Today is beer blogger extraordinaire Alan McLeod’s 50th birthday. Alan runs a good beer blog, called — curiously enough — A Good Beer Blog. I’m not sure what came first, the goodness or the blog. Anyway, though I’ve yet to meet Alan in person I feel as if he’s already a great, not just good, friend through our many conversations via e-mail and commenting on one anothers’ blogs. If you haven’t read his essay in the book Beer & Philosophy yet, rush right out and buy yourself a copy. Join me in wishing Alan the very merriest of birthdays. Cheers, mate.
For the last few years, I’ve been pestering some of my colleagues that we needed to revive the long dormant Beer Writers Guild that folded a decade or so ago. Happily, people less lazy than me then took up the cause and led the charge, especially Lucy Saunders, who did much of the heavy lifting. Little by little, we’ve gotten the band back together, and have been quietly rebuilding a trade group for those of us trying to make a living writing about beer. Just by word of mouth, we’ve rounded up forty members and are hoping to increase that. Dues for the new North American Guild of Beer Writers are $45 a year for a full membership, $25 for an associate membership and we also have $100 industry memberships for “those employed by breweries, allied industries or agencies, interested in supporting the Guild and outreach to beer writers.” Full details on membership can be found on the “Join Us” page. Here’s the basic information:
We are beer writers.
Sometimes we act as evangelists, advocates and celebrators. Other times we are antagonists, agitators and truth-seekers. We are authors, writers, publicists, bloggers and columnists. We tirelessly cover the brewing industry — and those who appreciate beer — across North America.
Many of us are self-employed or do this as a side “gig” in addition to our “real jobs.” Some of us are employed by breweries, beer distributors, beer stores and restaurants. Still others are publishers and event organizers, while some work for newspapers, websites, magazines and other media outlets.
We are an all-volunteer group dedicated to elevating the level of our craft as we cover the art of brewing.
We are beer writers. We strive to promote better beer.
Won’t you please join us in bringing better beer writing to North America?
We are inspired by learning from shared experiences, and believe that an annual writers’ competition will foster awareness and appreciation of beer and brewing in North America.
If you’re trying to make a living writing about beer, or even doing it as a side gig, please consider joining us at the NAGBW. Things are just getting started, but plans are afoot to have regional get-togethers, meetings at prominent national events, like GABF and the Craft Brewers Conference, and a competition for excellence in beer writing.
Join us to share in beer education, travel, guided tastings, conferences and more. We organize an annual writers contest to encourage public appreciation of beer and brewing. In addition, we organize events to increase members’ knowledge of beer and brewing, and to sharpen their writing, reporting, design and broadcast skills. The group also supports professional standards among its members and other members of the media.
We’re looking for people who take the craft of writing seriously, and who specialize in beer, and want to learn how to be a better writer, how to get more work and also have some fun with colleagues. I’m pretty sure our get-togethers will have better beer than the average trade guild.
Wednesday’s ad is for Old Vienna, the Canadian O’Keefe’s brand, from 1953. While painting the floor red — why?, only heaven knows — the family dog knocks over both the painter and the can of paint. What to do next? The ad suggests that you “cool off” and “open a bottle of sparkling, light-bodied Old Vienna Beer. Is that before or after you smack the dog with a rolled-up newspaper?
Monday’s ad is for Dow Breweries, from — I assume — the 1950s, when bowling was king. Plus that was when ad copy was obsessed with the idea of modernity. Dow’s slogan, “The up-to-date ale for up-to-date people” is quite a mouthful, but it’s meant for modern people, since the beer is also “brewed to the modern taste,” whatever that means. How did they do that? Simple, it was “cool control” brewed, of course.
Canada’s Random House Publishing runs an interesting website called Hazlitt, where, presumably, they feature their own authors on a variety of topics. The one that caught my attention was by Linda Besner, and it’s an essay about My Best Friend, beer.
She begins by claiming that mankind has been “thinking and talking about beer since 4000 B.C.” She’s only off by as much 5,500 years, since brewing is believed to have begun with the “advent of agriculture in the Neolithic Period of the Stone Age about 11,500 years ago.” I don’t want to dwell on that, because we haven’t even gotten to the meat of it, but it did make me initially skeptical.
The story concerns a study that examined beer commercials from both the U.S. and the Ukraine, described as a “cross-cultural study of beer’s metaphors.” Again, I’m quibbling a bit, because the researchers looked at a total of 37 ads from both nations, not exactly a large number, but the author credits them with having “seen a lot of beer commercials.” I think the average consumer might see nearly that many during the average football game, or certainly over the course of a Sunday watching sports in general. But okay, let’s let them make their point. What did they find?
“While the personification of beer is consistent from Ukrainian to U.S. commercials, it seems to me that the kind of person beer is in Ukraine is different from the kind of person beer is in the States.”
In the Ukrainian commercials, the study notes, “people do not become friends by sharing beer; rather beer drinking occurs among individuals who are already established as friends, which entails a close and trusting relationship.” The people drinking beer together are described as druh, which Dr. Lantolf translates as being like the English concept of “best friend,” rather than tovarysch, which translates as “comrade” or “acquaintance.”
In the United States, it’s almost the opposite. Apparently, we use the term “friend” rather loosely, calling people we hardly know, or have just met, our friends. In other words, many of our friends are more superficial, at least compared to how Ukrainians see them.
To illustrate, they give the example of a Budweiser commercial currently up on YouTube under the name “Magic Beer.” A young man sits alone at a bar, opening a bottle. He pours it into his glass, but, miraculously, once the glass is full, beer continues to spill forth. Quickly, he pours some of the excess beer into the glasses of the men next to him. In the next shot, the bar is packed with carousers dancing to a live Scottish band as beer continues to gush from the magic bottle. The erstwhile lonely young man dances between his new friends, a beatific look on his face. Then he drops the bottle. It smashes on the floor, and the flow of beer trickles to nothing amid ghastly silence. The outraged people around him glare daggers. Those closest to him turn and walk away.
Frankly, I hate these ads. They’re not just superficial, they’re utterly ridiculous. Saying they’re depicting how typical Americans act, or view friendship, seems like quite a leap. I think it says more about the advertisers than the consumers, and maybe even a little about the researchers that they think idealized commercials reflect real life.
Even if I accept the premise, that that may be how some people see their “friends,” I’ve never considered such people my friends. Fair-weather friends, perhaps, but that’s a rather derogatory expression. Is it possible I’m not typical? No, I don’t think so, because I’m pretty sure most of the people I know well feel roughly the same way.
I love beer. I make my living writing about it, reviewing, analyzing it, along with the people and companies who make, sell and market it. I have admittedly made friends, to varying degrees, with actual people who work in the industry. But I’d never mistake the beer itself as my friend. It’s an inanimate object, after all. I may love beer, but in the same way I love potato chips or frites. It’s not the same as another person. Doesn’t everyone know the difference?
Not according to the study, apparently. To wit:
It seems that not only do Americans see beer as a person, they see beer as a person other people like better than them. In this scenario, beer is the cool friend you bring to the party who makes you popular by association. As soon as your cool friend leaves, no one wants to hang out with you anymore. It’s doubtful, Dr. Lantolf says, that the producers of “Magic Beer” and other commercials are consciously depicting shallow friendships: “I think that what they were showing is how Americans typically behave.: Dr. Bobrova is originally from the Ukraine, and she says, “I didn’t expect that American commercials would show this superficial concept of American friendships. I have many friends in the U.S. and we spend time together and I share everything with them as with Ukrainian friends. But commercials show a little bit of a different picture. But then,” she adds, “I’m not a beer person.”
Should I be insulted by that? I’m really not sure. I don’t believe that’s “how Americans typically behave.” Sure, there are certainly superficial people in the world, and I’d be willing to accept that a lot of them live here in the States, but I don’t think it’s something most people aspire too. I don’t think Americans view superficiality as a positive attribute. So when the researchers say they think “Americans see beer as a person,” it’s the people in the commercials who may “see beer as a person,” but they’re not real. They’re actors. It’s not the same thing. The advertisers are projecting an image onto the characters to sell us something. It’s not necessarily a reflection of real people, or real life. Am I off base here?
I know many Canadians quietly don’t think too much of their neighbors, and there are certainly times when I agree with them, at least about how we sometimes behave and view the world. But this one I just don’t quite understand. The author of the piece, Linda Besner, is a poet from Quebec who recently published her first collection, The Id Kid. And they may be fine poems, “sassy and sumptuous,” as her publisher describes them, but I can’t help but think she doesn’t know human nature as well as she might think. But the researchers have even more to answer for, since they’re from the University of Pennsylvania, the same school where Patrick McGovern, author of Uncorking the Past, does his research and teaches.
In the end, however effective advertising can be, I tend to think most people know the difference between it and real life. My old hometown beer — Reading Premium Beer — used to advertise with the wonderful slogan: “The Friendly Beer for Modern People.” I love that phrase, but it’s utterly meaningless. I don’t think beer can be friendly, any more than my cat actually likes me when I rub her belly. Oh, sure, it looks likes she’s smiling, but I know she really thinks of me as the hired help. But actual personification, or anthropomorphisation in the case of my feline companions, of beer is ultimately just as futile. It’s just the advertisers trying to project — maybe that needs a new word: advermorphisation — human characteristics onto inanimate objects. Beer will never be my BFF. The people I drink beer with? Those are my people, my true BFFs.
Thursday’s ad is for Molson, a fairly recent ad, from 2004. The ad is extolling the virtues of Molson’s “Twin Label Technology,” which as far as I can tell means you can turn the bottle around and there’s a second label with a funny saying on it. With labels like “It’s Over,” “I’m Not Wearing Any Underwear” and “Nice Mullet,” it’s clever but isn’t reason enough to buy the beer inside. It seems like mainstream beer companies spend far more resources on their labels, advertising and marketing than the beer itself.
Friday’s ad is for “the Pride of Canada,” a claim made by Molson in this ad from the — what do you think? — sixties or seventies? It also includes this classic quote from founder John Molson, from 1786, when he would have been 23 years old. “An honest brew makes its own friends.” I wonder if he ever really said it?
Tuesday’s ad is for the Canadian beer O’Keefe’s and specifically their Old Vienna. I’m not sure when it’s from, though the 1950s seems a safe bet. The tagline, “reach for an Old Vienna” is being acted out as an unseen hand passes a case of beer over the head of the woman of the house as her husband reaches out to take possession. Her expression is priceless, her lips purse in alarm perhaps worrying that the case will be dropped on her head or ruin the salad she’s holding in her hands. Now that’s “party time … anytime!” Oh, and does that kitchen background look fake? Look closely at the window.