Considering a Good Beer Magazine

Dave Bailey, prompted by something Roger Protz said at the Beer Writers’ Guild meeting in London, Tweeted this:

First, the gender question: there might be something in that, but then there are ultra-specialist magazines which aren’t especially ‘gendered’, and there’s no reason why a beer magazine, if a decent one existed, couldn’t sit with the food mags. We know loads of blokes who buy and read cookery magazines. Everyone eats, after all, and, as it’s not the nineteen-fifties, quite a few blokes know their way around a kitchen these days.

Secondly, though, the content: what the hell do you put in a magazine about beer? Generalist food magazines fill their pages with recipes (‘Fifteen ten minute summer suppers’) and consumer reviews, but that wouldn’t work so well for beer, because it’s a finished product, not an ingredient. ‘One hundred great lagers’ might work, but, really, just reading a list of beers you probably won’t be able to find in your local shop, with some tasting notes, is not likely to be that inspiring or exciting to most people.

Really specialist magazines such as, say, Retro Gamer, do fill their pages every month, and sell well enough to keep going, but they do so by appealing to a minority audience of hardcore geeks, and, frankly, by repeating themselves. We bought it for a couple of years and stopped when we’d read the story of the founding of Atari for the third time. Another example, Computer Music magazine, relies on multipage ‘ultimate’ and ‘beginners’ guides to production techniques and product reviews and, again, repeats itself on a fairly regular cycle. It does not, apparently, have loyal readers.

A quarterly or yearly product might stand more chance of commercial succcess. We’d buy, say, Good Food Magazine’s Ultimate Guide to Beer 2013, in the ‘bookazine’ format, for a long train journey. Alternatively, there is the bleeding-edge-cool, beautifully designed subscription journal model. Gin & It, about booze, is already with us, and Mark from Real Ale Reviews has previously suggested that this football publication might be a good model for beer writing.

Realistically, beer is one facet of ‘drink’, which is one facet of ‘food and drink’, and it is probably too ambitious to expect consumers to support a publication with such a narrow focus. A decent couple of pages on beer in existing food magazines, and good quality regular columns in the lifestyle sections of newspapers and current affairs magazines, would do us.

UPDATE 12:33 12/6/2013

After we posted it came to light through Twitter that there are some plans afoot at Future Publishing.

50 thoughts on “Considering a Good Beer Magazine”

  1. There is a beer magazine, called Beer, published by the beard club.

    Never seen it on sale in a shop, like, though it has a price on the cover.

    1. I have suggested that if anyone were feeling the need for a mass-market beer magazine, building on the successful* small-market beer magazine that we’ve actually got might be a better approach than trying to invent something out of nothing. OTOH, I haven’t suggested this very loudly or persuasively, as I think you’d have to be crazy (or very very rich) to go into print publishing in 2013.

      *Obviously(?) not commercially successful, but successful as a magazine – nice-looking, well put together and very readable. You don’t read the letters and the back-page column and then put it aside for later (much later).

  2. I agree with you, I think a quarterly magazine is a great idea for beer.

    Problem with many beer magazines (or at least the ones I’ve seen) is that most of their contents seem to be tasting-note heavy reviews (which are utterly boring to read), advertorials and some spread on a brewery. There’s little in terms of stories proper

  3. Given a large proportion of the potential audience for such a mag probably already receive the excellent BEER via CAMRA, I’m not sure there’s enough of a market left out there for an additional priced publication, particularly in a world where there’s so many on-line resources also available.

    Of course, BEER itself could perhaps be made available on a separate subscription for those who are ideologically opposed to joining CAMRA, or through newsagents if that was commericially sensible for CAMRA.

    Otherwise , I think you’re right that the most likely way of building coverage would be the mainstreaming of beer journalism within in broader food and drink /lifestyle publications analogous to their treatment of wine (are there lots of separate wine periodicals ?). I would imagine there might also be some sort of market for more niche products focussing on things like home-brewing (where recipes are useful) and which might also provide a platform for some broader artciles on wider beery subjects.

  4. There have been beer specialty magazines in the past (trying to remember the name), glossy covers, advertising, on sale in newsagents and shops.

    No-one bought them, perhaps the market wasn’t there then, and now we have the internet instead.

  5. I’m not really convinced there’s sufficient community of interest to sustain a venture of this kind. As Reading Tom said, most of those who are interested in beer to the extent they would buy a magazine about it probably already get BEER, although obviously for ideological reasons that avoids any discussion of a large part of the beer market – including much that interests enthusiasts.

  6. Mudgie, I’d be up for an “Evil Keg” magazine, with first issue features on how to give all your money to BrewDog, how to make yourself heard at a cavernous craft beer bar and reviews of the best razors to remove a beard. Cookie could work out the funding.

    1. Lets use : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowdfunding

      We’ll launch “Grog” magazine when these tight as a nats chuff bloggers stump up enough. We’ll both get tidy expense accounts for getting pissed up on.

      You can write crap about beer. I’ll interview Nuts models about what they like to neck. We’ll pad it out with crap from beer blogs.

      We’ll be nice about anything we get sent for nowt

      When we go tits up we’ll do this : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_company

      1. You joke, but people, especially in the industry, did seem to like your writing, and might be willing to pay for more of it…

    2. I’m surprised[1] that Brewdog haven’t already done something like that as a carefully branded faux-fanzine complete with shoestring photocopier aesthetics cooked up at vast expense by a trendy design consultancy.

      [1] As in, I actually had to Google to check that it hasn’t already happened…

  7. A mainstream W.H. Smith mag on the general subject of beer? Probably not.

    Something quirkier, for a much smaller audience, which probably won’t make much (any) money? That could work, or at least be worthwhile, but it’d be run by beer writers as a route for other beer writers to express themselves. Not that there’s anything so wrong with that.

    1. You hit the nail on the head, fella. This isn’t a load of punters asking why they cannot buy a beer magazine, but a load of underemployed beer writers asking why they don’t get more work. Maybe the answer is a proper job.

    2. Something quirkier, for a much smaller audience, which probably won’t make much (any) money?

      Run that one past me again.

      1. Something quirkier, aimed at a niche market, which won’t really be a commercial project? Can’t think how else to express it.

          1. Did fanzines ever make money? Always assumed not, but you’d probably know better than me.

            Anyway, we’re talking not-really-for-profit labour of love territory here. It would need to (mostly) cover its costs, but not necessarily much more than that. For enthusiasts by enthusiasts, etc..

          2. Fanzines, fair enough – but anything beyond the level of DTP+photocopier+staples+mailout is too expensive to do as a vanity project, unless you’re Naim Attallah or somebody. Printing costs a ton, distribution costs more and unpaid hacks tend to leave (and grumble after they’ve left).

            To break even, you need to start with either a substantial mailing list of people who you know will pay big money to subscribe (the ‘newsletter’ route), or a huge mailing list of people who you know advertisers will want to reach. And thanks to that Internet, doing either of these is orders of magnitude harder now than it was 20 years ago.

    1. That’s close to spam, Roger! I’ll let you off, though, just this once…

      Pint in Hand is a good read, as are many local CAMRA magazines, though there aren’t many I’d pay a quid for.

  8. Are there actually any successful general wine magazines?

    I recall CAMRA producing a magazine for public sale in the early 1980s which I think might have also been called “What’s Brewing”, but it died the death after a few issues. I remember reading a feature about pubs in Portsmouth in one issue.

    I’d say pub reviews and travel features would need to be a major element of any successful beer magazine.

    1. But something beyond what you can get for free from blogs! I might pay for beautifully written and illustrated reports from far-flung places that tell me something I don’t already know.

  9. There’s tons of material for a mag–that’s not the trouble. Would anyone read it? With beer style, history, brewing regions, and interesting characters abounding, you could do a monthly rich with material.

  10. We have one in Canada, TAPS. Plus there is All About Beer in the US. There were more beer mags including in the UK before you lot got into beer blogging. I remember Stonch and I hectoring one’s poor publisher for ad back in around 2005 when we actually thought beer people actually were going to place ads on beer blogs and support them. Silly me. Yet, I am here, they are gone and Jeff runs a pub.

    1. I don’t think I’d buy any of those magazines even if I could easily do so.

      I’m now trying to work out *why*. Partly the design and tone, I think — they look like trade magazines (‘Flanges and Gaskets Monthly’) from twenty years ago. But also, yes, blogs. There are interviews with brewers, thought pieces, travelogues, etc.., available for free and, honestly, some of them are not too shabby in terms of their prose these days.

      1. I think it can be exaggerated to what extent blogs and print magazines overlap. For example, I buy a monthly music magazine, but I never read any blogs on the subject. And I’m only aware of two people in my local CAMRA branch who read my blog despite most being fairly web-literate. There is also something of an incestuous, preaching-to-the-converted aspect to blogs, whereas a magazine could just be left lying around in a pub for casual customers to pick up.

        1. Magazines are still, generally, the best place for longer pieces of writing, but that’s changing. I certainly wouldn’t buy a music magazine for reviews or news these days.

    1. That’s what triggered all this — Beers of the World came back for two issues this year, but has just shut up shop.

      1. Better designed than the local CAMRA mags are. And quite probably less ranting about “zombeers”, too.

        That reminds me, must pick up the latest “Ale Cry” from the Greyfriar in Preston. I could do with a laugh.

  11. Agree re: the more ‘artisan’ (expensive and sub-only) mags like Gin & It and Hot Rum Cow – lovely to look at but surely not massively profitable.
    So how do the americans do it – they have Draft, BA and All About Beer?

    1. Suspect it’s just a question of population — there are more of them so that even minority interest magazines can find enough readers to justify a monthly print run and distribution.

  12. I was a bit bemused by this post, since there are a whole raft of beer magazines in English, although as far as I know they are all American: BeerAdvocate, All About Beer, Beer Connoiseur, DRAFT, Beer Magazine, BYO Magazine, Beer and Brewing Magazine, etc. It seems a bit odd to discuss beer magazines as if none of these exist.

    Anyway, as you say, filling a monthly beer magazine is going to be a bit of a challenge. Even so, if you pick a few of the most active UK beer bloggers, between them they produce enough text to fill a decent magazine, so clearly it is possible.

    Probably my favourite beer magazine is Ølentusiasten (the Beer Enthusiast), published by the Danish Beer Enthusiast association. They do some of the obvious things, like a column on beer styles, interviews with brewers, reports on association events, things that happen in the market, various beer related news, and, being Danish, some unclassifiable things.

    In the last category: a profile interview with the guy who’s filled his house with beer t-shirts, a member’s report of the beery aspects of his trip to Malta (featuring a history of Farson’s intertwined with some writer’s Maltese crime novels), accounts of the editor’s Tour de Beer (an annual brewery-to-brewery-to-brewery-… biking trip round Denmark that any member can join), etc etc

    Of course it’s possible to fill a magazine on beer. You just need to be a bit creative.

    1. Those magazines might as well not as exist as we’ve never seen them for sale in hard copy anywhere in the UK.

  13. In the late 1990′s a beer magazine called Taste ran for a couple of years it attempted to combine elements of a beer magazine eg articles about brewing with Nuts type material eg photos of bikini clad bar maids and interviews with models about beer.The apparent reason for its failure was the inability of newsagents to place it in an appropriate display area it either ended up with cookery magazines or lads magazines

  14. There is a UK beer/brewery magazine ‘The New Imbiber’ whose focus is new British breweries and beers. It’s been going in it’s current form for around 8 years and succeeded the ‘Independent Imbiber’ which went on for a similar time. It’s edited by a long standing BGBW member and sent to subscribers and various pubs who stock it.
    However I do have an interest in the New Imbiber carrying out various functions so I’m biased!
    However I thought it should be mentioned in the melee of beer magazines.

    1. Interesting. We had vaguely heard of it but have never actually seen a copy in the real world.

      Devil’s advocate: why would we buy it rather than (or as well as) reading blogs?

  15. Why do beer mags–and I acknowledge the subjectivity of this word–suck? Because they rely on an outmoded business model wherein the subjects covered and advertisers are the same. This leads to something less than probing coverage of the industry, and forces an editorial slant that ignores stories that might cover a topic for which there are no advertisers, like Franconian beer styles and Zoigl stubes. The range of potential subjects is radically constrained, and the resultant mags have the feel of an in-flight magazine that pimps tropical island resorts.

    1. “The range of potential subjects is radically constrained, and the resultant mags have the feel of an in-flight magazine that pimps tropical island resorts.”

      Yes!

      1. I often feel that BEER comes across as a CAMRA equivalent of the National Trust house magazine. It does its best to avoid any criticism or negativity about anything, and it is constrained in its subject matter by CAMRA’s ideology. When Tom Stainer was made to apologise for praising a brewery-conditioned beer without saying it was such (Thornbridge Jaipur) there was a whiff of confessions at a Stalinist show trial.

  16. I’ll repeat the point I made at the BGBW AGM on the subject — the Netherlands has a glossy and very good beer quarterly, (Bier!), which has kept itself going commercially for several years now. That’s a country with under 100 breweries if you don’t count the beer firms, a fraction of the size of the UK and a language with only 23million native speakers even if you count the Flemish and Surinaams ones. Belgium has a glossy beer magazine, the not quite so good Bier Passie, also in Dutch, which must have been going for over a decade by now. There has to be a room for such a publication from the UK — though these days it would have to be smartly done with an online edition and content. But it has to be authoritative, well written, eclectic and appeal to the new beer audience — and sadly not all of these things could be said for Beers of the World. I gather also that the person who revived it insisted it should just be a print edition, despite the advice of the people they got to put it together that it should also have a strong online presence.

  17. “I gather also that the person who revived it insisted it should just be a print edition”

    Then whoever revived it is (1) an idiot and (2) deserved to fail.

  18. Unless I missed it, no one mentioned Beer & Brewer Magazine, published for the Australia and New Zealand markets.

    http://www.beerandbrewer.com/about

    In Toronto, a cigar store chain carries this, or did last time I looked. Not sure why, it may be a quirk of distribution. I used to buy it occasionally for the good light it shed on the consumer, trade and technical sides of beer and brewing in the Antipodes. Good quality photography and decent writing: it could be a model for the U.K. I think. Too bad about Beers of the World, I think it was a sister publication to Whisky Magazine, certainly England-based and still going strong.

    Also,

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