The Session #86: Beer Journalism

The SessionI am continuing in my recent trend of getting my Session posts up on the weekend rather than the actual first Friday of the month; it’s amazing how much time and focus book writing takes up, especially when you have to shift gears to focus on a different topic to write about! This month’s Session is hosted by the Beer Hobo, Heather Vandenengel, and she has suggested a topic which is kind of apropos to my own book project: 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?

In the spirit of tipping the hat when someone gets it right, please also share a piece of beer writing or media you love–it doesn’t have to be recent, and it could be an article, podcast, video, book or ebook–and explain a bit about what makes it great. I’ll include links to those articles as well in my roundup for easy access reading.

I say “apropos” because as I’ve been researching this history book, I’ve been reading a lot of older newspaper articles, many of which cover beer, and it’s interesting to view these storeis through the lens of the “beer journalism” that we’re talking about today.

There seems to be a bit of backlash towards beer journalism, which provoked this topic from Vandenengel, along the lines of, “Why is beer journalism so bad?” and “an industry with an almost total absence of real journalism.” Is that fair? I don’t think so, I think the beer journalists—the ones these sniping comments have in mind—are often as known thrown into a reporting topic by their newspaper or magazine editors and are simply struggling to keep up. I can’t fault them for that, but what does bother me is when their basic fact-checking fails, and egregious-yet-easy-to-verify errors end up getting published.

Case in point: a recent article on the Bend, Oregon brewing scene (a favorite topic of many beer articles of late) identifying the Bend Brewing Company as being established by brewer Ian Larkin! What!! And then identifies Tonya Cornett as having helped establish it as well! Seriously?

(In reality, BBC was established by Jerry Fox and Dave Hill in 1995, managed and now owned by Fox’s daughter Wendi Day, who hired Tonya Cornett in 2002. Cornett did put BBC on the map in a big way, but “establish” isn’t the right word. Ian Larkin, whom I profiled back in 2012, was Cornett’s assistant brewer who took over the head brewer role in 2012 when she left to join 10 Barrel.)

Now, are we distinguishing “beer journalist” from “beer writer” as described in the topic announcement? I think there’s certainly some overlap but I would reserve “journalist” to the paid professional reporter who is writing news for newspapers and periodicals, whereas “beer writer” is what I classify myself along with other bloggers and such. But, whichever hair you want to split, I think overall I believe the roles mentioned above—advocates, critics, storytellers—are all valid, as well as reporters, historians, marketers, and more, and those writers and journalists have ultimately helped advance craft beer by reaching a much wider audience.

Even so, there’s a lot of room for more and I think the potential for what can be accomplished has only scratched the surface. (And this even after blogging about beer for 10 years!)

Finally, our host requests that we share some beer writing that we love. Immediately my mind turns to Stan Hieronymus, who in my opinion is doing some of the best beer writing today. So I’m cheating a little in not sharing a specific example, instead pointing to Stan’s body of work on his blog. Stan simply is a great writer with a great perspective, and consistently prompts you to think beyond the beer. That’s what we should all strive for.

2 Responses to The Session #86: Beer Journalism

  1. Pete Dunlop says:

    The difference between a beer writer and a beer journalist is a beer journalist writes stuff the industry does not necessarily approve of. There are a zillion beer writers and very few beer journalists.

  2. Hmm yeah, that’s good. A much purer definition.