Wednesday 1 June 2011

Baffled & Bemused

Clearly not one of the world's best bottled beers
I'm a bit confused this morning (not that this is much different from most other mornings) over national newspapers and their attitudes to writing about beer.

Yesterday morning there was a 'top 10 bottled beers' slideshow online at the Independent; the headline is the world's best bottled beers but the choice is bizarre at best by that standard (Doom Bar for example, as far as I can remember, hasn't won any major world awards for at least five years) and some of the descriptions bear more than a passing resemblance to what's written on the websites.

And apart from the fact that, obviously, I earn my living from writing about beer what really bothers me is, as Pete Brown reported on his blog, there seems to be some sort of in-built prejudice against beer within the national press, or more to the point beer writers!

You can tell the disdain they have for beer because, instead of getting a specialist beer writer to select a range of award-winning beers, they got a freelance who used to be a political aide to Zac Goldsmith; now that's not to denigrate the chap, I'm sure he's a great professional and I have no problem with him saying yes to the commission, hell we've all done it.

What I don't understand is why the paper gave him the job!

After all, you don't ask a political correspondent to write about the arts, you don't ask a war reporter to comment on wine - so why the hell do the nationals always ask someone totally unqualified to write about beer? It just doesn't make sense.

If you care about beer, at all, please pull the nationals up in the comments sections and let's try and get them to give this fantastic, complex and exciting drink the respect it deserves.


Pub Diaries said...

It's all got the faint whiff of cut and paste journalism with the odd comment from PR companies for good measure.

As a group you think journo's would know beer, though maybe the image of the beer sodden hack is on the way out.

In the absence of proper beer writers getting the gig I want to read Peston's picks and hear Paxo's view on the CAMRA debate raging.

Tim said...

Every single review in that slideshow said something to the effect of "a malty sweetness balanced by a bitter hoppiness" or "Hoppy bitterness complements the sweet maltiness" - No imagination in flavour descriptors at all - just malty hoppiness and hoppy maltiness. Boring journalism that betrays a real lack of understanding about beer (as well as a deficiency of functioning tastebuds?)

Melissa Cole said...

@Tim, I also thought that, but am also conscious people must be very bored of me saying that too!! ; )

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

I wouldn’t get too heated up, I suspect it’s someone hanging around the office being asked to do a quick job that will cost nothing (I don’t think the Indie is awash in loot), it could have been the world’s ten best perfumes or rugby tries, we shouldn’t get too hung up over it, and as pub dairies says,cut and paste, we’ve all been there, on the other hand the Indie does have Guild member Will Hawkes who writes some excellent features on the likes of Kernel for the online version.

Anonymous said...

This is what it feels like for a lot of small brewers struggling away out there.

Basically this journo has taken a few relatively well known and popular beers that are marketed well and included them in his list. Is this any different from what the majority of beer writers do? I see this all the time with beer bloggers/writers. They only write about a narrow number of beers. They seem to feed of each other and all you have is the same old, same old on the lists. Sure they have their favourites which they promote heavily and even go as far as to do collaborative brews which they also promote heavily (this is a whole seperate integrity issue). I guess what I'm saying is that views of the guy who wrote this article are probably slightly less biased than your average beer writer.

The descriptions are similar to what the manufacturers (sorry...brewers) say on their websites.....I would be surprised if they were radically different. There are accusations of cut and paste journalism and PR departments which could very well be levelled at some so-called beer experts/writers. After all, why is it only a small minority of British beers/brewers that get the majority of coverage by Britains bloggers & writers.....something to do with PR maybe? And before someone says something about it being the brewer's responsibility to promote themselves and make sure the beer writers know about them - surely that smacks of laziness on the writers part and PR resources on the brewers part.

So, Melissa, you may not understand why the paper gave him the job and neither do I. But I have a similar feeling when I ask the question why are the beer writers only writing about a handful of breweries and beers.

And why "anonymous"? I'm a brewer and to be honest I wouldn't trust the beer writing fraternity not to try do my brands some damage in return for expressing my views. Although it would be nice to get the exposure!

Melissa Cole said...

@anonymous you raise some interesting points there which have given me some thing to think about.

However, there are a couple I'd like to respond to.

Firstly, I would say that often when it seems like we are writing about the same beers in the national press this is an availability issue, they have only recently become okay with using brewery websites or very small distribution operations, the demands were often for supermarket or off licence brands only, vicious circle and a nightmare for small brewers I will admit.

As for collaboration brewing being an integrity issue I'd never even thought of it like that and whilst I understand where you're coming from in a way I'd like to think that if ever Otley, Dark Star or Thornbridge behaved in a manner that I think deplorable I'd speak out.

For example, I was a huge supporter of BrewDog when they first started and have reversed that position as I feel they've become toxic rather than helpful to the industry.

I'm sorry you feel you have to stay anonymous but I totally respect your right to do so and thanks for making your points so eloquently, as I said, they've given me something to think about.

Unknown said...

Yeah, the old hoppymaltyswetmaltyhoppymaltysweetIdon'tknowwhatthehellI'mtalkingabout review style, such as it is.

The sad thing is, with dreary reviews like these, the purpose of the article is defeated. People are going to be bored, not enticed.

Like you say, they should have got a pro to do it. Suggest it to them directly and they might pick you next time!

SteveF said...

I think anonymous raises some reasonable points. There are some great breweries out there that fly outside of the currently trendy radar. Buntingford are one example I think. They're producing some really great ales at the moment. Having said that, most of the trendy breweries are pretty great so it's good that they get publicity.

Stuey said...

You know my feelings on the matter. It's bonkers that the Saturday broadsheets write about everything from fashion through to furniture and ignore beer.

Why not give those restaurant critics a rest from writing about yet another London restaurant and see try out a beer column, see how readers react.

Stephen Beaumont said...

Having only recently been in Argentina for the Great South Beer Cup, I laughed out loud when I saw Quilmes included in the list. Jay Brooks and I ordered a bottle with a barbecue lunch on our last day in BA and found the only way to make it palatable was to ice it down with the proffered cubes.

To your point about newspapers switching reporters from gig to gig, though, you should know that it's a time honoured tradition, Melissa. Sports reporters become restaurant reviewers, business scribes pen wine reviews, arts guys are shifted from rock music to the gallery circuit; it's been going on for years. Which doesn't excuse in any way the absurdity of the list -- a single Belgian, and an astonishingly mediocre one, at that, in the entire list? -- but does help explain its origins.

Ravish said...

lol, That list is a joke. I'm no beer expert, but I know Modelo isn't close to being number one.