Friday, April 16, 2010

THE 5 MOST BORING TOPICS IN BEER JOURNALISM

“Beer journalism”. Now there’s an oxymoron, hunh? Well, as someone embedded on the beer-soaked “front lines” of “emerging media”, I think that those of us who write about beer are certainly ripe for mockery, myself included. I force myself to slog through innumerable blogs about my favorite liquid – the best of which are lined up on the right-hand side of this page. I subscribe to print magazines BEER ADVOCATE, DRAFT and ALL ABOUT BEER. I also pick up free papers THE CELEBRATOR, ALE STREET NEWS and NORTHWEST BREWING NEWS whenever I see them.

I understand there’s yet another new beer-themed glossy magazine called BEER CONNOISSEUR hitting the stands these days, and it’s one I’ve yet to pick up. Let’s hope they don’t run these hideously boring, overflogged beer stories into the ground the way the others have. Here they are for your groaning pleasure, The 5 Most Boring Topics in all of Beer Journalism:

1. “A tribute to craft brewing’s pioneers”. This is the most trite and stale of all beer magazine perennials. Everyone, but everyone, has penned their snore-inducing salute to Fritz Maytag or Jack McAuliffe or Jim Koch or that Sierra Nevada guy or the guy who started the Horse Brass Tavern or……OUCH. That was my head hitting the table. I swear I saw three of these articles just this month.

2. “Women brew beer, too”. Oh wow, that’s amazing. And some wear pink boots instead of black ones? Wow, that’s just like a girl, isn’t it? How can women brew beer when they can’t even vote? Oh wait, they’re allowed to vote now? Wait, you’re telling me they let them into the military these days? Well, shut my mouth. Maybe some of them even brew beer, too? Let’s write a 5-page piece on this phenomenon, just like every other magazine has!

3. “Cooking with beer”. Beer Advocate wastes four or more of their thin, scant pages every issue on recipes that no one ever cooks; recipes whose only unifying theme is that someone thinks they’ll be improved by mixing in a few ounces of beer into the kettle or pan. And it’s not just any beer – no, most specify that you need “1 bottle of Victory Hop Wallop” or “6 ounces of Lost Abbey Avant-Garde” in order to make the recipe a success - which I highly doubt. Other magazines have this as a running feature as well. Can we admit that no one except for gastronome alcoholics follow these?

4. “Budweiser, Miller and Coors are faceless corporations who don’t make beer that I like”. This is less an article/topic as it is an overplayed trope, one that shows up in countless articles and whinging about “Michelob Wheat” or “Budweiser Amber Bock” or anything that even remotely encroaches on craft beer’s precious territory. It just makes some people so……angry that the Bad Guys might try to mass-produce their swill in a form that might open up new markets – you know, like a profit-driven company might do. Honestly, why people pay any attention to these companies is beyond me.

5. “Beer is to be shared with friends”. This is a misty-eyed, maudlin staple of the columnists, who probably write these identical snoozer columns while drunk & alone at home. I can usually spot the retch-inducing, watery-eyed sentimentality in the column headline, but sometimes I’m fooled and my eyes travel down the page to a gagging pack of clichés about beer’s amazing ability to act as a social lubricant, how beer drinkers are the best damn group of humans on the planet, and honestly, if we’d all just grab a pint with our buddies more often, the planet would cool, war would end, and communities would be reborn. “Just as in Ireland, where the pub is actually the hub of social life in many towns”.

I recognize that I’m probably guilty of more than my share of hackneyed, clichéd writing – there’s no doubt that penning beer reviews can get a little, uh, samey after a while – yet I call upon the “beer journalists” of America and indeed the world to please retire each of these 5 topics, forthwith and immediately. Doing so will instantly elevate craft beer into Valhalla, and kill off the big evil beer corporations once and for all, upon whose grave you may dance while celebrating Fritz Maytag’s historic achievements.

19 comments:

Rational Realist said...

Bravo! Beer journalists seem like such a "clubby" group with disdain for the bloggers. Most, if not all, the useful information I get on beer is from bloggers not the professional beer writers. The five topics you mention are tired and appear too often. I expect cliches from bloggers, but the professionals are just as guilty, plus many are just poor or lazy writers. (One "beer journalist" seems to work the word "bevy" into every article he writes.) Good for you for calling out the "professionals," they need to improve their craft.

The Beer Connoisseur is a pretty good magazine, very glossy, but it is South-centric. If you pick up a copy, see if you can spot Mr. Bevy.

Rational Realist said...

Forgot to comment on that BeerAdvocate cooking article. That's the worst. Those recipes are unappetizing and the ingredients are impossible - the article is a complete joke. The only thing worse than the recipes are the accompanying pictures. If the recipes don't stop you, the pictures will.

Aaron said...

Hilarious piece. I, for the most part, quit reading beer journalism a long time ago and I've never been happier.

Stan Hieronymus said...

As somebody who has written for several of those publications but also blogs . . . I'd suggest that an interesting test is just around the corner.

Topic 6 on your list could be "Collaborations." What print publication hasn't covered that topic at least once? Two of them even used the same lead. Now bloggers will be tackling the subject on the first Friday in May.

There's still plenty new to say, but will bloggers?

Alan said...

I don't know what there is new to say about collaborations. Two people one brew. It's not like the stuff pours like multi-coloured toothpaste.

Sean said...

I thumbed through a copy of All ABout Beer at Borders or B&N once or twice and you have hit the problems spot on. The only thing you missed is that most of the writing is deadly boring, no matter what subject is being written about.

Robert said...

Amen. #4 is my favorite--you might call it the "shooting fish in a barrel" story--and (gulp) one I've been guilty of stumbling into more than once in the past. Never again. I promise!

johnfoster said...

you should add number 6 which is lists of top 25, 50 , 100 beers and the places to drink in no particular order.

Bryan Kolesar said...

Great list, Jay. I wouldn't give up on the ability to unearth new content in some of these areas. But, unfortunately, we all can be liable at some point or another for contributing to lazy/boring/retread writing on such topics.

Though, so that I can add to the list, I've got a spinoff of #2...

While I love the worthy topic of beer and food pairings...dinners, of course...

...I'm frankly weary of not just the perfectly staged still pictures of a plate of food and its purported beer pairing (particularly the ones of the plate of food with the beer behind it) ...but, the label 'beer porn' just absolutely grates on me like a cheese grater against a block of parmesan with a goblet of gueuze in the background.

I counted 4 headlines in one day last week that used the word 'porn' in it when relating to beer and/or food and/or wine.

Then again, I can't stand the word 'yummy' either. Maybe it's just me?

Lauren said...

This is so true! I'd like to see some original content, but it is so tough since beer is something that is pretty consistent.

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Eric Braun said...

I write the weekly beer column for the San Antonio Express-News, but I'm pretty much a digital guy. My real job here is the website editor/manager.

I'm actually putting together a cooking with beer piece, but that will likely run somewhere other than the beer/wine/spirits page.

I also wrote a women and craft beer story earlier this year. I don't see that one as being that bad of an idea. All of the women I interviewed had interesting stories to tell. I tried to stay away from the "gee whiz, women drink good beer too!" angle.

I like coming up with brand new ideas and topics for every column but something that's print-worthy 52 weeks a year is kind of tricky.

Who out there does a good job of coming up with new things to say?

I like Joe Sixpack from Philly, he does some unique stuff.

Ashley said...

Whereas I understand where this argument is coming from and I agree with most of it and everyone's comments, there is one thing everyone is missing -- THE WHO.

Many of the commenters in this post have been in the beer scene for years, if not DECADES. It is understandable that you all are "over" those 5 beer topics.

However, we need to acknowledge that there is an entirely NEW wave of NEW craft beer drinkers in the industry. These people may not have been exposed to Fritz Maytag's story. They might be new to the collaboration concept. They might need a bit of guidance "top spots to drink craft beer" etc...

Not everyone reading these publications is seasoned veteran of the brewing world. Some of them are newbies and some are potential converts.

Now having said that, I prefer blogs as well. Not just because I have my own and write for a few others, but because I am a product of my technology obsessed generation -- I want information and I want it now.

Great post. Thanks!

Jay said...

Re: johnfoster - I myself happen to enjoy lists of favorite beers; those are a consumer-centric way to figure out what others are drinking and enjoying, and since I don't have the time nor the liver to drink everything, I feel well-put-together lists of beers are actually a huge service to me and likely to others.

re: Eric Braun's question, "Who out there does a good job of coming up with new things to say?". Maybe beer just isn't that interesting at the end of the day. That's why, to me, the blog format works for something as inherently boring and subjective as beer - totally low-stakes, with low expectations from readers - and no one's getting paid, either. The only stuff that's interesting to me at all in this world is learning about what I should try next - or maybe a new place to try it in. For that, I recommend any of the blogs linked on the right-hand side of my own.

Anonymous said...

Funny list Jay. One of my pet peeve beer topics is "Drink Local!!". It just seems like preaching to the choir to me. Anyone reading a beer mag either does this already or doesn't do it because their local sucks. A beer fanatic can't live on local beer alone! OK, maybe if you live in Santa Rosa.

-scott

Jay said...

Scott - "Drink Local" is a great one. I wish I had thought of it. That phrase needs to be banned starting today as well.

Alan said...

I like it when you have the "Drink Local!" story right next to another on a New England Brewery collaborating with a West Coast one at a pairing dinner in Texas.

SC said...

LOL at item number one. I mentioned three of those dudes in one of my first posts. Point taken. :)

Mario (Brewed for Thought) said...

Scott, I totally disagree. I drink locally all the time...

Oh wait, I live in Santa Rosa. ;)

(Is also guilty of coming up with this month's Session topic)

Joe Stange said...

I'm going to agree wholeheartedly on 4 out of 5 and take exception to No. 3. I've never met Sean Paxton, nor attended one of his dinners, but if they filled an entire magazine full of his recipes and photos I would buy it. I love to cook, eat, and drink beer, thus I love to read recipes about cooking with or pairing with beer. I doubt I'm alone.