Today’s Tortuous Tormenting Travesty

I know I tend to be in the minority in my take of whenever beer is featured on national network shows, because I feel that when it’s not done well, more often than not, the poor information spread out to unsuspecting viewers does more damage than if they’d heard nothing about beer during their morning coffee break. Yes, I know I should be thrilled that mainstream media has deigned to cover beer at all, but until they learn to get it right, it’s hard for me to be a cheerleader for bad journalism. A case in point is the Today Show yesterday did a segment entitled “Best Microbrews For Fall.”

They start out by saying, to explain why they’re doing the segment, “it’s October, so why not hold our Oktoberfest right here.” Well, for starters, Oktoberfest officially ended October 5, over a week before this was broadcast. The reason that most people think Oktoberfest takes place the entire month of October is because of shoddy work like this. Here was an opportunity to educate and instead they simply passed along the wrong information most people believe. Could it really have been so hard to check out when Oktoberfest took place?

Then they introduced their guest, Ray Ilse, as the editor of Food & Wine magazine. Yup, you read that correctly. The editor of Food & Wine magazine was their guest to talk about beer. But if he’s the editor, that must be a recent promotion. He’s not listed on the magazine’s website. That distinction goes to Editor in Chief Dana Cowin. Other editors listed on the masthead include Managing Editor Mary Ellen Ward, Executive Editor Pamela Kaufman, Executive Food Editor Tina Ujlaki and Executive Wine Editor Lettie Teague. Notice there’s no beer editor, of course. So maybe that’s Ray’s title, but a search reveals that of his last thirty articles for Food & Wine, twenty-nine were about wine and only one even mentions beer, an interview from last year with “California-based chef and beer provocateur Sang Yoon” who brought up beer and presumably changed the focus of the original article. So that’s their beer expert.

Maybe it’s a little self-serving, but would it be too much to ask that they contacted someone from one of the dozen or more beer magazines when doing a story on beer? Is that really too much to expect, for chrissakes? They’re not having car mechanics on to talk about new surgical procedures, are they? No, you want a medical expert, you get a doctor. You want a beer expert, you get … a wine writer?

First, they launch in to him being there to talk about them new fangled “microbrews,” a term no one in the beer industry uses anymore, except perhaps to describe “a brewery that produces less than 15,000 barrels (17,600 hectoliters) of beer per year,” which is the specific definition. But if you’re around beer people these days, hearing someone say microbrews is like catching a person dropping “groovy” into the conversation.

After some less than witty banter, the first beer they try is Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen. Now, I’ve been to the Ayinger Brewery in Bavaria, but I wasn’t aware it was considered a “microbrewery.” Last year, they produced 140,000 hectoliters of beer and originally opened in 1878, but I’m pretty sure in any case they’d be considered an import beer owing to the fact that they brew in, well, Germany. If nothing else, when talking about “microbrews,” most people in the U.S. will assume a U.S. media outlet is talking about American beers.

Other beers they tasted included Smuttynose Pumpkin Beer, Lindemans Pomme Lambic (another imported beer), Rogue Dead Guy, Hobgoblin (sigh, yes, another import), and Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock. That means nearly half of the “microbrews” featured on the show were imports.

To add insult to injury, at one point they pull out from beneath the table one of those construction hats with two Harpoon Winter Warmers in each side and a tube leading down to your mouth so you can drink the beer on the go or at, as Ray Isle suggests, a baseball game. Now that’s a great way to highlight beer’s sophistication. After at least trying to say that “microbrewed” beer is more flavorful, they lost all credibility by dragging out this gadget. What an insult to the beer community.

At the end, Isle offers one of the Today Show hosts another taste of the Harpoon Winter Warmer in a proper glass, and he declines, saying “you know what, I’ve probably had enough beer so far.” After initially saying how excited he was about beer being on the show, literally seven tiny sips of beer — it couldn’t have been more than a few ounces total — was too much for him. I guess all that flavor got to him. Oh, and one last thing. The music that ends the segment is Cream’s Strange Brew. Please tell me how that was appropriate?

You can see the entire horror show below, it’s only a little under four minutes, but it’s excruciating for me to watch them torment and torture the beer. This may the scariest thing I’ll see for Halloween this year, and it’s certainly a doozy. What a travesty.

 

 

Comments

  1. says

    Well that’s a lot to digest “J” and since we’re on the payroll for the Oregon Brewer’s Guild we can certainly relate to some of your observations, however, as someone who’s placed guests on The Today Show and been on set, etc., there are things about live TV that unfortunately are just part of how it goes. For instance, the simple mistake of introducing Ray as the Editor instead of his actual title is most likely just that — a quick mistake because of misreading the producer’s notes. He’s been on staff for ages, had a long history working with national magazines (he is one of those interesting editors who has a wine background and is now “cross drinking” his way into beer). And personally, we love that he’s become a convert!

    I know it’s easy to think about all the many experts who could have brought a lot of depth of knowledge to a segment like this but the editorial reality is that segment producers at national morning shows are looking for the cachet of an editor from a major branded publication and someone from Food & Wine carries a lot of that, plus, he’s a comfortable and relaxed guest. And, the reality that Food & Wine is two blocks from Rockefeller Center is a nice plus, since Ray can be on set in literally 5 minutes.

    From our perspective, it’s better to have 5 million people exposed to beer as a topic, even though we might have changed the content of the segment had we had the opportunity to do so. I hope you take our comment the way it is intended — to shed a little more perspective on how this all comes together because we can certainly see your point of view too. Cheers!

  2. says

    Lisa,

    I do understand your comment, and I also see it in the context of what the Guild tries to do. I do, of course, disagree somewhat, even as I see your point of view and appreciate your thoughts. Many of the nits I picked were indeed small, and even understandable, but they do, taken in total, paint a portrait of a sloppy segment, riddled with mistakes and misinformation that tends to be, I think, bad for the craft beer industry’s image. That’s the benefit of being a rogue freelancer, I can speak more openly without the constraints of advertiser concerns or having to protect an organization’s reputation or perception in the market.

    Frankly, I used the slip of the tongue you mentioned merely as an excuse to show that Isle — cross-drinker or not — has not been using Food & Wine magazine to cover beer in any meaningful way, despite his, as you say, having “become a convert.”

  3. says

    J–

    First, Lisa’s right in that the “editor” title I suddenly got handed was a surprise to me as well, though not a huge surprise as I seem to be given all sorts of unexpected titles when doing TV. Second, I think you bring up an interesting and valid issue about craft beer in general, which is whether it’s helpful to try to push people (TV audiences in particular) toward interesting beer, even if the medium itself necessarily means you’re going to get less than technical (and unfortunately, sometimes less than flat-out accurate) about the subject; or perhaps the question is how best to go about it.

    My general feeling is that if I can get people to start drinking good beer, period, that’s a useful thing to do. Typically, if I have a beer segment coming up (which happens from time to time), what ensues is a back and forth with the producers where their concern is that their audience–over six million people for Today–can find what I’m recommending, and my concern is that I recommend something that’s terrific, whether it’s an American craft beer, an import like the Lindemans Pomme or the Ayinger Oktoberfest, or who knows what. I’d rather do it in conjunction with factual accuracy, sure; but you never know what the hell is going to happen on live TV, so as a guest you simply try to get through the segment, mention all the beers you intended to mention, and hope that in the end some of the audience out there ditches the six-packs of flavorless “lite” dreck and instead rushes out to buy something that’s actually beer.

    Anyway, glad you caught the segment even if it filled you with horror. I do push for beer stories in the magazine, and consider myself lucky when I actually get one green-lighted, as it were (if I actually were the editor, the process would be a lot speedier). The Sang Yoon story you mentioned actually was a feature; the interview you linked to was just a web adjunct to it. And the story is specifically about beer–the link’s here, if you’re interested: http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/the-keg-vs-the-cork-in-sonoma (not sure how to make a comment hot-link, so I won’t try). With luck I’ll get more beer features on the roster in the future.

    Cheers, and all best wishes,

    Ray Isle

  4. says

    Ray,

    Thanks for a very gracious response. You could easily have taken what I said as being personal, and that was never my intention. All of my beefs were with the way the Today Show set it up and characterized beer the way they did. It sounds like you did the best you could under some trying circumstances.

    Best,

    J

  5. says

    I appreciate your thoughtfulness with respect to the subject. I come from a slightly different background in that I have never held a job in craft beer or been to a fancy beer dinner/event.

    Part of beer’s appeal to me is its affordability (relative to wine) and being a beverage for the average person. So while the helmet was quite misplaced in the Today Show spot considering the audience, the idea of craft beer being associated with the helmet doesn’t bother me much. I only care about enhancing its image for our senators and house reps who, in many states, fail to repeal some of their antiquated laws, which is better achieved through local lobbying by groups like Free the Hops anyway.

    The Brewer’s Association and others want to see craft beer gain more market share. But 90% most of the consumer base can’t identify with it. We are beer GEEKS. The greater population doesn’t want to hang out with us or our beers! That’s where the helmet comes in. It shows that we (and our beers) are just like the rest of society. And that is good for the market share goal.

    I suppose that a counter-argument would revolve around not wanting that type of drinker. But then are we not sending mixed signals with our all you can drink festivals?

    Besides, 10% growth is 10% growth no matter where it comes from. And 4% market share is 4% market share. Seems like these bottom line figures tend to be emphasized a lot by the BA.

    Pardon the sloppiness, it hit past 2am on the East Coast. -Adam

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