critic, advocate, and storyteller. We are a subjective bunch, and beer is a subjective subject, so our critiques are really only as valid as our own personal understanding of beer, nothing more and nothing less. The way a beer writer draws someone in is by setting a scene and telling a story about the beverage that they are so passionate about. Half of what makes craft beer so cool is the people and places that the beer and brewery interact with, and beer journalists are some of the best people to go out and find these stories and then present them to the masses.
I realize this is long and rambling, but I do want to take a moment to note what many others have said of beer journalism. Often times, beer journalism is awful. The journalist’s research is all wrong, their history is completely fabricated, and their opinions lose all credibility because they just seem to know nothing about the subject. That happens quite a lot, and usually ruffles my feathers. At the same time, however, I understand that for someone not in the craft beer geekdom, to step in and try to write a piece is rather difficult and the plethora of misleading information is quite vast. Even those within the industry are still on their own personal path through the beer world, and are still learning the industry and liable to not know something of the vastness that is the beer world. Yes, it is their fault for not researching deep enough, but it is understandable.
Fucking up isn’t that hard when you have to write a piece in a week and your research is done primarily over the internet and through outdated documents. Beer journalism is still young, and is still finding its footing. I’m not entirely positive, but I would bet that the same could be said of wine journalism, even though it is slightly older. Professionalism and hard pressed facts come with time as the collective human experience (i.e. the internet) discovers more and more about a subject.
This, of course, does not begin to address the issue of cheerleading and how many beer journalists are simply cheering on their favorite breweries, and are not properly reporting from a journalistic point of view. That, too, will come with time, I suspect, and even then, we as humans are subjective, and we as writers will always have our favorites. The same can be said of most sports journalists and their favorite teams. Yes they try to remain unbiased, but they are passionate about their field and will undoubtedly have their favorites. Such is life. Such is journalism.
To conclude my rant: Beer journalism in 2014 is very biased and ill researched, but it is a young craft, and even when it gets old it will still be a subjective art reported by those that are passionate about the subject. The true power of beer journalism is telling the story of the people and places behind the beer, and these stories cannot help but be biased. That is what makes them entertaining to read! The future is bright for beer journalists as they evolve and change. Sure, the ‘bubble pop’ might be coming, but even after that good beer will be made and someone will have to tell us all about it.
To end, as Ms. Vandenengel requested, I’ll direct you to a piece of beer writing that I recently enjoyed. Truthfully, I might as well just say the whole damn site since I only discovered it two months ago, but the work that Michael Kiser and company are doing over at Good Beer Hunting is unique and eye catching. They blends rustic, artsy photography with beer storytelling and lay out a nice image of the breweries and people that they report on. I also love their coverage of Goose Island and how they have not given up on the brewery, despite the whole AB Inbev debacle. I’ve linked here a lovey quick piece he did on Brasserie Dunhams, who I have never heard of but now am thinking about planning a visit to. Here is the link.
Cheers and beers.