The Beer Hacker: Writing a Beer Blog: Part 2: Finding Stuff to Write About

Back in Part 1 of this mini-series I covered how to start a blog. The question that often arises after starting one is, what do I write about? In the case of a beer-themed weblog, you’ll want to stay on topic, but there are a bunch of options: news, other beer blogs, beer tastings, brewery reviews, and more.

Of course, the reality is, the sky’s the limit—but to keep things simple I’ll cover a few of the broader categories.

Beer news

There are a number of very good beer publications out there which cover the gamut of beer-related news: Celebrator, BeerAdvocate Magazine, Ale Street News, and so on.

But this is a focus on the online world, and accordingly there are a number of very good online resources for beer news. Let’s examine several.

  • Google News logoGoogle News
    Google’s description of their news offering says it best: "Google News is a computer-generated news site that aggregates headlines from more than 4,500 English-language news sources worldwide, groups similar stories together and displays them according to each reader’s personalized interests."

    The real value Google brings to this continuous news compilation is, naturally enough, in search. Google’s search flexibility works just as well here, so you can query with something as simple as "beer", or use complex queries like "+beer +(brewing OR brewery) -busch -miller -coors".

    The other plus with Google News is that you don’t have to manually search the site every time you want the latest updates; you can sign up for their email alerts and/or their RSS feeds (RSS is covered below).

    Email Alerts send you an email, once a day, for each search you’d like to set up—that is, any news flagged with "beer" (for instance) will be compiled and emailed to you in a summary once a day, just as if you’d visited the site and typed it in yourself.
     

  • Topix logoTopix
    Another aggregated news source similar to Google News that uses a combination of automatic and real-life editors to compile news. Topix offers a couple of beer categories (here and here) that are fairly relevant and feel more "edited" than the automated Google results seem at times.

    For instance, when Google’s automated system will just as willingly pull in a story about a robbery involving beer, Topix’s results would bypass that story, and tend to be more appropriately focused.

    And, like Google—indeed, like all of the sources I’m recommending here—you don’t have to visit the site every day to get the latest news; you can get it via RSS feeds.
     

  • Newsvine logoNewsvine
    This is a "social news" site, where the community of users is able to vote and comment on the stories. Like the other news sites, news is aggregated from thousands of sources (including the Associated Press directly). But it’s the social aspect of the site that makes it interesting.

    In theory, the most relevant beer news (as determined by the voting users of the site) will filter to the top.

    You’ll need to register with the site to be able to vote on stories (registration is free), but not required just to read the news.

    The Newsvine page for beer is here, with links for RSS feeds available.

Blogs & RSS feeds

Feed iconOf course, often the best way to get the latest beer information is to go to the source: the blogs. Yes, I’m considering blogs a primary source: aside from the personal blogs, many of the professional beer writers have them, a number of professional brewers and breweries have them, and more and more brewers (or their marketing agencies) are reaching out to bloggers first with samples and new products to review.

In fact, I’d venture to say we’re somewhere near a beer blogging tipping point—look at the rapid growth and spread of The Session (an entirely blogger-launched event), for instance: I’m thinking it’s only a matter of time before that "breaks out" of the beer blogging world and gains notice elsewhere in the "mainstream" world.

So it makes sense—no, it’s basically a requirement—to follow the beer blogs if you’re going to write your own. The easiest way to do this is to use a news reader application and subscribe to the various RSS feeds that are out there.

A "news reader" is a program that essentially aggregates all the content of the blogs (or other sites—they don’t have to be just blogs) into one location, automatically. It’s subscription-based, so you get to choose what to follow. And it’s enormously convenient—you don’t have to remember or bookmark every single blog you want to read every day.

An "RSS feed" is an alternative version of the site’s content, bundled up in a coded format that is easy for other programs to use or display. A term you’ll often see in referring to this is "syndication" or a "syndicated feed"—as in, "syndicating" the site content for other purposes. News readers subscribe to these to easily follow updates.

Going into the details of setting up a news reader is beyond the scope of this article, but I’ll point you to two that I like: Google Reader and Bloglines. Both are entirely web-based, so you don’t have to install special software on your computer to run—just open them up in your browser. And both are very easy to use.

Once you’ve set yourself up with a news reader, you can start adding subscriptions to it. This is basically as simple as copying and pasting the URL of the site in question into the news reader form (a good news reader will do the rest).

For sites that aren’t blogs, but do have RSS feeds (like the various news sites I discussed above), the procedure will be a little different. You’ll want to look for the symbol on the page that denotes the RSS feed; typically it’s something like:

Feed icon or XML icon

So where do you start? Well, here’s a beginning list of blogs you can check out:

I hate to make it seem as though I’m showing a bias here, though; for a much more thorough list, check out my reading list page.

Beer tasting notes/reviews

Pint of beerAny regular reader of my site knows that a fair amount of my blog posts are beer reviews. Simply put, reviewing beer is a great and guaranteed way to have stuff to write about.

Make sure to keep notes on the beers you’ve tasted; I have a notebook at home that is filled with my tasting notes, and every time I have a beer that I have yet to review, I write down my impressions as I drink.

Your method might vary, of course, but I follow a basic, somewhat standard format:

  • Appearance: How does it look when it’s poured into the glass? What color is it? Is it clear or murky? What does the head look like?
  • Smell: Inhale nice and deep several times. What does it smell like? Any particular aromas standing out? Something unusual? Smells you wouldn’t normally associate with beer?
  • Taste: My first few sips I tend to swish around the mouth and savor the flavor, not unlike tasting wine. What are the big flavors? What are the subtle ones? Does any particular flavor stand out?
  • Mouthfeel: How does it feel in your mouth? Thin? Thick? Syrupy, or soapy? Dry, or fizzy?

I tend to just regurgitate my notes word-for-word to my review, with some additional commentary if I feel it’s warranted. I like to link to the beer reviews on BeerAdvocate and RateBeer, too, to give a balanced, "general" view on what people think of the beer.

Most importantly, be honest in your review—don’t be afraid to be negative if you don’t like the beer.

Brewery reviews

Brewpub samples (Pelican Pub)Much in the same vein as beer reviews, you can write about the breweries you visit. Myself, when I visit a brewery these days, I try to have my notebook along with me to take notes (especially if it’s a brewery I’ve never before visited), as well as a camera to take pictures.

Since I’m not really covering any new ground here, here’s a few tips:

  • If the brewery offers a sampler tray of their beers, try that; an essential part of the review is, of course, the quality of beer the brewery offers.
  • Pictures, pictures, pictures! (If you can manage that.)
  • Be sure to review the food, too, if you eat there; if the beer is great but the food isn’t, that’s good to know.
  • What beer(s) do you recommend?
  • Like reviewing beer, be honest! If you don’t like something about the brewery, say so.

So that’s about it, four general ways to help you come up with things to write about for your (new?) beer blog. Remember, though, the sky is the limit; by no means limit yourself to what I’ve explored here—be creative! Join The Session each month! Write about homebrewing! Beer and food!

The possibilities are almost endless, so what are you waiting for?

3 Responses to The Beer Hacker: Writing a Beer Blog: Part 2: Finding Stuff to Write About

  1. Al says:

    If I may humbly suggest, if you’ve found a topic you want to write about, you can find what other beer bloggers have said about it by using the Beer Blog Search Engine.

    http://hop-talk.com/2007/08/01/beer-blog-search-engine/

    I use most of the resources you mentioned, and all the blogs you mentioned are already in my RSS reader. (Google Reader FTW!) I missed Newsvine though; that has some promise.

    Of course, if we all use the same sources, we’ll all just be repeating one another.

  2. Jeff says:

    Another cheap way to work up a post is to go to other blogs, see what they’re doing, and link back to them. I say cheap because it requires almost no work on the blogger’s part; on the other hand, linking around to other sites is what gives the blogosphere its richness.

  3. Josh says:

    I’ve recently started a beer blog using much of the advice you have here. The google news alerts is a good tip that I plan to add to my bag of tricks though!

    Would love to hear some feedback on my efforts so far: http://www.kegsandkitchen.com