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.)

      1. Its bet­ter on cask than bot­tled but not a patch on the bit­ter.

        Chalky’s beers are ok.

  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.


      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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