Beer Bloggers Go Beyond the Aesthetic of Taste
As you may have guessed from my tweets and Facebook posts this past weekend, I attended the third annual Beer Bloggers Conference in Indianapolis. I had the extreme pleasure, along with Daniel Bradford, publisher of All About Beer Magazine, to meet and to share beers with industry bloggers, those who blog in their free time to express their passion for the community and the few rare non-industry bloggers who have managed to make writing about beer on the web a full-time job.
The conference organizers flattered me when they extended the invitation to speak on a panel about taking blogging to the “next step, moving from blog to writing a book, getting a job in the beer industry, or getting paid to write for the print press.” I had to accept, of course, if not only to one-up my Beer Soup cohort, Yaeger, who didn’t make the trip this year. He had some excuse about a newborn baby strapped to his stomach.
The powerhouse keynote trio of Julia Herz, Garrett Oliver and Randy Mosher provided nothing short of fantastic, interesting prospectives from the industry. Julia predicted that we’ll gradually see “beverages” replace “wine” when used adjacent to “food” as craft beer gains more market share. Garrett, who often brings the dream world of beer back to reality, spoke about the need of beer bloggers to adopt ethical and objective standards similar to those used by journalists. Bloggers should increase the professionalism of their trade because people actually pay attention to them. Who would have thought?
The walking encyclopedia known as Randy Mosher then debunked what seemed like every myth of the beer industry, but we could tell he was just getting started in the little time he had. And of course, the Indiana beer flowed (and flowed some more) throughout the entire three days. When someone hands you a Three Floyds Arctic Panzer Wolf a few hours after a conference begins, you know the quality of beer won’t be an issue for the weekend.
But what I’m left with a few days after the Beer Bloggers Conference ended, other than incredible new friends in the blogging community and the odd feeling of not having beer at 11 a.m., is how much aesthetics has permeated the beer world. By aesthetics, I mean appreciation of the beauty of beer, beyond the taste of the beverage in our hands.
The first interactive session of the conference was a live beer blogging event where attendees tasted and reviewed ten different beers in fifty minutes. Imagine a mosh pit of beer geeks tasting and typing so fast that their iPhone can’t keep up with their thumbs. Now, add the fabulous beers—Karl Strauss‘ Wreck Alley Imperial Stout, Flat12 Bierwerks‘ Pogue’s Run Porter and Schlafly‘s A IPA, just to name a few. But that’s not it. Finish the equation with photography, which has emerged as a significant player in documenting the beer experience.
Beer lovers now use props, pose beers and set lighting like those professional food photographers that can make SPAM look like it came from the French Laundry. All of this is due in no small part to Instagram and its numerous filters and post-processing depths of field. Between pounding out tasting notes, tasting and taking and editing pictures, it’s no wonder at least one phone (or beer blogger) didn’t spontaneously combust.
And in some of those pictures, you’re likely to see fancy Speigelau glassware. Gone are the days of experiencing the visual beauty of beer through brown glass bottles and aluminum cans. Standard pint glasses are even fading as beer lovers now enjoy their drinks in specialized glassware and even wine glasses. Some bloggers commented that they’ll never look at their pint glasses back home in the same way after Garrett Oliver’s comparative demonstration of Brooklyn’s beers in Speigelau glass. I won’t be throwing my pint glass from my last 5k away, but I’ll think twice about choosing one of the glasses they gave attendees the next time I pour a beer at home.
Beyond the preoccupation of the visual aesthetics of beer, the Beer Bloggers Conference introduced me to Beers Made by Walking, a project by Eric Steen of Focus on the Beer. Other than the fact that this this guy likes to walk (he told me that he once walked thirty-three miles in one day for fun), Eric brings brewers, homebrewers, beer enthusiasts and artists together by “find[ing] intersecting commonalities in interdisciplinary topics as seemingly diverse as botany, environmentalism, art, geography, and beer making.” For example, he has led homebrewers on a hike to pick edible plants to use in beers, which were eventually brewed by local commercial brewers. The kicker, however, is that the beers “came with a twelve page menu with stories from each hike, about each beer and the brewers.”
Now that flavorful, high-quality beer is the norm and not a surprise in the craft industry, it appears that the community has shifted some of its focus from the aesthetic of taste to the rest the arts—from visual to the cultural and natural. I didn’t worry about the Allagash Confluence I had on cask last night being served undercarbonated or too warm. I just needed to make sure that the fake depth of field on my phone didn’t bring the delicate lacing of the beer out of focus.