Category Archives: Blogging and writing

Going Long in August 2014

Reading in the pub (illustration)

We’re writing something longer than usual (1500+ words) for Saturday 30 August 2014. Join us!

Our last attempt to nudge the Blogoshire into providing us with meatier reading material was on 1 March, following on from similar exercises in November and September last year.

This time, to give people time to recuperate and work on their masterpieces, we thought we’d set a longer deadline, hence 30 August.

Here’s the deal if you want to join in:

  • Write something longer than usual. (Our standard posts are 300-700 words long, so we aim for at least 1500 before we consider it a ‘long read’.)
  • You could just stretch a normal post out by adding lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of unnecessary words, phrases, sentences, and indeed paragraphs. But that’s quite the point. Instead, choose a subject which requires more words.
  • We’re not in charge and there are no ‘rules’; you can write what you like, post when you like; and you don’t have to mention us or link to this blog in your post. (Though of course it would be nice.)
  • If you want us to include your contribution in our round-up, let us know. The simplest way is by Tweeting a link with the hashtag #beerylongreads.
  • TIP: think of something you want to read but that doesn’t seem to exist — an interview with a particular brewer, the history of beer in a specific town, the story of a famous pub — and then write it.
  • Drop us a line if you want advice or just to run your idea past someone.

Last time we did this, we had a flurry of messages from people saying: ‘I didn’t know this was happening!’ We’ll issue a few reminders at tactical intervals but, in the meantime, put it in your diaries!

We haven’t decided what we’re going to write about yet. If you have any suggestions (our Newquay Steam Beer post was prompted by an email from a reader) let us know in the comments below.

Portrait of a Publican

victorian_bar_474

The landlord’s high stool at the end of the bar is really a kind of throne from which he exercises benign authority.

Gouty and beetroot-cheeked, he is no dabbler, but a pub man in his very heart: he is proud of what he has built, and feels what is right without making any self-conscious effort.

The well-worn wooden counter looks rightly Victorian. Cards games are played on green baize. New wallpaper with a fashionable pattern gestures at refurbishment and yet, with its wine-red curlicues, enhances the atmosphere rather than snuffing it out.

But the essence of ‘pubness’ isn’t in the décor: it emanates from him, like a psychic projection or force field.

He would probably go mad if he didn’t get to spend his working day amongst other people. Greeting new visitors with a few courtly words, and looking after his regulars, makes him glow and stretch tall, like a dog having its belly rubbed.

But his kingdom shows signs of decay. The glowing Guinness font is only for show, glasses being filled (not quite openly) from cans in the fridge. Where there were once three ‘guest ales’, the condition of which he was justifiably proud, there is now one, chosen for its cheapness.

Even with a full pub, we wonder if he is making any money at all, and suspect that what keeps it afloat is one thing: his love of the game.

News, Nuggets and Longreads 05/04/2014

Detail from Watney's Brown Ale advertisement c.1960.

Before you get your boozing trousers on and head to the pub, here are a few things we’ve spotted around and about in the last week.

→ Following on from last autumn’s Craft Beer 365 ‘bookazine’, Craig Heap and Chris Hall are back with another, this time aided by Matt Curtis, Leigh Linley and Ruari O’Toole. The 100 Best Breweries in the World is available online and will also probably be turning up in newsagents and on iTunes fairly shortly.

→ Saved to Pocket this week: a long piece by Terry Foster and Bob Hansen which originally appeared in Brew Your Own Magazine and is now on the website of US maltster Briess: what exactly is the difference between crystal and caramel malts? (Via @BeerWineHobby and @richardmackney on Twitter.)

→ There’s a piece about Wetherspoon’s on the Guardian blog (by @maxbrearley):

There’s a sharp intake of breath and I fear a heart attack when I tell him that in London you can pay £4 a half. His response? Not printable.

→ For the first time ever, the London Wine Fair is to have a beer section.

→ And a bit of news from us relating to the launch of Brew Britannia: it might come to nothing, but there is a possibility that, in and around June, several beers might be on sale around the country which haven’t been tasted for 20 years or more. We’ll keep you posted!

Into the Navel of a Can of Worms

For the 86th beer blogging session Heather Vandenengel asks:

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?

For a long time, ‘alternative beer’ (or whatever you want to call it) was a delicate thing: a handful of breweries and outlets, ready to be snuffed out of existence by changes in fashion, taxation or the global economy.

Vintage Pabst Blue Ribbon poster featuring a typewriter.

In that context, it seemed churlish and counter-productive for beer writers to subject brewers to the kind of scrutiny we expect from restaurant reviewers or film critics. So (to quote ourselves):

A compromise was eventually reached: people like Roger Protz and Michael Jackson would acknowledge that not all small brewers made good beer, but would rarely, if ever, name names. Jackson: ‘If I can find something good to say about a beer, I do… If I despise a beer, why find room for it?’

Though times have changed — we’re not going back to the Big Six any time soon — that remains the easy route. When we started blogging, it was what we felt comfortable with, too — after all, what did we know about anything? Not to mention that writing negative comments about someone’s hard work (their ‘passion’) will, in most cases, piss them off, and it is nice to get on with people you might bump into at beer festivals or in the pub.

For those who are making a living at beer writing, however, it can be more than a matter of social awkwardness: access to breweries and brewers, invites to launches, and corporate consultancy or copywriting gigs might depend on it.

As readers, however, we have to say that someone raving about a beer brewed by a friend and/or client is rarely interesting.

In the same vein, junkets make for bad writing. There are few people who can squeeze worthwhile copy out of being herded round a brewery and plied with food and drink by PR people along with a number of their peers. What results is usually a sudden flood of identikit ‘what we did on our holidays’ articles, often with an eerily-brainwashed Stepford Wives tone.

So what do we want?

As readers, we’d like there to be more writers who ask unwelcome questions on behalf of readers. For example, if they hear a rumour, we want them to stick their noses in, find out what’s going on, and break the news whether or not that fits the timings in the PR strategy devised by the brewery or pub company.

We want reviewers to be as honest as possible in expressing their opinions. (And, increasingly, we do think that withholding an opinion is a form of dishonesty.) We don’t enjoy read link-baiting, mean-spirited take-downs any more than we like puff pieces, but when someone who is unimpressed by 80 per cent of the beer they taste says something is good, we listen.

We want historians to tell us something we didn’t already know, perhaps based on previously unused sources of information, or at least old sources of information used in interesting ways.

And we crave long, thoughtful articles that would be good without the beer, and in which people and places are evoked through careful observation, portrayed as the writer really sees them rather than as they might wish to be seen themselves.

We don’t think there is a huge amount of dirt to be dished — there might be some dubious business practices here and there, but nobody is getting bumped off.

At the same time, not every brewer can be a saint, surely? And, anyway, saints are boring.

When Brew Britannia comes out, you’ll have the chance to let us know if you think we’ve written what we say we want to read. In the meantime, we’d be especially interested in reading comments below from people who don’t write about beer.