Next Session Questions The Friendliness Of Breweries

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For the 107th Session, our host will be Dan Conley, who writes the brewery blog for the Community Beer Works in Buffalo, New York. For his topic, he’s asking us to consider whether breweries are our friends, or not, by bluntly asking the question. “Are breweries your friends?” Dan goes on to explain what he’s looking for in his announcement for the January Session:

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To be in business nowadays you pretty much have to have a social media presence. This is especially true in the beer world, where some breweries have basically built themselves on their personality. And yet, at the end of the day, we’re also selling you something.

I believe this is the first Session to be hosted by a brewery rather than beer blogger. [It’s not, but he’s correct that there haven’t been many. Ed.] How do you feel about that? Do you want your feeds clear of businesses, or do you like when a brewery engages with people? Can you think of anyone who does it particularly well, or poorly? As the person who does our social media, which I think is very good (although not quite good enough), I struggle with this problem. I’m on both sides, and rather than come to any sort of conclusion of my own I thought I would make all of you write about it.

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So what do you think? Are breweries in the friend zone? Should they be? Should they stay at arm’s length from their customers? Or somewhere in between? To participate in the January Session, leave the link to your post in a comment to the original announcement or tag them on Twitter at @communitybeer with your post on or before Friday, January 1. And please note that the first Friday of the month of January is the very first day of the new year. Given the revelry of the night before, it may be easy to overlook so you may want to tackle it before popping the cork on 2015.

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Session #106 Round-Up

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This month’s Session was holiday-themed, all about Holiday beers, and quite a few people were feeling the season. With over a dozen submissions besides my own, most of our participants are in favor of holiday beers, with just a couple dissenters, and a lot of reviewed seasonals. Here’s what everybody had to say:

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The Beer NutChristmas for Home Brewers: In his post, the Beer Nut weaves a nice tale of Smithwick’s Homebrew Challenge, and reviews the two finalists from the competition, and both sound delicious just from their names: Sebastian’s Apple Pie Christmas Ale and Brian & Stephen’s Old Town Christmas Ale. And the winner is … nope, I won’t spoil the surprise. But it’s sounds like a fun contest and a great opportunity for local homebrewers, with the winner presumably getting an especially wonderful Christmas present.

Beer Search PartyIt’s Christmastime: Sean picks his six-pack worth of favorite, or essential, holiday beers. His choices include a few classics, a few imports and a few locals. After that, he’s on the hunt for new ones, but his regulars seem like enough to get anyone through the holidays.

Bend Beer Librarian’s By the BarrelHoliday Beers: As befits a library, Mark’s post is well-organized, starting with some general thoughts on his relationship with Christmas beers before tackling some specific beers and going on to answer my suggested question to give people ideas on what to write about, before finishing with some final thoughts. It’s a long and very thorough look at holiday beers.

Boak & BailyHoliday Beers: B&B decided that covered almost everything about holiday beers in previous posts, helpfully providing links, but ultimately had an interesting insight. “In an age when strong beers — really strong beers — are available all year round, and when Halloween beers have dibs on wintry spices, does Christmas beer even exist any more? Wizzard got their wish: for beer drinkers, it can be Christmas every day.” It’s a curious notion. Are Christmas beers no longer as special because there are so many other seasonals around throughout the rest of the year?

Blog BirraireHoliday Beers: Joan discusses the great change that occurred in Spain with holiday beers in specific, and the increase in craft beer more generally. Apparently in 2011, there were only four locally brewed holiday beers. Today that number is large enough that she’s no longer certain how many there are.

The Brew SiteHoliday Beers: Jon’s a fan of all things Christmas — even fruitcake — and loves holiday beers, as well. He offers a few suggestions as what comes close to being an ideal Christmas beer, but believing that the perfect example may not exist. But in the end, it’s own recipe that comes closest, a homebrew inspired by fruitcake, which he’s named Christmas Cheer.

Gary Gillman’s Beer et seq.The Session Looks at a Holiday or Christmas Tradition in Beer: Gary muses on the many traditions in brewing around the holidays that were sufficiently vague and uncategorized to noy create any one specific way of creating a Christmas beer. And he concludes that that’s a good thing. “It’s good that in a day when beers have been categorized to within an inch of their life, a fairly hazy notion endures about Christmas beer. Hazy suits the idea of a strongish ale sipped indolently at Christmas anyway.”

A Good Beer BlogChristmas Ales Through The Bloggy Years: Alan takes issue my description of what I think holidays beers should aspire to, and details the austerity of the holiday during his upbringing, and it’s lack of beer in its traditions, both then and now, apart from a few there and again. He concludes that for him, a least, the season isn’t about beer, though he admits “it’ll play its part.”

Kaedrin Beer BlogA 5 Year Anchor Christmas Vertical: Like me, Mark loves holiday beers, and managed to collect the last five years of Anchor’s Christmas Ale — also one of my annual favorites — to do a vertical tasting with some friends. Interestingly, last year’s vintage proved the most popular. When Anchor was more heavily spicing their Xmas beer, I felt it was ideal when it was one-year old. They also toyed with blending, an interesting idea, and vowed to do more of that next year.

Our Tasty TravelsTrapella Especial de Nadal by La Birreria Andorra: Their holiday diary is all about tasting a Christmas beer, Trapella Especial de Nadal from a brewery in Andorra.

Ramblings of a Beer RunnerAnchor Brewing’s Mark Carpenter Talks about the Transformation of the Anchor Christmas Beer: Derek’s post is especially nice because Mark Carpenter is a friend, and a great person. So it’s great to get his take on holiday beers, and the origins of Anchor’s Christmas Ale. I love the insight that while many breweries go with “holiday” or “winter,” Anchor stuck with “Christmas” in the title. As Mark remembers. “Fritz always insisted having ‘Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’ on the labels. It shortens the selling time and our distributors wanted us to change it for that reason, but I think it’s a great tradition. The new owners of Anchor insist on this as well.”

Tom BedellHoliday Beers: For the past three years, Tom’s reviewed a dozen holiday beers and for his post included a link to his reprise of 2014’s beers, before detailing a few of his rules and highlighting this year’s Deschutes Jubelale.

Yours For Good FermentablesHoliday Beers: Thomas decided to keep things simple and just talked about a couple of beers that make him happy, his usual favorite, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale and a more recent choice Deschutes Jubelale.

If you know of any Session posts I missed, or if I missed yours, please drop me a note at “Jay (.) Brooks (@) gmail (.) com.” Happy Christmas.

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According to the Session calendar, the next Session will be hosted by Dan Conley at the Community Beer Works Blog. His topic will be “Are breweries your friends?” The date for the next Session will be New Year’s Day, January 1, 2016.

Boolean Logic & Beer

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Today would have been the 200th birthday of George Boole, the self-taught mathematician who came up with Boolean algebra and Boolean logic. He’s been called the “father of the information age” because his Boolean logic made possible modern computer science. “Boolean algebra has been fundamental in the development of digital electronics, and is provided for in all modern programming languages. It is also used in set theory and statistics.” Boolean logic is “a form of algebra in which all values are reduced to either TRUE or FALSE. Boolean logic is especially important for computer science because it fits nicely with the binary numbering system, in which each bit has a value of either 1 or 0.” How Stuff Works has a nice overview of How Boolean Logic Works.

So what does any of this have to do with beer? Practically nothing, except that Scientific American had an article yesterday about Boole to celebrate his 200th anniversary coming up today. In the piece, The Bicentennial of George Boole, the Man Who Laid the Foundations of the Digital Age, after writing about Boole’s life and contributions to the study of mathematics, the author turns to some examples of how his Boolean logic is applied in the real world in, for instance, Google searches:

Boolean algebra and Boolean logic are very well known today, and form the backbone of electrical engineering and computer science. Indeed anyone who even casually searches the Internet , say for “Michael Jackson” the late beer and whiskey expert rather than the singer and dancer of the same name, knows how to make judicious use of AND, OR and NOT.

It’s pretty cool that he picked Michael Jackson as the search topic, and it’s a good choice since it’s hard to get just beer-centric results when the more famous Michael Jackson usually tops the list unless you figure out how to filter out the king of pop. Michael used to joke that the singer was named after him, since he was older, but it must be a pain in neck for anyone who shares a name with a person more famous them themselves. Remember the character Michael Bolton in the wonderful film “Office Space?”

I reproduced the search, and got slightly different results, but pretty funny, and cool — at least from my point of view — is in both instances one of my posts was the third result.

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It’s a lengthy post I did a couple of years ago, Know Your Beer Gods & Goddesses, in which I researched world cultures and created a list of gods and goddesses that had something to do with beer, discovering over 100 examples. I jokingly included an entry for Michael as the “God of Beer Writers,” so that’s why my post turns up in a search for Jackson’s name. So that made my day, nice to show up in Scientific American, however tangentially.

And just to round out the ephemeral post, I’ll leave you with a little Boolean humor:

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Silly Questions: If Your Blog Were A Beer

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Okay, this is pretty silly, but starts out with some interesting comparisons. The infographic by Visually, asks the question If Your Blog Were A Beer, What Kind Would It Be? Once they start trying to define blogs by type of beer, it goes off the rails. For example, calling stouts “the heavyweights of the beer world,” shows that they don’t really understand their beer. Still, it’s fun little exercise, even it went goofy in its execution. Oh, and I don’t think I fit any of their identified blogs.

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Click here to see the infographic full size.

Session #104: Reports Of The Session’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

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For our 104th Session, our host is Alan McLeod, who writes A Good Beer Blog. For the topic, he’s extending the discussion I started a few weeks ago in The Monthly Session: Should It Continue Or Should We Let It Go? Twenty people weighed and cast a vote, and the ayes held the day, 15 to 5. So there you have it, we’re still alive, though perhaps on life support. Alan, who magnanimously offered to step in this month, did just that, donning his cape and wearing his matching knickers on the outside, is here to save the day. In his announcement, Session 104: Quick! Write… And Make It Good!!, he’s challenged people to step up, calling us all a “bunch of sookie babies” and get to it, meaning writing blog posts.

So, time to suck it up. I am hosting and you bunch of sookie babies are writing blog posts. Got it? I was going to tell you to write anything you feel like whether it makes any sense or not… but then I realized that’s what you do anyway. Especially you. Yes, you!! So you are going to write about this: if we just “take the philosophical approach, that the Session has run its course” aren’t we really admitting that beer blogging is a massive failure? I say no. I say this is a fabulous way to cover up problem drinking with anti-social internet addictions. Maybe you know of another reason we should keep writing and try to make some sense of the beer and brewing world. Well, goodie for you. Write about it. Explain yourself. Because if you can’t you are really admitting (i) you’ve wasted the best part of the last decade or (ii) you live in a fantasy world where think you are a beer writer and not a beer blogger and that’s soooooo much more important… as if your friends don’t share concerned messages about you behind your back:

Linda? It’s Barry. Yes, I saw him. He still pretends he writes about alcohol as a job… she’s the strong one… poor things… where will it end?

Make it good.

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So I’m obviously late with my Session post this month, being that it’s Monday and The Session really took place last Friday. But this time I wasn’t just busy, I waited until today on purpose. I wanted to see what people had to say. As Alan noted, I had the shakes and even was a bit verklempt, as Stan and I wondered aloud and in print if The Session might have run its course. At best, it was on life support as people were no longer volunteering to host and keep it going.

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Between the polls I took and my post, The Monthly Session: Should It Continue Or Should We Let It Go?, from a two weeks ago, I had an idea that many people would say that The Session should continue. And largely that seemed to be the case, even if participation seemed … well, not enormous. But more importantly, I wanted to see if anybody offered to host, to actually do something to help The Session survive. Happily, several people did.

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I’ve now reached out to the people who offered to host and confirmed a month for them, adding them to the schedule. A few have already come up with a topic. But don’t let that deter you. Even if you haven’t been plugged in to host an upcoming Session, don’t despair, it’s not too late. Leave a comment here with your e-mail and I’ll reach out to you to find a month for you to host.

The Upcoming Session Schedule

  • November 6, 2015: Mark Ciocco at Kaedrin Beer Blog
  • December 4, 2015: Jay Brooks at Brookston Beer Bulletin
  • January 1, 2016: Dan Conley at Community Beer Works Blog
  • February 5, 2016: Jon Abernathy at The Brew Site
  • March 4, 2016: Mark Lindner at By the Barrel: Bend Beer Librarian
  • April 1, 2016: Sean Inman at Beer Search Party
  • May 6, 2016: Oliver Gray at Literature and Libation
  • June 3, 2016: Carla Companion at The Beer Babe

And Stan also offered to host again, as well, though on the poll said he would “after some others step up.” We now have eight months scheduled, nine once Stan chimes in with his favored month, which is a pretty good result.

See you next month. Same beer time, same beer channel.

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The Monthly Session: Should It Continue Or Should We Let It Go?

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Way back in early 2007, Stan Hieronymus had an idea, one he’d borrowed from the wine bloggers, who at the time were further along in both numbers and longevity. That idea was Beer Blogging Friday, the monthly Session that takes place on the first Friday of each month. The plan was simple. Beer bloggers from around the world would get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic each month, on the first Friday. Each time, a different beer blogger would host the Session, having chosen a topic and then afterwards would create a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. Over time, I had hoped that we’d collectively have created a record with lots of useful information about various topics on the subject of beer. And for a while, it worked great.

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Around 2008, Stan went on an 18-month around-the-world trip with his wife and daughter, and I took over keeping track of the Session, and put up a page here listing all of the topics with links along with instructions on how to host and participate. When he got back, it was simple enough for me to keep the archive going and between the two of us keep recruiting hosts. It’s now been 104 months in a row, a little more than eight years, and somebody has stepped up each month volunteering to be the host and keep it going. There have been a few months when it looked like nobody was going to host, but so far something always seemed to work out. In the early days, we were booked out months ahead with hosts, which was great, and made things a lot easier to manage. Lately, however, it’s been hard finding hosts and fewer and fewer people have been stepping up. For the last year or so, we’ve limped along, and we’ve been able to keep going only by the skin of our teeth. There have been more than a few months when someone stepped up just in the nick of time and offered to host.

But I fear we may have hit a wall. With just two weeks to go before Session #104 is scheduled to take place, we have no host and no prospects for one, or so it seems. I could start asking previous hosts to step up — and perhaps I should — but that also seems a little contrary to the spirit of it being organic, something that just chugs along all by itself. I could also start begging and cajoling bloggers who have never hosted, but then again I don’t want anyone to feel obligated. It’s supposed to be fun, otherwise it won’t work. Which brings me to the elephant in the ether.

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Should we keep the monthly Session going, or put it out to pasture, and declare it past its prime and no longer of any enduring interest? Certainly beer blogging has changed in the eight years since we started the Session. When I asked Stan yesterday — since it’s really his baby — he wondered if we should “take the philosophical approach, that the Session has run its course,” noting that “it lasted longer than the similar wine project” that inspired it.

We originally looked at it as an opportunity to promote one’s own blog, but more importantly to take part in a larger discussion and build cohesion or community or something vaguely positive among our fellow bloggers. I can’t speak for everybody, but that was at least my hope. None of us thought about it in terms of boosting traffic, but it certainly feels like that’s become part of the equation. There are so many ways to engage with readers, one another and just people in general nowadays, with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and who knows what else that blogging itself no longer seems as relevant as it once did as a medium. And indeed, it does seem like there are lots of beer blogs that have been abandoned or are no longer maintained.

According to the Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference, as of August of 2015, there were 677 beer blogs in North America, 365 more internationally, 133 considered industry blogs, and another 71 they consider to be press beer blogs. That’s a total of 1,246 beer blogs. I feel like that’s number is getting smaller, that there actually fewer beer blogs then there used to be, although I have no evidence to support that whatsoever.

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I do know that when I started the Bay Area Beer Bloggers in 2008 there were a little over fifty beer blogs here in Northern California but today’s list on our dedicated website includes less than half that number, and a quick perusal shows me a couple of those are now fairly dormant, bringing the total ratio to around 2/5, meaning three out of every five beer blogs in the Bay Area are no longer posting regularly, or at all, seven years after we started BABB. And that’s the trend I’ve seen around the country, if not the world.

Although to be fair, 1,246 is still a pretty big number. With only 104 Sessions under our belt, and ignoring the fact that a few people have hosted twice, there’s still theoretically 1,142 beer bloggers who have not yet hosted The Session.

So the question I have for the beer collective hive mind is should we continue to do the monthly Session, Beer Blogging Friday? Please vote below, whether you’ve hosted, participated or never even heard of it before now, whether you think it should continue, or whether we should move on to other pursuits. Maybe there’s something else, similar, or whatever, that could replace it, or perhaps we should just go our separate ways altogether. Please vote “No” or “Yes” below:

And if you voted “Yes,” are you willing to put your time where your mouth is? Or something like that. If you’ve never hosted before, would you be willing to? (If you don’t know what hosting entails, The Session page has a description of what’s involved.) If you have hosted before, would you be willing to again? Answer that $1,000,000 question below. If you are willing to host and chose either the first or second answer, please add your e-mail address in the field marked “other” before clicking on the “VOTE” button and it will send it to me. I’ll then reach out and see when you might be willing to host. Right now every month is open from Friday, October 1, 2015 and on. If you already know when you’d be willing to host, just drop me a note directly at “Jay(.)Brooks(@)gmail(.)com.”

Google Trends In Beer

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This morning Jonathan Surratt alerted me to a fun tool that Google has available, known as Google Trends Explore. You can use it to compare trends in virtually any search term and even topics (which is in beta). Jonathan was comparing “craft beer” to things like potato salad and mashed potatoes, but you can do all sorts of comparisons. So just for a bit of fun, I tried a few different ones. Most are comparing searches, but a few measure topics. Five is the most comparisons you can do at one time, but that still allows for some interesting pairings. In each case, the charts show the trends from 2004 through the present, which is over ten years of data.

First, here’s the difference between craft beer vs. beer. Just beer is beating the pants off modified beer. Good.
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Here’s Craft Beer, Beer and Wine compared. Wine is leaving us in the dust.
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And here’s just beer and wine. But it’s not that far apart and we are gaining on them.
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And this is beer vs. wine, but by topic instead of by searches. By topic it’s closer still, and we’ve even come up on top a few times closer to the present.
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Here’s beer compared to four popular spirits. Vodka, not surprisingly, is leading the tightly packed spirits, but beer is besting all of them pretty handily.
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And here’s five of the most popular beer brands.
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This is the same five beer brands but by topic.
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Let’s Grab A Beer

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Show of hands: who remembers “Here’s to Beer,” the somewhat lackluster attempt by Anheuser-Busch to teach consumers more about beer eight years ago? No? Let me refresh your memory. The original idea in 2005 was to have all of the major breweries work together to promote beer as an industry, rather than promote any one brand, sort of like the Beer Belongs campaign by a brewers trade group in the late 1940s and 1950s. Unfortunately, trust was not strong among the competing larger breweries and none signed on, fearing A-B would run the show and control the message for their own benefit. So A-B decided to go it alone, and launched a consumer website in 2006 called Here’s to Beer. If you click on the link, it still works, but it’s not that first attempt anymore. Before it launched there were press releases and media talking about it, including me in Here’s To Beer — Here’s to Making it Appear Relevant and Appealing. A few days later the website went live and I did an initial review of it, which was not overwhelmingly positive. A year later I started questioning if Here’s to Beer was dead with R.I.P. Here’s to Beer? But it turned out that the reports of its demise had been premature, and a month later Phase 2 launched with an updated website. That website, which used to be “herestobeer.com” changed to “htbeerconnoisseur.com” and that’s the one that is still online, although it doesn’t appear to have been updated in quite some time, if ever. The copyright information at the bottom of the home page is dated 2009, and attributed to “Here’s to Beer, Inc.” which you won’t be surprised to learn is located at 1 Busch Place, Saint Louis,” the headquarters for Anheuser-Busch InBev. So Phase 2 was about as successful as the first attempt, and quietly faded away.

So this past Tuesday, on “National Beer Day,” you may have seen some of these graphics making the rounds on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. I know I retweeted a couple of them.

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It turns out they’re part of a new effort by ABI, this time called “Leg’s Grab a Beer.” Apparently Beer Marketer’s Insights first reported on it, but I saw it on AdAge, in an article entitled Let’s Grab a Beer… With A-B InBev: Brewer Tries Unbranded Beer Image Campaign. The idea, this time around, according to Julia Mize, ABI VP of Beer Category + Community, is wanting “consumers to understand all the different varieties that are available with beer for different occasions.” Which is much more possible now that they acquired several more smaller breweries outright.

But her subsequent statement is really hilarious: “[W]e wanted to do it in a non-branded way so that we make sure we are connecting with the consumers and it’s not forced. It’s not marketing. Our intention here is to just have a resource that is relevant and fun and celebrates beer.” That reminds me of something Bill Hicks said about marketing, “they’re going for the anti-marketing dollar.” Essentially they’re marketing by not marketing, a tactic more prevalent in our more media-savvy present. And while I’m certainly not against a little education, this seems more like a Tumblr than any real effort at that. The plan apparently is for the “site [to] include a combination of original and aggregated content, ranging from ‘deep reads about the past, present and future of beer’ to colorful charts and graphics,” although at least for now there’s a lot more of the latter. Some of the “deep reads” include such titles as “7 Beer GIFs that Will Make Your Mouth Water” and a photograph of “Women demonstrating against Prohibition 1932.” It’s not exactly heady stuff they’re tackling so far.

Here’s to Beer, for all its faults, at least tried to educate consumers. This latest attempt seems more intended to entertain, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The National Beer Day cards were done, apparently, in partnership with Some E-Cards. Sadly, it doesn’t look like you can make your own cards using the beer background. That’s a shame, it would have been fun to make some.

There’s definitely some interesting things being shared, but edumacation it ain’t. The other problem I see is something that seems to happen frequently to these sorts of efforts. There was a flurry of posts to the Let’s Grab a Beer Tumblr (might as well call it what it is) but then nothing new since Tuesday, three days ago. That’s a long time for a tumblr to not be updated. I have several, and make an effort to post something at least once a day, while many others post new content far more often than that. But Here’s to Beer suffered from the same problem: infrequent updates gave little reason to return to the site with any frequency. If you can absorb everything there in a few minutes and then there’s nothing new posted, why would anyone become a regular visitor?

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It’s somewhat obvious why they’re doing this, as one of their own posts makes clear. So if beer drinkers are using social media more often, why wouldn’t they realize you have to keep up with the pace of that social media? If they really want something like this to work, they need at least a dedicated person working on this 24/7. That’s what makes a successful Tumblr.

Midway through the AdAge article, the author suggests it’s branding at the heart of this move.

But there is also an inherent fear in industry circles about the so-called “wineification” [how I hate that word!] of beer. This refers to placing emphasis on beer styles, versus brands. For instance, if more people walk into bars and ask for a “wheat beer,” rather than a Shock Top or Blue Moon, brands become less valuable. And good branding equals profits.

“They are facing the ultimate challenge here of trying to promote a category that really lives through its brands,” said one industry executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “So how do you celebrate beer without making it a commodity? The value of the industry is in the equity of the brands.”

I have to take issue with her definition of “wineification,” saying it means “placing emphasis on beer styles, versus brands.” I don’t think that’s it at all. Nobody walks into a wine bar and says “give me a Chardonnay” or “oh, anything red will be fine.” The term generally has been used to suggest that beer is trying to be fancy, or be marketed more like wine, and is usually used derisively (at least by me). I think people do look to drink a particular type of beer they’re in the mood for or for some other reason just want at a particular time, but it’s been a long time (at least a decade or more, I’d guess) since most people would sit down at a bar and ask the bartender for whatever “pale ale,” or perhaps more popularly an “IPA, they have on tap. Brands still matter a great deal, as the spate of recent high profile trademark disputes among brewers should make abundantly clear to anyone paying attention.

But the rest is an interesting insight. Branding is how all of the big brewers made their fortunes, especially when most beer tasted about the same. In effect, all beer was commodified for a long time, which is why advertising, marketing and branding became so important for the success of the big beer companies. It was no accident that year after year, A-B outspent their competition in ad dollars per barrel by a wide margin. I haven’t seen those figures since InBev took control of A-B, but certainly that was the case up until that transition.

Now that smaller breweries have essentially uncommodified beer by offering a wide range of beers that don’t all resemble or taste like one another, big brewers are left asking themselves what to do now. “So how do you celebrate beer without making it a commodity? The value of the industry is in the equity of the brands.” In some ways that, anonymous executive is still engaging in old beer thinking, using the framework of how the industry used to be constituted. One could argue it still is since 90% of beer is of that single, commodified type — American lager — but it’s nowhere near as universal as when I was a kid. And I think even small beer’s 10% slice of the total beer pie is enough to have at least changed many, if not most, people’s perception of it, even if they choose to still buy the big brewer’s beers. Even the loyal customers still buying the bland American beers know about Yuengling, or Samuel Adams, or Sierra Nevada, or New Belgium, or Lagunitas. What the big brewers bought with decades of blanket advertising was not just blind loyalty, but habit. And habits are harder to shake, because they’re no longer conscious decisions.

So I’m unequivocally in favor of beer education for everyone. We’ve known since the beginning of flavorful beer’s rise that education was the path to winning over more beer drinkers. In order to appreciate it, you have to know something about it. That may not be necessary to simply drink it and enjoy it, but to appreciate what you’re tasting, you do have to know a little more.

I think music once again provides a useful analogy. You don’t need to know anything about music theory or composition to love the Allegro con brio first movement to Beethoven’s 5th symphony in C minor, or Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. But if you do, the experience is much richer because you understand what they were doing differently than their predecessors and how they were expressing musical ideas. The history of music is all about rules, and breaking them. Baroque music was very orderly and followed strict rules for its composition, then innovative composers broke those rules and created the classical music period, which in turn had its rules broken by romantic composers, and so on. Each time there was push back from the status quo before the new music became the next established form.

I think we’re seeing something similar with beer, too, as traditional rules have been broken, but are often respected, too. Innovation is simply trying something a little different or even going back to something that hasn’t been done for a long time, or mixing the two, or doing something old in a new way. It doesn’t have to mean something particularly snooty or high falootin’ as we so often seem to think. It’s just how change occurs. It’s trying to find something you can call your own that a brewery can sell and make their reputation. Few breweries, if any, will do that making the same thing as everybody else is. That’s how we got in the mess we were in by 1980 in the first place. So we should expect breweries to try something new, with 3,000 of them they almost have to experiment to find a niche, or their place in the market. Some will undoubtedly work better than others, and some will ultimately fail while others succeed. That’s the natural order of things. That’s healthy competition, with breweries competing on taste or what people are willing to support and buy.

I think I’ve veered off quite a bit from where I started with this, rambling on about some unrelated ideas, but the takeaway is that education matters — “Just Say Know™” is my catchphrase — but this may not be the best way to engage more people to learn about beer. Still, I’m up for whatever. Let’s grab a beer.

A Link-Bait Manifesto

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This morning I got a press release from the P.R. Firm for a well-known men’s magazine that was so obviously link-bait, that I almost didn’t even want to read it. I won’t say who or what, mostly because I’m tired of playing into their hands, but most of you will no doubt be able to figure it out.

It’s something I’ve been guilty of time and time again. When I see something that annoys me, or strikes me as being wrong on some level, I often feel compelled to intercede. I’m seeking help.

A few years ago, I definitely would have penned an angry response, pointing out the flawed reasoning, or what have you. But I think I’m done, at least I hope so. I was bcc’d (thankfully) so I have no way of knowing just how many people the P.R. firm was trying to bait with their e-mail, but I suspect it was a lot of people. The e-mail itself used the most incendiary quotes from the piece, obviously designed to raise the hackles of the beer community and rally support against the piece, all in an effort to get thousands of people to visit the website and get their hit count going through the roof.

types-of-Linkbaits

Essentially, this has become a strategy on the internet. Say something incendiary, and reap the rewards. Maybe some of the people actually believe what they’re writing, but I get the sense that even if that’s the case, they do it in such a way as to maximize the outrage, and thus insure a greater number of responses. Often, I think, the extreme position taken is done precisely to get a rise out of people. I think it’s become a variation of the old saw about there being no such thing as bad publicity, in this case more along the lines of as long as people are clicking on the link, it doesn’t matter what they say or whether it’s even true or not. All that matters is the hit count. Oscar Wilde was saying something similar in the 19th century. “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

Sadly, there are all sorts of helpful websites explaining just how to accomplish this. See, for example, the SEO Guide to Creating Viral Linkbait, The Marketer’s Ultimate Guide to Link Bait, or SEO Advice: linkbait and linkbaiting. There’s even a helpful infographic and a link bait title generator. While most of them insist that not all link bait is bad, in our little part of the interwebs, that hasn’t been my experience.

I think I’ve just grown weary of hearing why the bubble is about to burst, or why you hate hops or beer with flavor, or that you drink your beer out of a plastic cup as god intended. Please, stop. Okay, I’m certain that won’t work. No plea for sanity every has. So instead I’d like to propose that we all agree to ignore them. That’s really the only way to make them stop. If we all ignore the link bait, and they don’t get the expected backlash they’re hoping for, then they’ll have no choice but to stop trying.

Having a different opinion or wanting to spark a meaningful discussion about it will remain an excellent reason to pen a thoughtful blog post or article. But taking an opinion that’s designed to provoke outrage with inflammatory language, fringe positions, or by insulting entire swaths of people has no place in the marketplace of ideas that the beer blogosphere should aspire to. Just say know.

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Don’t take the bait

The Difference Between Novice And Expert Beer Drinkers Infographic

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Today’s infographic is an interesting look at the Difference Between Novice And Expert Beer Drinkers, created by Business Insider, using a paper from earlier this year by Stanford University computer science post-doc Julian McAuley and assistant professor Jure Leskovec. The paper outlined “how our tastes change as we consume more products and gain more expertise,” but they then took it a step father, and applied their model to the beer reviews on RateBeer.

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Click here to see the graph full size.

According to the Business Insider article, here’s what else they discovered.

The figure above shows the relationship between user experience and beer preference. McAuley and Leskovec broke down the beers into lagers, mild ales, and strong ales, and then calculated each beer’s individual ranking by experience level.

The x-axis shows the average rating of products on the site (out of 5 stars), while the y-axis shows the difference between expert and novice ratings.

According to their study, while beginners and experts have similar top beers, experts tend to have stronger opinions than novice users. They explain in the study:

While a lager such as Bud Light is disliked by everybody, it is most disliked by experts; one of the most popular beers in the entire corpus, Firestone XV, is liked by everybody, but is most liked by experts.

They also found that more-experienced users gave higher ratings to almost all strong ales, illustrating that these types of beer are more of an acquired taste than traditional lagers.