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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Writing About Friends

Stan Hieronymus posted an interesting rumination last week about the difficulty of writing about products made by friends. It stems from a post elsewhere about wine, but the thrust--and Stan's interest--applies to beer, too:

She answers questions not asked, including the issue of writing about people who turn into friends. She writes, “I cannot think of a single wine writer who has managed the sort of hermit-like existence that would be required of them if they were to ensure that they had no real human contact with anyone in the wine trade.”

The discussion about wine junkets and samples of ridiculously priced wines makes it pretty apparent how wine and beer continue to differ (thank goodness). But friendship, that’s universal. It’s one of the joys of writing about beer. Something for me to remember when I write and you to remember when you read.

This is something I've thought about periodically since I started writing about beer. It's true that you can't write about any topic without getting emotionally interested. It's particularly true if you write about Oregon beer, because almost everyone involved in it is likeable. Mostly they're avid beer lovers, enthusiastic about their concoctions, and eager to share. You don't dislike a beer without considering that.

Still, I'll say something counterintuitive: it's not that big a deal. Consider this: very few breweries produce no good beers. Also, no one makes only good ones. If you review beer, you'll rave about some and dis others. I do have breweries I admire more than others, and this must be evident to anyone who reads the blog. But I think it's the case that if you review enough beers, tell enough about what you like and why, and establish some credibility. Brewers are people, too, and they know tastes differ. Doc Wort hates Roots; Roots is one of my faves. Does this say anything about Roots, or just about the reviewers?

(When I first started writing about beer, long before Van Havig's day, Rock Bottom sucked. It was terrible--not one redeamable beer. It was the only Portland brewery I never wrote about. They actually complained to Willamette Week, and I finally had to tell them: "Look, I can either tell people what I think or you can let it go." They let it go.)

Maybe it's different with wine. But there are so many beers and so many breweries that you just tell people what you think. Beer's easy.


  1. Jeff,

    I knew you'd get me in there somewhere! ;-}

    I agree with your article 100%!

    For the record, I don't hate "Roots." I've enjoy a couple of their beers, just not most of their beers. I could write a thesis on why I don't like most of their beers, but there's no point? Beer preference is highly subjective.... Look at all the Bud that's still sold in this country! :-O

  2. It is becoming more obvious the interconnections within the industry, and sometimes it does all feel too insular.

    I don't have a problem when a blogger/writer writes about a friend, altho I think disclosure should be made.

    However this topic reminds me of particular incident that happened recently. A local beer periodical published an article written by two individuals, one of whom is a known beer consultant. The article was primarily about farmhouse ales, and highlighted a nascent Portland brewery that specializes in these beers. Said consultant does some work for this brewery, a fact published on his social media sites; however, the article made no mention of this fact.

    While I accept writing about your friends, I absolutely believe there should be a stricter standard when a financial interest is involved.

  3. I think Roots is a good example here. I'm with Wort on this one--I think their beer is inconsistent at it's best and totally undrinkable at it's worst. However, I like the pub and the owners are nice guys. Sometimes I get the feeling that that has more influence on how their beer is reviewed in local media/on local blogs.

  4. Oh, and also--love or hate him, that's why I like Wort and I think the anonymity allows him to write honestly. Portland is a small town and the brewers/bloggers/print media all know each other. I very rarely see any negative reviews of any beer--unless it's made by a pub or brewery not particularly in good standing with the beer crowd. All good reviews makes for no good reviews.

  5. JMatt,

    Are you speaking of blatant favoritism reigning over an actual honest review?? Gee... Do you think that happens here very often? ;-}


  6. jmatt,

    Thanks for the kudos... and YOUR honest incites... Refreshing to say the least!

  7. of course he can't help but mention his alter-ego.

  8. I am not Doc Wort and have been vindicated in this regard by a third-party blogger, who is also not me.

  9. Oh, Jeff.... You're just talking to yourself again... Wait! Who said that?

  10. Don't be so shy about your alter-ego....

    "We" know you better than that... :-O

  11. Funny you mention Rock Bottom, 'cause I credit them for giving me my first taste of "real" beer - their porter changed the way I viewed what a beer was, and what it could potentially be… I was an impressionable 21 years and not-quite-2 months, well before Van Havig took hold of the reigns, and well before I became jaded and blasé in a simple porter. :-)