When bloggers and writers brew

Fame and Price Price and Fame Together Label

There have been quite a few beers brewed with the input of bloggers and writers in the last few years. In the past, we’ll admit the idea has made us squirm: how can a writer, especially one who reviews, be objective about a brewer’s beers if they’ve entered into this most chummy of commercial (though not necessarily financial) arrangements?

It doesn’t help that there is very rarely any disclosure. A blogger/writer paying their own train fare and contributing their time for free is in a different position to one whose name has, in effect, been ‘licensed’ in exchange for a bundle of crisp notes, but how can we tell them apart if people don’t tell us in a footnote?

We can see what’s in it for both parties, even if no money changes hands. Breweries build links with people who are, or might become, influential, and get to promote an image of themselves as adventurous. Writers get experiences which they can turn into multiple columns or blog posts; increase their technical knowledge; and boost their credibility. Both sides get a little boost to their profile.

Plus — and someone will no doubt tell us we’re being naive — it seems to us everyone is having tremendous fun, and we like that.

Would we be more inclined to buy a beer because it had a blogger’s name on the pumpclip or label? No. In fact, in most cases, we’d probably quietly avoid it if others were on offer — why would we choose the bastard child of a PR stunt and an amateur’s dabbling over a ‘proper’ beer conceived and made the usual way?

Update: here’s Leigh Good Stuff with a different view on the same subject.

40 thoughts on “When bloggers and writers brew”

  1. It maybe seems a little cynical given the current examples; the current contributions are at least from beer bloggers and writers. But I think it’s definitely a question worth asking – what if the blogger or writer was a chef, or a TV presenter, or a footballer, or a Big Brother winner? The third paragraph remains perfectly valid.

  2. I trust a beer blogger to have a bit more of a clue about brewing and make a better beer than a TV presenter or chef. The beers which featured the names of Messrs Stein, Fearnley-Whittingstall and Morrissey and Fox were all fairly rubbish, IMO.

    I have to say I quite like the whole collaboration thing in British beer at the moment. I’m a member of the beer bloggers’ club and will actively seek out the beers in which other club members participated, even when the results aren’t to my taste.

    Maybe it’s all just a way to sell beer to other beer bloggers. That’s got to be a massive market segment right there.

    1. The beer the chap from Countryfile made with Butcombe was pretty terrible, too. (We like the Rick Stein Sharp’s beer, though.)

  3. why would we choose the bastard child of a PR stunt and an amateur’s dabbling over a ‘proper’ beer conceived and made the usual way?

    I’m biased, obviously, because I did one of the series of collaboration brews that Brains set up with bloggers, but I don’t think collaboration beers can be dismissed as automatically not worth trying because some amateur has had a hand in putting them together.

    The professional brewer is in charge, a fair amount of money has been spent on ingredients – in my case more than half a tonne of Maris Otter, NOT the cheapest malt in the world – then there’s the tax that has to be paid, never mind the embarrassment to the brewery if it turns out the beer is crap: you can be pretty certain the brewery will ensure that the stuff is going to be, at the very least, drinkable, if only so they can shift enough of it to cover their costs. So the idea that this is somehow not going to be a “proper” beer compared to one that has only been thought up by certified members of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling is, I think, entirely wrong.

    Second, while brewers are perfectly capable of innovating on their own, bringing in a complete outsider can give everybody an interesting exchange of ideas and experiences: Bill Dobson at Brains confessed to me that in all his years as a brewer, he had never used Maris Otter before (in part because it’s so expensive).

    Third, these are experiments that should be welcomed in their own right: EVERY best-selling beer today started off as an experiment. Samuel Allsopp’s first IPA was an experiment. Even Arthur Guinness’s first stout was an experiment. While not every experiment succeeds, I’ll bet there will be a brewer/blogger collaboration one day that will become the brewer’s flagship beer, even if it doesn’t equal the sales of Old Speckled Hen (originally a one-off) or Spitfire (also originally a one-off). So don’t turn your back on the collaborations: you could be dismissing the next Stella Artois, also originally a one-off (um, :-) on that one …)

    I agree that everybody should be up-front about what they get out of their collaboration: for me, it was four free pints and a free pie and chips in the Goat Major in Cardiff (I paid my own train fare), two cases of Colonel Williams EIPA delivered to my home, two blog posts, and a huge amount of fun. Oh, and the confidence, having drunk it and heard the comments from other people, that I’d managed, amateur that I am, with the aid of some extremely professional people at Brains, to produce what was really rather a good beer.

    1. We will now pretend that final question wasn’t rhetorical…

      I think the point we’re making is that we’ll always try an interesting sounding beer because it sounds interesting, but having a blogger’s name on the label doesn’t automatically make it so.

      Admittedly, we’d probably take more seriously historic recipes with your’s or Ron’s name on the label, but that’s a quality assurance thing.

    2. two cases of Colonel Williams EIPA delivered to my home

      I am so green.

      [googles]

      Beer Ritz don’t carry it, the Bottle Shop Cardiff don’t have a Web presence to speak of so no idea if they do mail order… Ooh, Brains are selling it online – but only in batches of 18 330ml bottles! Give me your honest opinion, Martyn, am I going to get through six litres of the stuff?

      1. How could I say anything other than “Yes!” Seriously, as I haven’t tried the bottled version (because I’m not back in the UK yet), it would be wrong of me to advise, but the cask version fell right into the “dangerously moreish” category, particularly as it’s 6%.

  4. What Martyn said. I am much more cynical about collaboration brews brewer to brewer though. That’s a blog post I’ve already started working on. (In fact I emailed me from Spain to remind myself.)

    It certainly didn’t occur to me that a brewer might pay a blogger to do this. You can tell by this (until recently) no-one has asked me. I wouldn’t imagine for a moment that anyone would think of paying me, nor would I want paid. Has any blogger actually been paid?

    What I do like in this post is that you state your position. Like that a lot.

    1. “What I do like in this post is that you state your position. Like that a lot.”

      Oh, we do that more often than you give us credit for, it’s just that our position is usually that we can see both sides of the argument and are only ever-so-slightly inclined one way or the other.

    1. Not sure if anyone is because not everyone is doing the disclosure thing. We, like you, assumed no-one was, but Alan asked this question a while back making (as we read it) the opposite assumption, i.e. that cash was, and ought to be, changing hands.

      1. BTW, cash should, and ought to be, changing hands. As long as the consumer pays for the beer, the brewer ought to be paying all sources of input.

        1. We disagree, don’t we, on the value of experience, credibility, profile, pleasure, etc., to the blogger/writer?

          1. The marketplace decides upon the value, not you or I. If the brewer is interested in having the input and then sells it, there is no disagreement on value as the value is established through the sale. It is simply that the brewer pockets the consulting beer thinker’s share.

            But you may stand aside. You may ethically wish to refrain from that functioning “marketplace” of ideas but that is what it is when it operates. I dip my toe into it a couple of times a year when I get a press pass and/or half a hotel room. But there is always value. One may choose, as you do, not to participate with the value proposition… which is quite fine.

          2. I was at the same event as Alan. Like him, I got a hotel room and free beer, plus in my case a plane ticket to Canada. In return, I helped brew a beer and gave a talk. The research and writing for the talk took around 60 hours of my time. I found the basic recipe for the beer, which was in an obscure Dutch. I don’t consider myself to have been wildly overpaid.

            In about an hour my first post on the topic will appear, including full disclosure of what I got out of it.

  5. The collaborations all look like good fun, and if I wasn’t a brewer I’d leap at the chance in the unlikely event an offer came my way.

    But as a writer if you then want to make further comments about that brewery it is going to leave you open to suggestions that you’re biased. I’ve certainly thought that when myself at times when reading some writers …

  6. I don’t think any blooger/beerwriter has ever been paid, I certainly haven’t — and I woulnd’t want to be. I’m not a brewer but spend a lot of my working time writing about beer and breweries and the people in them and it’s only natural that I wonder what might happen if x goes with y and I’m happy when Otley, Arbor and Sharps come along and say come down for the day (they are the three I have done a beer with recently, but I did do one with Moor Brewery in 1999, I think it was wheat beer called, rather imaginately, TJ Wheat). I’m all in favour but I don’t become a brewer just cause I shovel a few grams of wet malt

  7. I think the payment is a bit of a side topic – though I have to admit I was recently put up in a hotel snoring for the benefit of Craig and was given a ID that gave me unlimited beer, a power I wielded with modesty but not undue modesty. Remember the golden rule. There is no money in beer… or at least brewers would not know how to bribe or even co-opt a blogger if their life depended on it.

    The point for me is how little the beer blogger adds, Martyn’s description above aside. Most beers seem to be more like commission work – a description of the goal as opposed to sharing of technique. This does not make it unpleasant but it leads me to consider, like Tandleman above, how little a role the minor brewer to brewer collaborator plays. Recently, a tweet was posted about how one collaboration consisted of an email conversation and an appearance at lunch. Too often these things appear to be branding and a branding of such a shallow nature, given the actual cache that either a beer writer or a brewer actually brings. So, I better know and trust the beer writer and also I better like the idea before I am spending my own money. But free samples at a beer fest? Sure, why not.

  8. ‘why would we choose the bastard child of a PR stunt and an amateur’s dabbling over a ‘proper’ beer conceived and made the usual way?’

    I can kind of see what you mean here, but I think it is slightly over egging the pudding. When I went out to Devils Backbone to brew a Czech tmave, it wasn’t (from my perspective) a ‘PR stunt’, and given I am hardly a world renowned beer blogger I doubt it was from their perspective. It all came about from lots of conversations with the brewer about the differences between German dark lagers and Czech.

    The process of actually coming up with the recipe, the ‘dabbling’ you might say, was one of several months reading brewing articles and texts in various languages, speaking with Czech brewers and maltsters about the kinds of malts that would be used in an authentic tmave, hopping schedules and lagering plans – it was a thoroughly fascinating exercise in itself.

    While it is true that I ‘designed’ the recipe, there was a lot of input from Jason, the brewer at Devils Backbone, kind of similar to Martyn’s experience at Brains – although Jason had previously used all the malts we used that day. Even though I had an idea in my head about how I wanted the beer to turn out, it was purely the skill of Jason and his crew that made that vision a reality.

    With regards to what was in it for me, similar to Martyn I got a free lunch, many samples of beer, a great day with a brewer I very much respect, to choose the name of the beer (sad git that I but I got a big buzz from that), and when everything was lagered and ready a couple of free growlers. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Now, for our next brewday, when we do the tmave again in a couple of weeks, I will have to orchestrate the conversation to the other, other Czech beer style, ‘polotmave’ or ‘half dark’…

    1. “…I think it is slightly over egging the pudding.”

      We were wallowing in the pleasure of our own rhetoric a bit, there, that’s true.

  9. Personally, I’m really proud of the beer I made happen (I didn’t brew it, but I was the one who brought the pieces together). Though all this wouldn’t have happened If I wasn’t a blogger of some renown, I lived it more as a thing I did together with a couple of friends, one of whom happens to be a brewer, who helped put together the recipe, the other happens to be a pub owner, who suggested a brewery that would be interested in doing this and arranged things with them.

    We had a lot of fun, quite a lot of beer and some really great food while “working”, I made a couple of new friends, and as beer lover, it was a great experience , I learnt a lot. Most important, though, is that the beer has turned out to be great, and the people that drank it at Slunce v Skle really loved it and it seems that the beer might become a permanent member of the Kocour’s portfolio.

    All that said, I want to do it again, and I might.

  10. “Would we be more inclined to buy a beer because it had a blogger’s name on the pumpclip or label? No. In fact, in most cases, we’d probably quietly avoid it if others were on offer — why would we choose the bastard child of a PR stunt and an amateur’s dabbling over a ‘proper’ beer conceived and made the usual way?”

    I have to say, I can’t believe my name (or for that matter any other beer bloggers name) on a pump clip or tap handle would have any effect on 99.99% of those buying beer—whether I was involved in making that beer or not, paid or otherwise. Realistically how many people know who we are? There are far better ways breweries might go about promoting their product, than putting my name on the bottle.

  11. Alan — but I mean the writer might feel they’ve got enough out of the experience without a cash payment. (Also, from what we’ve read here and there, any beer writer, and especially any mere blogger, asking for payment to brew in the UK would get laughed out of town…)

    On a related note, did you spot in Pete Brown’s latest post the line about being asked for ‘insight’ into the craft beer trend on the expectation that he would do so for free? When he cited a price, they backed away. Cheeky bastards. (We got paid for our talks at Eden the other week, because that was work.)

    1. I think it all depends on how you take it. I didn’t take the day at the brewery as “work”, for me it was a great day out with a couple of mates and there’s no money that can pay that.

      Talks, tastings, hosting beer dinners, that’s something else, I’ve done those and I got paid, because as you say, it’s work: I was expected to show up in time, in decent shape and I had to “entertain” a bunch of people that were there to listen to someone like me. That’s something I wouldn’t do for free, brewing, on the other hand… (unless my wisdom at thinking beers up becomes so appreciated that I will be getting calls every week or so, but I doubt such thing is ever going to happen)

      Pete was fair, he’s got many years of experience in beer marketing, he was right in asking them for money (not because they are big multinational, but because they wanted the advice a renown professional could give).

      1. And also, by way of explanation, I am a person who makes money giving advice and am not all that interested in watching one part of my advice giving being devalued compared to the rest. You want my time and experience to make money? Share the money. I am, after all, nobody’s cousin in any of this. On the other hand, I think I am pretty generous with my non-advice giving time and resources in other contexts.

      1. I think in your case the cash offer was entirely just and right, Ron – the Past Masters series was/is an on-going commercial venture by Fuller’s, they were genuinely using your genuine expertise in interpreting old brewery logs, and they were correct in believing they should pay for it. I was paid when I appeared in a Fuller’s promotional video, because I was talking about the history of brewing, using knowledge I had that others didn’t, and it was no different to me being paid to write a beer history piece for What’s Brewing or whomsoever.

          1. Entirely agreed. Fullers should pay and give beer and pay for travel and expenses. Seeing as they have no product without your participation, why not?

            Really, this discussion is pointing out to me how abused beer writers have been, how they have had beaten out of them the understanding of the validity and value of their set of knowledge.

  12. Put it this way. I estimate the brewery spent $1,000 to $1,500 on the part of the fest that related to the group I was connected with. No laughter at all. People were flown from the far end of North America and across the Atlantic with no hint of a smirk. All on request and all part of expenses well covered by revenues and well deserved if the reception of attendees were anything to do by… including sales of beers in question.

    So, laughed out of town over there? Too bad. Because beer thinkers can make for a better fest, better beer and also frankly better revenues. Maybe your marketplace of beery ideas is just behind us over here.

  13. I hate collaborations, my first taste was Thornestar that tasted like they had just mixed two of their beers together, as for bloggers , has many people really heard of them? Most bloggers just really talk to each other by the look of all the comments on them or am I wrong?

    1. Hmm. You’re probably right that not many people have heard of most bloggers, but then Mark Dredge has thousands of followers on Twitter and a book due; and even we (minnows that we are) get a pleasing number of comments from people who don’t blog. Martyn (see above) and Ron Pattinson are getting to be household names amongst beer geeks, especially across the channel.

      1. Baseball gloves are sometimes “signed”—that is to say, a facsimile of a famous baseball player’s signature has been burned into the leather. I, myself, had a Ron Cey glove. I can truly say that had no bearing on me buying that particular mitt.

        That being said, I agree with Alan that beer writers, geeks, bloggers and enthusiast can add something to the mix, I just don’t think that thing is simply them lending their name. Think of it as a back end approach, rather than a marketing gimmick.

  14. hi – beleive it or not, I missed out on your post before writing mine – I have been thinking about this for a while too, after I caught myself thinking ‘not again’ when another brewery announced another colab. However, It was the very morning I was off to brew at Rev’s – so the hypocrite in me surfaced for a little there!
    I think my thought came from over-exposure, rather than any kind of dislike. As you can tell, I’m generally for them, although beleive 100% that a bloggers name will not really sell the beer. There was no need – and no suggestion – that my name would ever appear on the clip of our latest colab. Why? Bloggers, ultimately, serve a niche market. Drinkers, by and large, won’t have heard of Pete Brown or Melissa Cole, either. Or Mark Dredge or Marverine Cole. These little dips into the mainstream are fun for everyone involved but still of much more worth to the niche.
    It’d be good to know what a brewer’s thoughts on this are. Why did you ask ======= to come and work with you for the day?

    However- i’d like to think that my work within our lovely little niche will lead to more brewdays and opportunities to create something unique – which for many of us (amateur writers, working in other fields, unable to compete with the ‘pros’ no matter how hard we work – or seemingly the quality of our work) provides a little excitement and an opportunity to experience a drinker drinking ‘your’ beer and enjoying it.

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