Anatomy of a Rumour

If you are at all engaged with beer social media, you will be aware that there have been rumours, or at least rumours of rumours.

Though we don’t recall sign­ing up to a code of ethics on this, there are cer­tain­ly good rea­sons to be cagy about shar­ing or dis­cussing such rumours.

First, there’s the risk of things get­ting a bit ‘lawyery’. We don’t know if this is a real issue, or a bor­rowed trou­ble, but who wants to find out the hard way?

Then there’s the ques­tion of people’s feel­ings. Imag­ine you’re nego­ti­at­ing the sale of your com­pa­ny but haven’t finalised the deal; there’s a non-dis­clo­sure agree­ment in place so you can’t tell your team any­thing until it’s done; and, any­way, you wouldn’t want to say any­thing in case it falls through at the last minute. Then imag­ine how those team mem­bers feel learn­ing the news from Twit­ter, or on some poxy beer blog.

The Amer­i­can food reporter Far­ley Elliott recent­ly described how, in the ear­ly days of his career, he would some­times turn up at restau­rants he had heard were clos­ing down and, over-eager in mak­ing his enquiries, acci­den­tal­ly break the news to front­line staff that they were about to lose their jobs. He felt bad, they felt bad… There are bet­ter ways.

Final­ly, there’s the risk of embar­rass­ing your­self if the rumoured takeover doesn’t hap­pen. Rumours are just rumours, and are some­times just lies. Five or so years ago, we heard a cast-iron rumour of a takeover that was def­i­nite­ly about to hap­pen at any minute now… but did­n’t. And still has­n’t.

And any­way, unless you are work­ing for an out­let that thrives on scoops – that relies on being first with the break­ing news – there’s no par­tic­u­lar need for any­one in beer to be rush­ing to talk about this stuff.

The only dif­fer­ence a rumour makes, real­ly, is that it allows time to men­tal­ly pre­pare. It can be a jolt to learn that a brew­ery you like or are inter­est­ed in has been tak­en over when 300 hot-take Tweets land with­in a minute of each oth­er.

Giv­en how things are, though, shouldn’t we all be men­tal­ly pre­pared, all the time, for any brew­ery of decent size and mar­ket reach to sell up? We all know how to spot the pre-erup­tion tremors these days.

Sure, we’ll still jump when the bal­loon pops, but at least by now we’ve learned to dis­cern the bal­loon, and to see some­one stand­ing there with pin in hand, grin­ning, wait­ing.

Principles for Reviewing Beer and Bars

Japanese notebook by Lenore Edman (Flickr Creative Commons)
Japan­ese note­book by Lenore Edman (Flickr Cre­ative Com­mons)

We thought we’d covered all the bases when we wrote this piece about how we haven’t taken to Arbor Ales.

We’ve been read­ing var­i­ous crit­ics on their approach­es to review­ing restau­rants and extract­ed what we think are some prin­ci­ples of ‘good prac­tice’ for writ­ing about beer and pubs:

  1. Vis­it more than once at dif­fer­ent times of the year and week. While we agree with the thrust of Max’s argu­ment here, it’s as easy to have a one-off great expe­ri­ence as it is a one-off bad ‘un.
  2. Remain as anony­mous as pos­si­ble to avoid pref­er­en­tial treat­ment. (Not that we’d expect red car­pets…)
  3. Pay our own way in pubs and bars; dis­close rela­tion­ships and free­bies which might be seen to influ­ence our think­ing.
  4. Con­vey the spe­cif­ic details of each expe­ri­ence – ‘show our work­ing’.

Rule 4 seems to have done its job, how­ev­er, and we have had some feed­back sug­gest­ing a fifth rule is required:

  • If a beer is bad in a pub orbar, even if it’s not ‘off’, take it back to the bar and give the staff chance to explain why.

We can’t see that doing so would have made much dif­fer­ence in the case of our piece on Arbor – we real­ly don’t think the beer was off, or at the end of bar­rels, or has any such oth­er excuse, and it tast­ed con­sis­tent with our var­i­ous expe­ri­ence of their beer in the pre­ced­ing 13 months – but our fail­ing to do so pro­vides a con­ve­nient get-out clause.

So, from now on, we will always steel our­selves and take not very pleas­ant pints back to the bar for appraisal. (Even though most ‘nor­mal’ con­sumers would­n’t both­er doing so.)

The­sis: in nine out of ten cas­es, we’ll get told to piss off, and that the beer tastes fine (assum­ing rule 2 above has been applied), but we’ll keep a tal­ly and report back with some fig­ures in a few months.

Honesty is Everything

The rights and wrongs of beer blog­ging and writ­ing, though an exam­ple of the worst kind of navel-gaz­ing, is a sub­ject that fas­ci­nates us and, as Andy Crouch has kicked this con­ver­sa­tion off, we can’t resist join­ing in.

We’re not qual­i­fied to pro­nounce on ethics, here’s how we feel about a few spe­cif­ic issues.

  • There’s noth­ing wrong with hav­ing an agen­da, but don’t make us guess what it is. (Retail­ers, brew­ers, cam­paign­ers and PR peo­ple write inter­est­ing stuff!)
  • There’s noth­ing wrong with blogs car­ry­ing ads as long as they’re obvi­ous­ly ads. Help­ing spam-mer­chants and search-engine opti­mis­ers by ‘seed­ing’ con­tent: not cool.
  • If you want to give your beer writ­ing away for free, that’s fine with us. If you want to get paid for it, write some­thing that war­rants it. As we said on Twit­ter recent­ly, for us, that means offer­ing some or all of: a unique voice; infor­ma­tion we can’t eas­i­ly find else­where; real insight; a new angle; author­i­ty.
  • There’s noth­ing wrong with blog­gers accept­ing or even ask­ing for free beer but, if you’re get­ting free­bies, be open about it and let us decide whether we want to put any store in your reviews. If you don’t dis­close it, we’ll work it out even­tu­al­ly and despise you.
  • Some beer writ­ers get good infor­ma­tion from their rela­tion­ships with brew­ers and brew­eries, and that’s great. Name­drop­ping is annoy­ing; and if you start to sound like you work in their PR depart­ment, we won’t trust what you have to say about any­thing else.
  • If you are being spon­sored by a brew­ery to attend an event at which the guest speak­ers are from the spon­sor­ing brew­ery and you find your­self sat next to the brewery’s PR per­son drink­ing free bot­tles of that brewery’s beer, do try to resist sound­ing like you’ve been brain­washed: “I had not pre­vi­ous­ly liked Duff beer but after the heli­copter ride and cake, I realised what a great brand it is. Hail Duff.”

We get occa­sion­al free­bies but have yet to ask for any. We don’t car­ry ads because… we don’t, and why is none of your busi­ness. We have met a few brew­ers now but wouldn’t say any of them were our chums. Evan Rail sent us a free copy of Why Beer Mat­ters (linked above).

UPDATED 09:13 with links to exam­ples of beer writ­ing we’d pay for.