Beer Writers Behind Closed (Pub) Doors
Other than sporadic occasions at beer festivals or judging sessions where beer writers may run into a handful of their colleagues, they rarely have the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company in large groups, away from the hustle and bustle of beer lovers nudging them away from the bar or pushing past them in line with small, plastic glasses in hands. It was a much-needed respite, then, when John Holl organized a casual meeting over dinner (and beer, of course) at Breckenridge Brewery of writers attending the Great American Beer Festival this past week.
When arguably the largest gathering of beer writers in the States in quite some time come together in one room, what do they do and discuss? Maureen Ogle praised the usefulness of Twitter in spreading information while I tried to convince her that Instagram will be the next big thing in social media. (Unfortunately, she doesn’t have a smart phone.) The conversation then turned to health and how much meat we both eat (very little for her and none for me) before Stan Hieronymus described the positioning of his erg in is office and how many meters he rows each week (a lot). Writing, the web, food, and fitness—but not a lot of eloquent conversation about beer other than Canadian Stephen Beaumont asking for a “quaffable” pint from our very accommodating server. Who knew that beer writers have interests outside of the beverage of our passion? – Win Bassett
What do menopause, marijuana, and meat have in common? They’re all topics of conversation for writers who specialize in alcohol. (What? You don’t see the connection?)
Okay, try this instead: What happens when you put a bunch of smart, talented, funny people (ranging in age from their late twenties to early sixties) in the same room with excellent (“quaffable”) beer? And said people all write for a living, primarily about beer and/or spirits?
You get an evening of top-notch discussion (about writing, the business of writing, the impact of the web on said business); high quality grousing (about same); and enough laughter and joy to keep those people energized for months to come. And, yeah, okay: you had to be there to understand what menopause, marijuana, and meat have in common. – Maureen Ogle
This roomful of writers were more interested in my reaction to a platter of ribs than they were in the new beer book I was trying to glad-handle that night. And why not? They’re all story tellers, and watching a North Carolina food and beverage writer evaluate one of her home state’s specialty dishes halfway across the country was a potentially dramatic moment. The ribs were decent, although they were slathered in the wrong kind of barbecue sauce (I’m a vinegar and dry rub fanatic). As beer lovers are won’t to do, we were all drinking from each other’s glasses, and British writer Tim Webb finished up my ribs, proving that beer writers are the most laid back folks in the world.
I later got Jeff Cioletti to drop me off on a street corner so I could attend another event, which he did not want to do. But hey, I can take care of myself. If anyone messes with me, I’ll just stab them with a pen and then text Win Bassett, whose smartphone is bionically attached to his wrist. – Anne Fitten Glenn
I believe at one point in the evening, I was chatting with Jay Brooks at Prost Brewing and tried to make a parallel between the RateBeer database and the inner workings of my physics thesis. Jay, with endless patience, didn’t bludgeon me with the nearest Maßkrug, and I’m pretty sure I eventually swung things back around to the topic of beer: how challenging it can be to come to a consensus on the notion of “good beer” and, to a lesser degree, our modest roles as beer writers in helping shape those value systems within the industry. We also talked about French fries and our recent moves.
In a nutshell, this past weekend was an opportunity for many of us to really connect for the first time, as well as to begin some of these larger conversations not only about the beer industry, but about the beer-writing industry. As is the case for craft brewers, we come from hugely disparate backgrounds (there isn’t exactly a PhD program in beer writing out there). There aren’t many of us; we generally have to explain to people what on earth it is we do for a living; and, like the earliest days of craft beer, we’re all trying to make it in (and make sense of) an industry that barely exists. It’s significantly more fun when you realize you’re all in that state together. – Ken Weaver
You guys think you have it bad. Every room we’ve been in this weekend has been yellow. – Anneliese Schmidt, photographer
First, to Ali’s point, I am attaching to a photo of Tim Webb. Ah, yellow journalism.
Second, Win, surprised to see you call this “the largest gathering of beer writers in the States.” You were at the Beer Bloggers Conference in Indianapolis, right? Lot more people. Although I think all of us who gathered in Denver share an affection for print, most of us blog, tweet, post to Facebook, comment, and do all sorts of things that may or may not be actually related to journalism. Were you the only one at both? You might need to jump back in here and give us a little compare and contrast. Do they talk about beer more? Less? Who do they make fun of? What do they really think of John Holl? These are the questions we forgot to ask you in Denver. – Stan Hieronymus
What do you get when you cross a bunch of beer writers with another bunch of beer writers? That’s easy. An entirely enjoyable and utterly unanticipated night of idea exchanging, editor slagging – good-natured, of course, or at least for the most part – mutual encouragement, occasional cynicism and, ultimately, very cold, very good martinis. – Stephen Beaumont
As a full-time freelancer writer, I’m used to toiling in solitude, with my dog typically the only person I talk to during the day. It’s rare that I get a chance to interact with fellow writers, much less beer writers, a rare tribe that seemingly only exists in the brew-soaked shadows of bars, breweries and beer festivals. Thus, getting a chance to chat with a gang of fellow beer scribes was a bit of a Halley’s Comet moment—something I feel lucky to have experienced at once. Their shared knowledge, experience, advice and intensely enjoyable griping led to a wholly unexpected, wholly pleasurable evening. My only regret was that I had to leave so early, unable to hear what people said after they really got good and tanked. – Josh Bernstein
Writers read each other. We look at what others are producing and wish we had thought of it, or had that kind of access, or whatever. For those committed to the craft, it fuels our desire to be better and to learn from those around us. This group that gathered in a small back room of a brewery while the revelry of the Saturday evening GABF session raged a short distance away all knew each other even if they hadn’t yet met in person. What I saw and experienced was the change from acquaintances into friends. While we are still competitors on some level, we are united in the common thread of beer and words. In that respect, we are not much different than the brewers and businesses we cover. I’m already looking forward to the next gathering. – John Holl
Having been lobbying to get the beer writers guild up and running again since 2007, when I first contacted and began pestering a number of friends and colleagues, it was immensely gratifying to finally have a get together of beer writers. This is especially true when it was the highlight of the week for me, and apparently many others. It finally feels like we have the momentum to launch, or re-launch, a beer writer’s guild. Thanks to everyone who made it out. I definitely think this should be an annual event, like when we used to meet at the Tattered Cover book store in the days of yore. With a little more planning—really any planning—I feel confident we can find a new location each year to get together, drink a few beers, and discuss the state of the world, solving all of the world’s problems in the process. Or did it just feel that way? – Jay Brooks
I arrived after the dinner and stayed until after the martinis, so I got to see the looser end of the evening, the time when we stopped being just beer writers and started talking like the old friends with either are or will come to be. That’s what’s important here: the stories we tell are always better when we share them with people, people who can react, add their own opinion and have the ability to help you see something in a different way (or at least fight for their opinion). If all we ever did was tap and scribble away on our own, then our stories would suck. Why was it important to meet up? Because now we’ve gained colleagues and friends we can call on to check a fact, argue an opinion or just brag about who has the best-seller on Amazon. – Mark Dredge
Although I was only able to attend the meeting briefly, I sensed the need for such meetings, as a forum to talk about professional matters. It was a great chance to see people face to face, something that is woefully infrequent in the electronic era and to catch up with one another about personal projects, both past and present. Our hosts could not have been more gracious, and I look forward to the next meeting, where ever it may be. – Jamie Magee
Are beer writers folks who cover beer, or beer lovers who’ve chosen to spend our livelihoods writing about it? I finally found the answer in that brewery’s back room, during GABF but just scarcely removed from it. The people who filled that room consisted of a few friends I’ve known for a while and a few I’ve only read and possibly emailed or Facebooked but never met. In all cases, even before arriving, they had my respect and admiration. We drank together (obviously), laughed together (frequently), and then walked out together as a group (most of us continuing on to yet another brewery). By night’s and pint’s end, my respect and admiration for them had doubled, augmented by new or deeper friendship and affinity. So, that question—writers about beer or drunks who write? All I’ll say is, all in attendance had impeccable taste in beer, were vigilant against bad diction, professionals who know their worth, and opposed casual F-bombs in their work but were not afraid of dropping them when appropriate (or hilariously inappropriate). I can’t wait for the next opportunity to get together, and not only do I plan on smuggling in some special bottles, I’ll make sure we discard the evidence even though it seems ridiculous that we should have to. – Brian Yaeger
In a sense, I was a bit of an outsider at the meeting because of all of the different hats I wear. While I spend a lot of time writing about the business side of beer, both craft and macro, I do a fair amount about non-beer beverages. I think that in a lot of ways, it’s a positive thing because it affords me the perspective on how craft beer fits into the grand scheme of the beverage market. Craft beer is my passion, and sometimes, I find it difficult to walk the line between advocate and objective observer.
It was also interesting to hear everyone talk about writing fees and such, especially since I’m one of the editors to whom freelance writers frequently pitch stories. But fortunately, as I learned at the meeting, we tend to register a lot higher on the fairness meter than a lot of other media properties out there. – Jeff Cioletti
I joined the convocation late and couldn’t stay long, but I left with a thought-provoking article idea nonetheless. While a spirited discussion among myself, Steven Beaumont and British writer Tim Webb ended with a debate about the impossibility of putting quality beer cans (of course it was the Brit who dissed the can), it began with assertions about American exceptionalism and questions about the lasting impact of the American beer industry on the world stage. For all of its boast and bluster, the American beer scene is producing a lot of crap. Wild experimentation has led to a spasmodic spewing of barrels, bugs and odd ingredients that seems to lack a center. Aside from our obsession with loads of hops, will any of this be of lasting importance in the world of beer? Or is it that sense of adventure itself that will be our contribution? – Michael Agnew
I spent most of my time listening that night. As one of the younger members of the group (likely youngest), I enjoyed listening to my fellow beer writers even more than contributing to their conversations. But that’s my typical MO: I sometimes think of myself as an industry observer rather than a writer, as I spend much more time reading and listening than I do scribbling and typing. A small side conversation I did participate in though ranged from post-9/11 memories to the caliber of thinkers that work in beer. Looking back on that gathering, I feel thankful to have shared thoughts and space with many similar observers, and many of those seriously talented thinkers who have decided to devote their time and thoughts to beer. – Christopher Shepard
And somewhere in the soup—the basic stock from which it is made perhaps—a feeling that these mad chaotic moments in beer history need more chronicling than can be achieved by blogging and rating alone. Not just more writers but more books and more valued and valuable opinions. Where food and wine have gone, surely beer must follow, if it is ever to be taken as its producers and proponents would wish. – Tim Webb