I started this blog several months ago. I knew that after writing up posts on Facebook about the beers I was drinking I wanted to try to do it both more regularly and fully. What I did not know was what various directions I would want this blog to go.
I have not posted here in a few weeks. My day job has been very busy and that one pays the bills. Mostly I have not written because I have scrapped the same post multiple times and could not get it right. I did not want to write it, so I am writing this…
I had some bad beer. I was at a local brewery and the beer was just not good. I thought about posting about it on Untappd but decided that cap rankings and ~140 characters was not enough to explain the problem. I worked on doing a post here and it never felt right. I did not want to slam a man’s work, his business and livelihood. I did not think I was up to the task nor willing to be as intensely critical as I thought I would need to be.
So I scrapped the post.
Which leads me to this: There are many bloggers writing about beer. Many of them are very, very good. Yet we lack sufficient numbers of quality bloggers taking the craft brewers to task.
I can understand why; it’s a dirty job. I do not want to do it either.
Maybe I am not reading the right ones or enough of them. From what I read most of the writing of individual beers or brewers is overwhelmingly positive. With over 3,000 craft brewers in this country and more coming everyday there are inherently many that are just not up to snuff. I have had plenty of lousy beers from local and national craft brewers.
It can be hard to be a critic. It is hard to write critical words about what is the livelihood of some really great people. In most cases these breweries are small businesses, employing a handful of people, and still trying to find success. A negative review of their beer or their brewery is threatening to their business.
I don’t want to be that guy.
But what if beer bloggers fail to write critically of a brewery?
I believe what we see is critical reviews permeate through Untappd, the Beer Advocate forums and Twitter. This is not sufficient nor appropriate. It is impossible to provide important critical reviews via 140 characters. I refuse to believe it can be done properly. Telling a brewery that their hard work is only worth one and a quarter caps does even less. The forums of the various craft beer communities are a hotbed of baseless opinions and attacks.
The one blogger I see taking on this need for critical review is Don’t Drink Beer. It is very entertaining and certainly well written, but at times it can be so biting as to appear mean spirited. I still love that blog. It is fantastic. It just seems alone.
Look… I don’t think I have all the answers. I don’t necessarily feel comfortable telling a brewery in print that their products are lousy. But with the recent news that brewers are practically a full proof business investment it seems that the need for critical review will only grow.
I am conflicted. I believe there is insufficient critical review for an industry that is no longer “The Little Engine That Could” and has entered a respectable level of maturity.
So will I be doing critical reviews here on this blog? Maybe… but when I do it will be with great difficulty.
Postscript: As strange a source as it seems I think the character Alton Ego from Ratatouille states beautifully the role of a critic:
“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”
Update 9-15-15: Theo Armstrong of ZerØday Brewing had this to say in response to my post on Facebook. I thought it worth adding here.
“Some perspective from my side of the fence… A good brewer should be their own harshest critic. We generally welcome and appreciate well thought out constructive feedback, both positive and negative. Will we always agree? No. Will it hurt a little to hear? Hell yeah. At the end of the day it’s better for the industry.
Generally a Brewers frustration is when we see things like a half cap Untappd rating on an IPA with comments like “I hate IPAs.” Or “not good.” Or “Just ok.” This kind of feedback gives us nothing to learn from.
Write your reviews. Understand that the people busting their ass making that bad beer will probably read your reviews. If they get butthurt reading a negative review of their beer on the Internet they probably have no business making beer or anything else for the public.
The negative feedback I value most is from customers who have the guts to talk to me about my beer directly.”