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.