The Session #86 roundup posted

The SessionMy brain froze when I was assembling the weekly links to post this morning. I couldn’t pick just one Session #86: Beer Journalism essay, so I went with none.

Very lame.

Fortunately, host Heather Vandenengel didn’t mess around, road to the rescue, and rounded up the roundup in close to record time. Give it a read.

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‘The original craft beer’ – Guesses?


Brown’s beer: How mainstream is craft beer? There’s that “c” word again, and a reminder it means something a little different in every country. You’ll need to read the article to get the background on “world beer” but this likely makes since to you anyway: “So now we’re starting to see the same aggressive obfuscation in craft that we got with world beer. Stella Artois was originally ‘crafted’ for Christmas. Guinness is privately referring to itself as ‘the original craft beer’.” [Via London Loves Business]

Ground zero for beer? I ask this question seven years ago. I thought about because I just read that the Craft Brewers Conference will attract 8,000 attendees this week. Many international visitors are already in Denver to judge the World Beer Cup before the conference starts officially on Wednesday. Sixteen hundred attended CBC in Austin in 2007, compared 1,950 when Austin previously hosted the conference in 1995. That’s a five-fold increase in seven years, more modestly four times growth in 19 years — whatever that means.

What the return of Yuengling to Boston means to smaller breweries. Just a “fling” or something with larger implications? [Via The Boston Globe]

The Actual Multi-Dimensional Beer Universe. This will either make you think hard, or give up thinking altogether because it is kinda hard. [Via A Good Beer Blog]

Superstar winemakers. Turns out the notion is relatively new – “Call it the People-magazinization of the industry.” [Via Steve Heimoff]

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Session #86: Beer stories that should be told

Let’s start with a story from Roger Ebert.

My first professional newspaper job was on The News-Gazette in my home town of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I was 15. The pay was 75 cents a hour, eventually climbing even higher. I was not an intern. That was a salary. I was a sports writer, graduating to general assignment in the summer, and I pumped out reams of copy. I recall a special section commemorating the opening of a bowling alley, for which I wrote at least 15 stories, all with my proud byline; I even interviewed a pin-spotter and the owner of a shoe rental franchise.

I am inspired to recall those days because of the coverage of my recent film festival in Champaign-Urbana by Melissa Merli. The quality of her writing was splendid, her curiosity was boundless and her word volume was worthy of a bowling alley. Merli interviewed every star or director, wrote about all the movies, covered the panel discussions and the Q & A sessions, wrote about the 70mm projection and even profiled Chuck and Eileen Kuenneth, who met in my University of Chicago film class in 1983, were married in 1991, and were at their fifth or sixth Ebertfest.

Other writers also contributed to the paper’s coverage, but it was Merli’s story, and she covered it right down to the ground and put a tarp on it. I was awestruck. Outsiders might sympathize with poor overworked Melissa, but many newspaper veterans will understand that she had an ideal assignment: Write all you want about something you care about. The complaint of many journalists in these latter days of cost-cutting is that they have to boil stories into info-nuggets. As you approached Merli’s third byline on the same page, you could feel her enthusiasm and her joy in her work. I’d hire her on any paper I edited.

["I Was a Teenage Newshound," May 1, 2008,]

Now consider this from Michael Shapiro, founder of The Big Roundtable, “a digital publishing platform that aims to connect passionate nonfiction writers with readers who will support their work.” He was speaking at a “The Future of Digital Longform Journalism” conference last December.

For several years I was a judge at the National Magazine Awards, and found ever more that while the stories I was reading while not bad, seldom lifted off the page. The writing had become so formulaic, so safe-anecdotal lead, nut graph, quote from eminent sociologist. It was ever harder to find a story that you sensed a writer needed to tell.

The SessionThe topic for the 86th gathering of The Session is “Beer Journalism.” And it is fair enough that you roll your eyes and mutter to yourself, “Haven’t we talked this to death?” Perhaps, recently, in fact. And that includes replies to some of the questions host Heather Vandenengel suggests addressing: “What role do beer writers play in the culture and growth of craft beer? Are we advocates, critics, or storytellers?” One new link and one old reference before bending her next question into one that suits my purposes.

- Jeff Rice, organizer of the Craft Writing Symposium at the University of Kentucky, jumped The Session a bit by posting his contribution — Narrative Piss — when the topic was announced. And it is a lovely bit of storytelling, even if Rice describes himself as a writer, “though not a beer writer.”

- I’ve written before that I would have liked to have been able to have asked Michael Jackson just what he meant when he wrote this in the last column he dispatched to All About Beer magazine, printed after he died in 2007: “Being a critic is one of the things I do for a living. Being a reporter is another. Is a reporter a fearless seeker-out of truth, neutral and objective? Or does he recruit those qualities in support of his personal passions? When I enlisted, at the age of sixteen, I may have been attracted by the powerful purity of the first role. In the event, I grew into the second.”

So to Vandenengel’s next question, “What stories are not getting told and what ones would you like to never hear about again?” That seems pretty much like asking what stories should be told. Those decisions are as central to journalism as getting the facts right and spelling names correctly. Sitting through a three-hour sewer board meeting is not nearly as much fun as covering a championship basketball game — I know this from experience — but when the sewer board decides to impose a large levy on everybody in a neighborhood it is kind of important to the people who live there. It is one of those stories that needs to be told, although not necessarily the sort Shapiro is talking about.

We need more stories like “Conserving Water: The Fight to Protect Beer’s Main Ingredient” a few months ago in All About Beer magazine, or “Labor of Love” in the February issue of Beer Advocate. And they sure as heck should not be exclusive to beer focused publications. These are local stories that local media must be paying attention to. When “newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs, TV, books and radio” in places like Portland (either one), Boulder County, or Asheville, N.C., gush about all the positives of breweries do you get a sense they are asking the same questions Livia Gershon did for Beer Advocate?

Perhaps it is noteworthy that Gershon writes a lot about jobs (“I’m definitely more interested in and knowledgeable about labor than beer,” she wrote in an email.) From a distance her portfolio looks like those are stories she needs to tell. That’s why Courtney Cox, managing editor at BA, recruited Gershon to write “Labor of Love.” Cox provided background via email:

“The idea first struck me two years ago, during a conversation with a head brewer at one of the largest and most beloved craft breweries around — he was telling me how exhausting and time-consuming his job is, how high the turnover is, and how much physical labor is involved. It’s a side of the industry people don’t see, even people who desperately want those brewer gigs, creating a supply/demand market that employers could really exploit if they wanted to. Craft brewing is taking off at the same moment that the labor movement is really struggling, so I wanted to look into how, as the industry grows, craft breweries adapt (or not) to their new roles as major players in the (also struggling) manufacturing economy. In terms of beer journalism, I think it’s important to hold on to the idea of the journalist as a watchdog — we have to hold the industry accountable and stay ahead of these issues as they come up.

“I chose Livia after reading her article in Salon, which aligned with the angles and themes I was hoping to explore with the BA story. I’d been looking for a journalist with experience covering labor relations, and her reporting in that Salon piece was so impressive. She brought the same hard-nosed reporting style to the BA project.”

The story ran about 2,400 words, not long for a magazine but longer than usual for a daily newspaper. Gershon wasn’t quite sure how many hours she put in on the story, doing research and interviews during the course of a month in which she also worked on other articles. “BA was super helpful in putting out a call to readers who work in the industry,” she wrote in the email. “That’s where I got most of the rank-and-file people I talked with (I probably interviewed about 10 of those people and didn’t quote all of them, but the interviews were really helpful to my understanding of the industry.) I also drove down to the Harpoon brewery in Boston and talked to some workers in the parking lot — that didn’t make it into the story, but it made me more confident that what I was hearing from the people who reached out to BA was typical for the industry.”

A story that could use similar attention right now is the one about possible government regulations that would change how brewers dispose of spent grains. There are others. They don’t all need to be filed under investigative journalism. It’s not like Gershon uncovered a scandal. In fact, she saw many of the same positives that are so much fun to write about. “Honestly, I was surprised at how passionate people are about beer. I know some home brewers and beer nerds, but I had no idea how many people in the industry — even just working the bottling lines at bigger craft breweries — seem to be part of that culture,” she added in that email.

Journalism cuts a wide swath. There are different reasons a variety of stories related to beer need to be written, and I sure hope that people interested in getting the facts straight and spelling the names right step up to tackle the ones I’m too lazy to pursue. My interest these days includes the process of brewing and how beer connects people, and I think the best way to understand that is through stories. Meanwhile, I’m inclined to think the core values at The Big Roundtable provide a good touch point. Filed under the subsection Journalism: “Our background is in journalism. Our interest is in true stories. We founded the Big Roundtable as a home for wonderfully-told nonfiction. We hope to make good on a promise made during the era of New Journalism, that has since fallen to the wayside, to publish nonfiction writing that uses unconventional literary techniques.”

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Cattle, spent grain, and hops

No surprise that the Brewers Association and Beer Institute have come out so firmly against a proposal that would make it harder and more expensive for breweries to sell or give away their spent grains. (The BA’s statement is here.) If the Food and Drug Adminstration does not afford some sort of relief then it will end up costing brewers and/or beer drinkers (likely both).

That doesn’t mean the new rules are necessarily a bad idea. Nobody is saying that spent grain is bad for cattle. However, the FDA rules are are part of a broad modernization of the food safety system. “This proposed regulation would help prevent foodborne illness in both animals and people,” the agency said in the statement. So it seems like Colorado senator Mark Udall has the best idea: “That’s why I am urging the FDA to swiftly complete a risk assessment of brewers’ uses of spent grains as a cost-effective and safe livestock feed. When brewers succeed, so do countless other businesses and sectors of our economy.”

Reading about this reminded me of a bit of history that, because of space logistics, got cut out of “For the Love of Hops.” This comes from “Hops: Their Cultivation, Commerce, and Uses in Various Countries,” written by P.L. Simmonds in 1877:

“A farmer in the north of France, having been driven by the scarcity of fodder to try to make use of whatever fell in his way for feeding his cattle, prove that hop leaves were a valuable element of food for cows when mixed with other substances. He found that whenever he gave them hop leaves he always obtained more milk and his cows throve better than usual. The leaves must be used as soon as they are plucked, for the cows object to them when dried by the sun.”

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Colorado IPA? Wild? Cakey? Caramelly?


- Firkfest 2014 Press Roundup./ I was reminded just how crazy big and different American beer has become last week in Anaheim, California. I walked through swarms of people in mouse ears and other Disney wearables, on their way to Disneyland obviously, as I headed north a couple of miles to the first Firkfest, and thus I might have been disoriented when I arrived. It was educational on two levels — first for the variety of choices, both from breweries I am familiar with and others seemingly brand new; second, you’ll if you visit the links in the roundup, for how many people may write about, and post pictures from, just about any beer event these days. Without restirring the discussion of what the word movement in “craft beer movement” means this level of participation does seem to suggest a “movement” of some sort. And I was introduced to still another blog, Cask LA Ale, which provides regular updates about what’s available on cask in the LA area. A big and different beer world, indeed. [Via OC Beer Blog]

- Drinking In A Place – Just Differently. As the following two links illustrate, I’m always up for reading about about place — particularly when memories are thrown into the mix. But as a point of order, from the get-go discussions about the importance where a beer is enjoyed have always been part of the marching orders here. [Via A Good Beer Blog]

- Rise of our regional style: Colorado Wild IPA. I’m not sure how I feel about the notion that Florida Weisse is a new regional style, but whenever I see the words “regional” and “style” together I feel compelled to pass the link along to Jeff Alworth, which I did on Twitter last week. Tweets went all sorts of directions from there. And eventually there was this . . . [Via Focus on the Beer]

- Beer Styles in Their Native Habitat. At the end the discussion is no longer about “Wild IPA” but a statement that Colorado has “a particular take on the IPA, which is thick and cakey and super caramelly.” Is that true? [Via Beervana]

- Beer Homerism, Beer Lists, and the Tidal Wave of Trendiness. “The subject of this post is a couple of current phenomena that have nagged at the edges of the beer culture for a while now and I’m fairly sure that my views on them are going to offend some people.” It rambles, but there’s something sensible about somebody who writes, “Don’t, for that matter, quote ME about anything I write unless you’ve got a little history with [me].” And I have to include one more sentence, “Those beer lovers who actually know beer and don’t obey the current Buzz are, even now, being forced to step out of the way of the roving trendies or be trampled.” [Via Seattle PI]

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