Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The vanguard of modern beer media

Despite being laden with a heavy bag filled with too many bottles of beer, despite the lack of sleep and excess of everything else, and despite the prospect of a bus for the last leg of the journey home, nothing could stop the smile muscles from getting a good workout as I left the Beer Bloggers Conference on Sunday.

As weekends go it’s hard to find one better: great beer, great food, great company, great entertainment, great fun, all multiplied ten-fold because it all pulled together perfectly. As a prospect the weekend was an odd one: what the hell is a Beer Bloggers Conference?! Ignore the name, look at what we did, look at how everyone reacted to it as that’s all you need to know.

But as I was leaving, as the beer haze was lifting and being replaced by the bastard behind the eyes, it became clearer that what we’re doing – writing and reading blogs; loving good beer – is incredibly important.

There is slim space for beer appreciation in traditional media and it seems to be getting harder and harder to place articles, despite the fact that more and more people are discerning drinkers and that Britain has got a brilliant brewing past, present and future. And people want to read about it. This lack of printed word opens up the online space and opportunities which don’t exist elsewhere, and this is key (although, with newspaper readerships serially in decline, and online use ever on the up, does this lack matter to all but the ones who live off writing?)

When I want to find out something the first place I look is Google. When I wanted to learn more about beer as a thirsty 21-year-old with pint in hand, I learnt about it through Google first and books second (plus I needed to Google what books to buy). With mobile technology and the daily draw of social media making the internet ever-more pertinent in our lives, it’s natural that we spend more time online and use it in different ways; the declining print runs of newspapers is concurrent to the increasing hits on their websites, kindle books now outsell physical books two-to-one on Amazon. Things are changing.

And this change is important for beer. Anyone can now easily create their own online content and we can all choose exactly what we do and don’t read: web 2.0 gives us power as content creators. Why is this good for beer? Because it’s allowed anyone to have a voice and the more voices there are the more people know about good beer and the bigger and better it will become.

There’s also an audience of drinkers online who want to know more about beer. For every one person who writes a blog there are a handful who comment and hundreds more who just read (it’s the 90-9-1 idea). The readers are every bit as important as the writers because you are the ones who go out there and drink the beer and tell your friends.

The internet is beer’s medium and it’ll be through the internet that it is able to grow beyond the borders of the printed page. The word ‘vanguard’ was used a few times over the weekend and it’s a good choice: the internet is still young, blogs are still young, and the people who are writing about beer online, and those who are routinely reading about it, are, as Darren from BeerSweden writes, “the vanguard of modern beer media.”

If drinkers want to search for information about beer then they go online. What they tap into Google will often return links to blogs on the first page. And with bloggers based around the world there’s so much coverage and potential, way more than could be achieved offline. This also means we’re a worldwide community, an army ready to mobilise at any time and loft our pints into the air; together we’re stronger.

Beer lovers should be excited about the future because it’s only going to get better and blogs are a very important part of that – we are not just sitting in our bedrooms sipping free beer and crap tasting notes. A post-Conference blog from Bad Attitude Brewery about the importance of blogs is brilliant and everyone who is interested in beer should read it. Ultimately, we are telling a never-ending story where pints and bottles are the characters in an always twisting-and-turning tale, punctuated by the occasional low but with many great highs and where readers can take part in the story themselves by picking up that pint and drinking it.

Brewers create the words, bloggers tell the stories, drinkers bring them to life.


  1. "what we’re doing – writing and reading blogs; loving good beer – is incredibly important."

    Really? Fun, enlightening, exciting, maybe. But incredibly important? I think not. YLet's not get carried away.

  2. Did you see Cooking Lagers post about Twitter and social media being the new news outlets? It was to do with Ryan Giggs a little bit, and freedom of speech. But has some parralels with your post i'd say.

  3. At least, whether you agree with Ron or not, you are talking about the social media context of the event.

    Judging by the lack of similar analysis from other attendees, I rather think many may just have regarded it as a very sociable and exotic piss up.(-;

  4. Ron - Why isn't it important? How many people read your blog? If it's more than just you then you've got an audience who care. That's pretty important. If someone wants to know the history of a particular beer style and they search online and find your blog and get the answers... that makes it pretty important.

    Neil - Yep, I saw it. Just look at how journalists are using social media and blogs now.

    Tandleman - What coverage it gets is down to whatever the individual wants to write about! There was a lot of content in the sessions we had - an hour of stats with the BPA; discussions of blogging dos and don'ts; how breweries use social media and what that means for bloggers and blog readers; the future of beer writing; the aging of beer and how it happens; food and beer pairing... if people choose to talk about the drinking then that's also fine - we did a lot of great drinking! And a sociable and exotic piss up? What's wrong with that?! :)

    My plan for next year is to have more content as well and relevant industry speakers talking about issues (how hop growing/importing has changed over the last 10 years, for example).

  5. It was a piss up then. I feel a blog coming on. See - it's inspired me at least.

  6. Tandleman - A weekend with a lot of beer where we anyone can choose to drink as much as they want... Call it what you want. I don't like the name Conference as it wasn't classically one of those, but it also wasn't an extended drinkathon. It was a social weekend in the same way as going to GBBF or on a Twissup, just with added content and interesting talks. Is that a piss up? No. If it's treated as one by people (which it wasn't), then does it matter as long as they had a good time? No.

  7. Don't be so touchy. I'm pulling your leg. You need to lighten up a bit.

    Remember that when I write about it.

  8. I took it that Mark meant 'important' in terms of spreading the good word of beer, rather than eradicating world hunger.

    For me the best thing about the conference were the discussions centered on the role of beer blogging and writing – is it just a bit of self-indulgent fun or are you hoping to achieve something with your blog? How can we reach the crap-beer drinking masses and gently educate them about the world beyond their Stella can? How can we ensure beer is taken seriously by mainstream media, and given the same treatment and respect afforded to wine?

    If you're in any way passionate about beer or brewing I don't think the (relative) importance of those discussions, and the thoughts they provoked in a room full of enthusiastic beer writers, should be scoffed at. The conference felt serious & professional.

    Certainly the brewers involved seemed to take it seriously and recognised the reach and influence of the attendees.

    It was fun too. If you expect people to give up their weekend I think there has to be a social element to proceedings as well.

    I personally haven't written about it – yet – because I feel, for the way I write about beer, it feels a bit 'meta' to write a blog about about a blogging event so soon after it happening.

    I've already seen at least 5 blog posts covering the event. How many do you want?

  9. Chris - Maybe not eradicating world hunger, but perhaps thirst :) As an event the most important thing for people to come away with, in my opinion, is inspiration - inspiration of things to write or ways of doing things differently. I think most people come away with at least a few thoughts on this and that's great. We also come away with lots of bottles of beer so if nothing else we can write about them!

  10. I wish I could have been there, but as you say: "and the more voices there are the more people know about good beer and the bigger and better it will become." - I've been trying to say that all along ;)

  11. "I've already seen at least 5 blog posts covering the event. How many do you want?"

    I assume the organisers and anyone that put money in to it through sponsorship would expect more than 5.

  12. I assume that there are / will be more.

    Worth remembering there have only been two full days since the event.

  13. Bloggers help drinkers through the long, dry hours at work (at least those of us quick enough to tab effectively between the blog and whatever we're supposed to be working on when the boss swoops in). No matter how slowly time seems to be moving, a good blog provides hope that there is a pint out there, waiting to be gulped or savoured. Beer blogs remind us that while we're slogging away at our dreary jobs, Sam is transporting the malt, Craig is cleaning out the mash tun, Tim is thinking up a new recipe, and Bill is wiping down the bar. Just for us. If only we could make it to the end of the day. In the meantime we can read and daydream and plan and salivate just a little. If that's not incredibly important, then ... well, I may have lost a little perspective.

  14. I completely agree, Mark. It may seem self-important to to say 'we are important', but I'm sure many brewers would agree. I know this because I get a lot of thanks, after an event that i've covered, or a beer that i've reviewed, from them, saying that they've hada spike in sales or something like that. We provide the free (ok, maybe not completely unbiased in some cases) publicity that reaches a very wide audience, quick.
    I still get a tingle when someone says to me, either on line or in person, 'I tried out that beer you recommended; it was lovely!'. That's more money for the brewer, which is who we should be rewarding by discussing, not the corporation.
    So, Mark, I agree. Well done for arranging such an event, and I will attend next year.

  15. This post is 780 words long. Pete Brown said posts should be no more than 300 if I remember rightly. Obviously the conference was a complete waste of time.

    Seriously, if blogs are not important then why did the sponsors put in so much effort?

    I thought is was a resounding success and much, much more than just a piss-up.

  16. "Seriously, if blogs are not important then why did the sponsors put in so much effort?"

    Because there is a bigger picture for the sponsors? And why not? They aren't charities. Return on investment I'd venture.

  17. Lorraine - Great comment! Blogs pass my time at work as well, dipping in and out of them and twitter to see what's going on. Anything which momentarily distracts from the daily drag of the day job is definitely a good thing!

    Leigh - Blogs are the new form of media and the new journalists. Not having 'training' doesn't matter and that's the great thing about citizen journalism - anyone can do it. We can also pass word quickly, with turn-around times on stories being minutes rather than days or months (for example, the CAMRA mag has a three-month lead time, so do American magazines). And hearing from people who enjoy what you write or who try beer you write about and agree with you is a great feeling!

    Dave - The suggestion was 500 but when was the last time Pete wrote something under 500! I try to keep posts under that or I break them up with lots of pictures. Then there are some posts like this which naturally fall over 500 and that's fine; blogs are fluid and free-form and we shouldn't be too strict on the word count (unless it's one tasting note on one beer in which case anything over 500 words deserves not to be read!).

    Tandleman - What's the bigger picture for the sponsors? Promotion? People talking about them? If these people weren't important and relevant to them then why would they have bothered?

  18. I think it's really exciting that beer blogging is getting the recognition it deserves.

    Sure, it's easy to be cynical and say all those freebies were companies trying to influence the influencers, but even so, it shows just how much power the blogsphere wields.

    Having just re-started my own blog, I'm committed to earning myself the right to go next year's conference, based on all the great things I've heard about it. Exciting times.

  19. "What's the bigger picture for the sponsors? Promotion? People talking about them? If these people weren't important and relevant to them then why would they have bothered?"

    That's fine. We agree then that the sponsors were buying influence.

  20. Regardless of how important the whole thing is or isn't, I'm sorry I've missed it and glad everything turned out well. Hope I can make it next year...

  21. I've no illusions about the size of my audience. A couple of hundred, no more.

    What I write is important to me, but, in the context of world culture, it's pretty damn insignificant.

    It's essential to keep a sense of perspective and we don't start believing we're more important than we really are.

  22. "It's essential to keep a sense of perspective and we don't start believing we're more important than we really are."

    Jesus, thank you, Ron. There are few universal truths. One inflexible one, though, is "blogging is not important". I enjoy it. It's interesting to me. It's not important by any means.

    Even if it were, coming out and saying so makes anyone sound like they live up their own ass. See: Bono.

  23. Are "we" even really a "we" Ron? Pro bloggers whether in the trade or the papers are different from amateurs. Yet, I entirely echo the man from Prague. I would love to go to one of these things one day after eight years to meet more than the three beer bloggers I have had the pleasure to talk to so far.

    Alan McLeod
    A Good Beer Blog

  24. Tandleman: So antagonistic! There's no need for it, who does it benefit?

    "most important thing for people to come away with, in my opinion, is inspiration - inspiration of things to write or ways of doing things differently"

    This nails it for me. I came away, not with an urge to write loads about the event, but with a rejuvenated passion for blogging. The event made me realise that there are things I can do differently and lots of things that I can write about that hadnt occured to me. The fact that it was a great time, meeting great people, drinking great beer and eating great food ... well that was a bonus really.


  25. Mark - I give a view of things as I see it. Just because I don't agree with you doesn't make me antagonistic. It just means I don't always see things your way. No more, no less. Be a bloody horrible world if we all agreed with each other all the time. Different views are good. Debate is good. Believe me being a different generation, I find a lot of what you think maddening too.

    But you have to at least consider that it is mildly possible that the brewers were doing it for themselves and not just to please a bunch of bloggers, charming though they may be. They are professionals. They hedge their bets and they cover all angles for publicity and support. They'd be daft and indeed neglectful if they hadn't. In other words there were some very smart sponsors.

    That's all I was pointing out, but I'll point out a few other things in my own blog that'll probably have you hopping up, and down.

    But you are right in a way too if the rejuvenation you felt was extended to all attendees. People writing about beer is a good thing for the writer and the the written about, but it needs to be (as a whole) broad based and diverse. That means we can't always agree. And indeed shouldn't.

    In my opinion of course.