While a lot of participants at the Beer Bloggers Conference typically bail on Sunday morning (owing to too much beer or early transportation taking them out early), one of the more interesting features of the conference is the blogger reports from various writers around the country that wraps the conference every year. It’s a quick (each blogger has five minutes) check-in on the greater beer blogging community, and the reports range from funny to serious, informative to supportive. (Note: The titles are mine, but they sum up each of the seven presentations.)
First up this year, Emily Sauter of CT beer review blog Pints & Panels: Responsible Beer Reviewing
Like many of the bloggers, Emily posts beer reviews on her site, and she has three basic practices she tries to follow in her beer reviews that she shared with the attendees. These were:
- Use Common Sense – all palates are different; what I like is different than you (Tip: don’t review what you don’t like)
- Be Knowledgeable – Be concise, know where your beer comes from, become Cicerone or BJCP certified
- Celebrate, Don’t Hate – Give the brewery the benefit of the doubt; if the beer tastes gross, try it again in a month or in six months and if still bad, try to find something positive to say (e.g. “this is the best beer they’ve produced thus far”)
And always end your Powerpoint presentation with a dinosaur (you had to be here to appreciate this joke).
Kendall Joseph of Beer Makes Three (where he blogs with his wife in Nashville, TN): How becoming a Certified Cicerone improves your blog
I got to know Kendall and his wife June a bit on our pre-conference excursion with APlus limos. Aside from being leaders in the Nashville craft beer community, the couple prides themselves on being well educated. While Kendall’s presentation about how “easy” it is to become a Certified Cicerone was a bit tongue in cheek (his tips included studying 2-3 hours per day for 9-12 months; and pay for the off-flavors kit), he outlined the merits of what being Cicerones (June is hold her Cicerone Beer Server certification) brings to beer blogging:
- Credibility – “I’m a student who is learning, always; the more you learn the more you don’t know”
- Access – “I get to know the people in the breweries, I get to know the distributors”
- Opportunities – Kendall spoke of a new restaurant that is launching a beer and food pairing program, for which they’ve hired Kendall to curate
Among his more serious study tips: Learn all 86 styles in the BJCP manual, memorize the Brewers Association’s Draught Beer Quality Manual, do blind tastings, and read good books (Randy Mosher, John Palmer, Garrett Oliver, etc.). And have a healthy respect for the test.
Katherine Belamino of Passports & Cocktails: How to create a niche in blogging
Katherine works with a partner remotely (she’s a travel writer; Steven Grams is a beer writer) who relate beer, wine and spirits to travel adventures. They focus on the feature story that goes beyond one particular beer and its flavor and ingredients. Her main goals in writing include:
- Why would someone want to go to a brewery when on vacation – Her features go beyond the taste to a feature story that will be meaningful beyond an individual beer
- Her blog looks at events and programming and then gets hyper-local that is related to travel – e.g. if there’s an event, they write about the destination itself, but they also encourage visiting the breweries and distilleries/vineyards related to the event
A good spin on the beer blog, going beyond the taste and ingredients to know the story behind the brewery.
Alan (far left) and Ryan (far right) on the per-excursion tour with Michael Puente.
Ryan Newhouse and Alan McCormick (from Montana Beer Finder and Growler Fills, respectively): How to launch your own beer week
Ryan joked that he and Alan “represent 100 percent of the Montana beer blogger scene,” but they’ve already made a huge impact by launching the Missoula Craft Beer Week. The beer week was a bit of a happy accident when Alan was inadvertently cc’d on an e-mail related to the Garden City Brew Fest on the 20th anniversary festival. They chimed in, “Let’s expand to a craft beer week.” With 45 breweries in Montana, they had only six weeks to put the 2013 beer week together. It was necessarily small with only 15 official events (a lot of tap take-overs and “visit your local bar” outreach). By year two, there were beer dinners and more creative programming (“how do we get hot yoga and cold beer together”). A mere year later, the late-April/early-May beer week launched the innaugural Craft Beer Cup as their marquee event: Nine bars, 11 breweries, and nine holes of putt putt – each bar built its own course – that raised almost $1200 to go to Missoula Food Bank.
Carol Dekkers of Florida’s Micro Brews USA: Bringing volunteerism and reaching your local beer scene
If Ryan and Alan are Montana’s craft beer ambassadors, Carol Dekker is Ambassador of western Florida (FL has 100 breweries). She started her presentation by quoting conference opening speaker Julia Hertz: “Make craft beer approachable.”
In Carol’s St. Petersburg/Tampa Bay community, the demographic works against the Brewers Association’s norm with 25 percent of the populace over age 65 (the majority of craft beer drinkers are currently under age 45).
Her blog is more about bringing craft beer to the general population (Tampa-area beer gardens are both family- and dog-friendly) while dealing with controversial laws (no growlers larger than 32 oz.). She poured beer from Cycle Brewing’s “crowler,” a 32-ounce can that can be filled and sealed at the brewery. She also offered ways to gain more traction in the online beer community (her tips: Get a paper.li account, where you can create your ownenewspaper – hers is Brew News Daily – that gets populated from keywords; and join as many Facebook groups as possible and interact with them because one post goes out to thousands of viewers as opposed to only your personal followers).
Finally, Carol gave her spiel on the importance in volunteering, especially for events (March 7-15, 2015, is Tampa Bay Beer Week, you’re invited!), as volunteerism is a key part of bringing craft beer to the masses.
Brandon Fischer 365 beer.com – How to grow your blog with smarter posts
For most bloggers (Brandon’s focus is on beer reviews), there are two issues impeding growth: a small audience and past reviews that don’t “get the love” and pretty much disappear from your readers. His task was to address two main goals:
- Make content more attractive and accessible for the every-day beer lover
- Make content “stickier” without “selling out” to beer makers that just want product placement
He also didn’t want to forgo his creativity just in order to create more content. After determining that “everyone reads lists (e.g. buzzfeed),” he decided to to compile his existing reviews into lists (e.g. five beers of summer, five best regional beers, five beers to drink during a zombie apocalypse). This is allowing him to take old content and infuse it with fresh life with a minimal investment (the lists link to the previous review).
Craig Hendry of Raise Your Pints (among others): Using social media to affect beer regulation
While Craig began blogging in 2007, its his recent work in Mississippi on the legislative level that has made him a star in beer circles. It was through his organizing that Mississippi finally is able to homebrew legally (the 50th state to allow homebrewing), plus the relatively low 6.2% ABV limit was lifted this past year. Craig’s recommendations for ensuring success for craft beer in your state:
- Look for legislative updates that might affect your local brewers (he suggested following the “Support your local brewery” alerts at the Brewers Association’s Craft Beer website)
- Monitor your state’s legislative website (search for beer, brewing, alcohol)
- Be vigilant and offer assistance to your local brewers guild (they are probably more involved in day-to-day operations of their breweries to stay on top of deadlines/changes in legislation
- Understand your state’s legislative process (you can attend any session if you’re in your capital area); the more you know about the whole process of bills and strategies to get bills passed, the more advocacy you can do
- Promote positive laws, work against bad legislation
- Steer the discussion – help drive what’s being talked about in the public via Twitter/FB