If you measure success by volume, number of breweries, or fan-base size, craft beer is growing strong. What does that mean to craft beer and its bloggers?
Why Julia Herz Is Our New HeroMatthew Wright • August 23, 2014
Live from San Diego, it’s BBC14!
Molly and I are at the Beer Bloggers Conference in San Diego. So far, it’s been the kind of fun you would expect from an elaborately curated beer-tasting event.
We’ve tried a lot of good beer, and some really spectacular ones too. The thing that stuck in our brain the most after day 1 though was a talk given by Julia Herz. It was a feisty call to arms, sort of what I’d imagine a TED Talk would be like if Amy Sedaris spoke about why humor is so goddam important! (TED, Amy, Get on that.)
What beer can learn from wine
I work with winemakers a lot, both small production and large. I like wine, but beer is where I feel at home. One thing I love about the winemakers I know though, is their keen desire to educate. Wine advocates may be perceived as snobs from the outside, but they crack as easily as a good creme brulee, and love to bring people under the tent and guide them through the experience. Until Herz’s talk yesterday I never thought of beer as something that needed that kind of stewardship. Beer has always felt to me like it belonged to everyone. Cue Napoleon Dynamite: Idiot!
Beer quality at an all-time high
I had an interesting conversation recently with some wine folks about how it’s easier than ever in California to make really good wine. The problem is finding a way to let people know about it. Not too long ago you had to be careful, especially at the lower and middle price points, or you’d come home with wine you wouldn’t even want to cook with. Today though, the standards are high and the consumer is educated. Coming home with bad wine is a near-impossible achievement.
The same is true of the beer scene. It’s not hard at all to find great beer. We pick up something new every week and though we have our favorites, we’ve yet to get anything we’d classify as bad. If we don’t love it, we always agree it’s perfectly drinkable and leagues better than mass-market crap.
Why beer needs bark
Sitting around with a bunch of beer bloggers and thinking about advocacy is weird. I don’t need to sell any of these people on beer. Bub Gourmand is as much about food and cooking as it is beer, and listening to Herz yesterday I wanted to smack myself in the forehead. I think a lot of bloggers probably felt as though Herz had slapped us on the forehead. Her message, to me, was that as beer bloggers we aren’t here to preach to the choir. We aren’t simply fans yelling with other fans in the bleachers. We’re advocates and educators, and if we’re not, we should be.
Our Venison Chili recipe, for example. We used beer to make it, and we ate it alongside beer. The pairing was natural and perfect. So why didn’t we say much about that? Because we figured pairings would happen naturally. It seemed as obvious to us as using a spoon to eat the chili. Just because we like certain foods with certain beers doesn’t mean everyone will.
Herz got me thinking about that post and others, and how ignorant that assumption was. If people go into wine shops with questions like, “I’m making fish/BBQ Brisket/poached kangaroo tonight, what wine would you recommend?” why not approach beer the same way? Seems to us that beer is often picked up for its own sake. Other than pizza and pretzels, what are we as beer advocates telling “non-beer drinkers” about food pairing?
Pitch your niche
I’m not saying every beer blog should be pushing food pairings. That’s just where we’re coming from. I haven’t met a single person at this conference though that feels like a competitor. Every blogger is bringing their own thing to the craft beer scene. Herz showed us all sorts of love, but pointed out that something many of us have in common, other than our love of beer, is that we aren’t necessarily welcoming the uninitiated. We have passion, and awesome content, but are we writing with those newbies in mind?
Herz said repeatedly to think before we push PUBLISH. I’m sure everyone proofreads and edits. We put in keywords, and headers, and all that other SEO-friendly, eye-pleasing stuff. But in the same way that we carefully choose what we say around children, do we think about those people drinking crappy beer, or who say they don’t like beer, or that they prefer cocktails?
That’s like a kid saying they hate vegetables. Bullshit kid. You hate broccoli or peas and a lazy parent has just let that take down the hundreds of other healthy alternatives. A good parent doesn’t force the kid to eat peas, they put the hundreds of other nutritious options in front of them until they find something that picky brat loves. Goodness achieved!
As beer lovers it’s great to celebrate the love with each other, but as the craft beer boom keeps booming, shouldn’t we be good parents too? the kids will love us for it!
The contestants are wonderful and real, the challenges are exciting to watch, and the judges and hosts entertain and educate without being jerks.
Do beer festivals actually care about local craft brewers and the fans who drink their beer? We’d love to hear your opinions.