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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thoughts on the Doc Wort Experiment

Gadfly (n) - 1) Any of various flies (as a horsefly, botfly, or warble fly) that bite or annoy livestock. 2) A person who stimulates or annoys especially by persistent criticism.
Over the weekend, Doc Wort's blog ceased to be. Portland, Oregon is so blessed with things beery that we not only have the most breweries--and probably beer festivals, pubs, and new-beer releases--but the most beer bloggers of any city in the world. You'd think that the 29th-largest city in the US wouldn't field interest in even one blog devoted to local beer. Yet we have a half-dozen or more healthy examples, established enough that we are regarded as regular media by the beer industry. Each of us has a certain orientation, a half-step different than the others, and together we cover a vast scope of topics that individually we could never do. The 29th largest city, sure, but in terms of beer geekery, we're Tokyo.

Doc Wort was the creation of a guy named Mike. His niche in the ecosystem was to be the broker of truth, the devil's advocate, the last honest man in Portland. Doc Wort was to be Portland's gadfly. Mike thought that there was too much groupspeak, too much self-aggrandizement, too much uncritical local boosterism. The pseudonymous Doc Wort, freed from the constraints of social pressures, could combat this tendency.

I think Mike had identified a real problem. In our small city, we do tend toward uncritical boosterism. In terms of our beer industry, this is heightened; the belief that we are one of the world's great beer cities (true) runs up against the reality that the rest of the world often takes little notice of our backwoods village, Beervana or no. We tend toward hyperbole to attract attention. A bit of bubble-bursting from time to time isn't a bad thing.

But somewhere along the line, the Doc Wort experiment ran off the rails. The currency of the gadfly is truth--uncomfortable or not. To the extent that gadflies are useful, it's when they have the credibility to stand apart from the fray and point out where the truth gets bent. Journalistic gadflies love to take on the powerful and show what secret agendas they hide. Mike wanted to show how spin and marketing covered up the sins of bad beer. He wanted to dull the winds of uncritical cheerleading for bad beers. Unfortunately, he decided to create Doc Wort as the instrument of his criticism.

Anonymous blogging has undeniable virtues. When I started political blogging in early 2003, I did so anonymously. It felt safer to criticize the powerful when I could do so from behind a veil. Unfortunately, as it evolved, the Doc Wort character started to become more extreme and more personal. The Portland beer scene is totally transparent. All the bloggers are known, the brewers make regular public appearances, and the breweries are forthcoming about their products. For the Doc Wort character to do his honest truth-telling, he needed to be even more above-board than the known bloggers. If he wanted to expose personal agendas, he needed to harbor none of his own--that's the virtue of the gadfly. Truth-telling, yes--name-calling, no. Toward the end, the Doc Wort experiment seemed one long, personal attack against enemies real and perceived.

I am glad the Doc Wort experiment is done. Portland could use a real gadfly, but Doc Wort long ago ceased to be one. Still, I know I will soon miss the niche Doc Wort occupied and I hope that Mike, refreshed from a break, will come back to blogging--adversarial, opinionated, cranky, and out in the open. We need no more Doc Worts, but a Mike or two would do Beervana good.

[Note: text edited slightly for clarity after initial posting.]


  1. It is unfortunate that we have lost Doc Wort, but we are now spared some of the ad hominem attacks as well as poor grammar and spelling.

    Let's hope that a successor rises, or perhaps a few, whose credibility is supported by well-made arguments and creative writing.

    Is there a H. L. Mencken of beer blogging ready to emerge?

  2. Plato's (translated) ghost10:27 AM, October 20, 2009

    "Wise men speak because they have something to say;
    Fools because they have to say something."
    "As empty vessels make the loudest sound, so they that have the least wit are the greatest blabbers."

  3. I always found it amusing that a man who hid behind a pen name who try and call out anonymous commentators.

    The charge of boosterism with the local beer bloggers is probably more accurate than many would like to admit.

  4. The Dr. Wort "character" -- yeah, right -- wasn't about honesty, it was about confrontation, to the point of fiercely arguing contradictory points at the same time, just to be able to disagree with everyone.

    For example, here's a comment thread on It's Pub Night dominated by Dr. Wort. At first he excoriates me for telegraphic beer descriptions, then he goes on to slam bloggers for boisterous pontification. Huh?

    Jeff, you say he was opposed to groupspeak, but here's an interesting Doc Wort snippet from that same comment thread, where he contradicts his own mission statement of going against the flow:

    Jeff has said we have a nice blog diversity in the Portland area and I agree, but we need to move and talk in the same direction. We can jab each other, poke fun and keep each other is check, but the main goal should be to tell a story, report and educate.

    Say what?!?!

    Dr. Wort has no consistency, and never absorbs what other people say or write. He just spews destructive venom, which is a weird way to get your jollies.

  5. Regardless of his role in the "ecosystem" of the Portland beer blogosphere, there's nothing unfortunate about losing a blogger who was such an incredibly bad writer.

    In this medium, all we have is out ability to put together sentences and (sometimes) paragraphs. "Doc Wort" couldn't do either, and it was painful to read his posts.

    If he does reincarnate, I hope he takes some basic writing classes at PCC first.


  6. I will miss his writings, I'm sure I'm not the only one......

  7. I'm a newbie to Oregon and Pacific NorthWest craft beer
    I do not identify with some of preceding criticism of the Doc. [Heed the traveler for he more clearly see our home. - Jay Allison]
    I will miss his counter point and, seeming, knowledge
    I will miss his writings, I'm sure I'm not the only one ...

  8. @Jack

    Your not the only one. Even if the doc/docs contratidicted themselves they did bring a refreshing counterpoint. I often find myslelf dissagreeing with the Portland blog crowd, but he was always quick to back me up wether I supported him/they or not.

    He/they may have been more humbug'r then gadfly, but I will miss him/them and his/their posts

  9. There are good blogs written by good people (Beervana, The Blog, Beer Around Town, Brewpublic) and there are good blogs written by bad people (Dr. Wort). Mike's inability to take constructive criticism, and turn it into a virulent personal attack, has no place in journalism. Having been the victim of his salacious attacks more than once, I once again say-

    Good Riddance.

  10. I won't miss the Doc. A dissenting voice is fine, but vitriolic rantings aren't. The Doc would criticise the shortcomings of other blogs and writers but rarely (never?) used his blog as an example of what he thought good beer writing should be. That was my main gripe. He had an opportunity to use his blog as a model of what he thought a beer blogger should do, but most of it was filled with unfunny humor, attacks on others and painfully bad writing. There was no high road for the Doc, only the literary gutter, and who really wants to play there?

    He was big on food and beer matching, or so he said, but rarley (almost never) wrote about beer dinners, food matches, etc. Only that no one offered good food with beer (I guess he forgot about Higgins). His ideas about food, from his polls, show a lack of understanding about cuisine: your palate isn't either Ferran Adria (notably absent from his list), rustic Italian or French, or a $10 burger. It can be all of them at different times. Like so many things with the Doc, cuisine was white or black, which shows a basic lack of understanding of what makes great food.

    Also, his reviews were far and few between, his "knowledge" was trapped in the BJCP guidelines and typical homebrewer literature from 15 years ago (and he seemingly refused to update his ideas even though the BJCP has). The "jaded palate" idea was annoying. "I can't drink an IPA or Stout because they're common" is idiotic. Well made beer is well made beer regardless of style.

    Honesty in beer blogging is welcome. We do grandstand about our beer here because it is a great place for beer. But the Doc's blog wasn't honest. It was the vitriolic, inane writings of someone who thought a little too much of their own opinions and palate. It sought controversy where there often was none.

  11. Looks like the Doc wasn't quite done:
    The "closed" post on his blog has had a new testament quote tacked onto it. I imagine retirement is not the break DW really desired.

    Am I happy he stopped blogging? Mostly yes. Like Bill and many others, I felt his hostility took away from what he was capable of educating others on in regards to beer. We are all students, but all too often I saw his persona take on the character of stern-schoolmaster, ready to swat those who spurned his lectures. And as others noted, his homonym-challenged writings made accepting his oft-hard-line ramblings difficult to accept at face value. I only hope that, if he returns, DW drops the Andy Kaufman evil-wrestler attitude and takes a more edifying approach to sharing his knowledge.

  12. I like the way he made people who take beer, and themselves too seriously... look and sound like complete fools. Nice goin' Doc! Twas a fair run!

  13. DoSiR: You're kidding right? Doc Wort is the epitome of taking things too seriously -- himself, beer, everything. Whenever anyone alludes to the fun side of drinking beer, he gets into a lather about "sloven drinking", and starts going on and on about beer education.

    By the way, I don't believe for a minute that Mike is done with Dr. Wort. It's just an attention-getting spasm, like a suicide threat or a "new, improved" marketing ploy. Reports of Dr. Wort's death are greatly exaggerated.

    Which is fine with me. A stopped clock is right twice a day, and there's an occasional diamond to be found in all the dung he puts out.