We’ve been blogging since 2007 and this post summarises what we’ve learned in that time.
We got the nerve to write it after asking subscribers to our email newsletter if they thought it was a good idea, and after our online communication award from the British Guild of Beer Writers last year.
If you’re thinking of starting a beer blog, reviving an old one, or are struggling to keep one going, we hope you’ll find it useful.
This is how we’d go about starting a beer blog from scratch today.
Lay solid foundations. Write 5-10 good posts on a range of subjects in your area of interest of 200-800 words each, posting at least once a week. Hardly anyone will be reading them but it doesn’t matter – you’ll be finding a voice, getting into the groove, learning your blogging software, and preparing for the next stage. (And if you can’t manage five posts, then maybe blogging isn’t for you.) Don’t make your first post ‘So, I’ve decided to start a blog! Let’s hope this goes well!’ Just plunge in with proper content.
Get a Twitter account and/or Facebook page. Include the term ‘beer blogger’ and a link to your blog (lots of people, oddly, don’t do this) in your bio. Then follow/like other beer bloggers. Hopefully, they’ll do what we do and check out your link, where they’ll find a month or two’s worth of decent content which suggests you’re worth keeping an eye on. By all means follow the big ones like Pete Brown – he’s always interesting – but you might get a more immediate response from others who are at a similar stage in the process to you. Don’t mither people: ‘I’ve just started a blog – please take a look and Retweet!’
Bad news: this is a blog post about blog posting. There’ll be a post that’s actually about beer later today. If you choose to read on, don’t say we didn’t warn you!
We’ve been reflecting lately on our tendency to self-censor. We used to shelve posts quite frequently, finished and illustrated, because, at the last minute, we found ourselves anticipating a bad-tempered response and couldn’t be bothered to face it.
→ It’s not something we’d be comfortable doing, but Tandleman recently took a thermometer to some London pubs and came up with numbers to support his feeling that cask ale in the capital is generally too warm: one pint came in at 17.2°c!
→ Paul Bailey (no relation) has been posting a series of longish pieces on the family breweries of Britain, based largely on his personal experience as a drinker from the 1970s to the present. This one on Ruddles is a good place to start.
→ Beers Manchester has been undertaking a survey of the city’s historic pubs. Part one appeared some time ago, but parts two and three are new.
Some final thoughts: there are more blogs than ever and we think the standard of writing and research has improved across the board since we started in 2007.
As with breweries, though, the more there are, the harder it is to make an impression, and thus harder to get a conversation going.
Let’s put it bluntly: there is no demand for another blog reviewing readily available beers!
That’s not to say you shouldn’t do it if you enjoy it, but don’t expect anyone else to whoop with excitement.
If we were starting a new blog tomorrow, we would want to make sure it either (a) had a distinct and dazzling prose style or (b) covered something no-one was writing about. Preferably both.
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.
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.
Speaking for ourselves, we’ve never had more energy and enthusiasm for blogging, but we do know what they mean. With that in mind, here are a few things that keep us keen, which you may or may not find useful.
1. Johnny Five needs input!
Read a book, visit a pub, drink something new, go to a museum, watch a film… It doesn’t have to be directly beer-related: we’re sufficiently obsessed with beer that even the most mundane and tangential experience can trigger an idea for a blog post.
2. “You’ve got to have a project.”
An acquaintance of ours used to say that with reference to his love life, but it applies more generally. Maybe it’s a book; maybe it’s a self-imposed ‘mission’; a contribution to the collective wisdom; or a record of a trip abroad; but it doesn’t really matter. The point is, if we have a goal, we have a reason to write a post, rather than putting it off until, suddenly, it’s been six months since we last wrote anything.
3. Try something new to spice things up.
Yes, this has all gone a bit Dear Deidre. When we’re bored of writing, we take some photographs, make a graph, dig up some videos, paint pictures, cook something. We write in a different voice to the one we normally employ. We make a list. Go off topic. Blog about blogging.
The longer the gap between posts, the more seems to be riding on the next one. We try not to agonise too much about whether to post something: we write quickly, read it through, and bung it up. If people don’t like it, so what? You win some, you lose some. It’ll be forgotten tomorrow when we put up the next post, and the one after that.
5. Take a break before you quit.
It’s always sad when bloggers quit. When we really lost enthusiasm in 2010, and thought about quitting, what we actually did was take a break. We decided how long it was going to be and announced it, without feeling the need to apologise. At the end of that period, our notebooks were bulging with ideas for posts we wanted to write. (If they hadn’t been, then that would have been the sign to call it a day.)
Please forgive us for blogging about blogging — we don’t do it often, relatively speaking.
Over-thinking beer, pubs and the meaning of craft since 2007