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Whither beer blogs (redux)?

There is something terribly circular about this. What follows is inside baseball, blogging about blogging instead of the beer itself.

I asked last year if anybody really reads beer blogs (other than other bloggers), pointing to a post at Palate Press digging into why wine blogs fail their readers (so don’t have many).

Today Jeff Siegel at the Wine Curmudgeon dives into a report from the United Kingdom’s Wine Intelligence that independent bloggers are one of the least trusted wine information sources in the United Kingdom, United States, and France.

Its study found that only one in five regular wine drinkers in the U.K. trust what independent bloggers say about a wine, compared with more than 50 percent who trust their wine merchant. In the U.S., the numbers were 20 percent and 80 percent, while only 10 percent of the French trusted bloggers.

Siegel went beyond the headline stuff — which caused a major stir in wine blogdom (like here) without most of the world noticing — to find another key number: 84 percent of the respondents in the U.K. said they didn’t read wine blogs.

This is the number (probably different in the U.S., and also different when it comes to beer blogs) Siegel chooses to focus on.

At this stage of the 21st century, most wine drinkers have access to the Internet and are well educated and Web savvy enough so that they can read any wine blog that’s out there. But that this affluent and sophisticated demographic doesn’t even know to look speaks to a serious problem with wine blogging. And it’s a problem that we perpetuate.

We’re too parochial, focusing on too much on the inside baseball kind of stuff that we like and that most consumers could care less about. I enjoy writing posts like this, and I think it’s important that I do it. But they are usually among the least well read posts on the blog. Wine drinkers want wine reviews.

I added the boldface — Siegel links to his most popular posts in 2010 to prove his point.

I suspect beer drinkers are much the same.

That’s enough inside baseball talk. Tomorrow back to inside beer talk.

13 Responses to Whither beer blogs (redux)?

  1. Alan February 17, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    I agree people primarily want “reviews” and not discussions of trade, meta-blogging discussions, etc. But that is besides the point. I have a cousin-in-law who is a journalist with a media magazine. It is about the trade. It is about the experience of being in the trade. Beer blogging is about the personal experience of beer. Expression not description. But if you read 12 blog posts about beer X or brew pub Y you will get a far richer understanding of the experience to be expected that any one pro beer writer will give you. This is especially the case with beer given being a pro beer writer requires only a claim to expertise. Add the pro to the bloggers, however, and the reservoir deepens.

    Also, really, most wine drinkers mainly only want rating not reviews. We kid ourselves that the majority reads past the 87/100 at the top of the review to get to the plummy adjectives.

  2. Joe Stange February 17, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    Do beer drinkers really want beer reviews? I tend to avoid writing them because I don’t like to read them. Are any beer drinkers in the habit of making their shopping lists based on what we write?

    I wonder if this is where prices make a difference. Wine tends to be more expensive, so it’s safer to heed some trusted advice. Beer tends to be cheaper, so it’s less of a risk to gamble on a new label. Not to mention fun.

    But the way some specialty beer prices are going, i.e. upwards, maybe reviews are just a plain old public service.

  3. Joe Stange February 17, 2011 at 10:19 am #

    “Also, really, most wine drinkers mainly only want rating not reviews. We kid ourselves that the majority reads past the 87/100 at the top of the review to get to the plummy adjectives.”

    Are you sure? Seems to me many wine drinkers have a clear idea of what they like, or what they’re in the mood for, and the number doesn’t tell them if it’s “”lighter and druity” or “big and dry,” for example. For that they’ve got to read the review and hope they find it.

  4. Brian February 17, 2011 at 11:07 am #

    As a beer blogger I’ve avoided writing straight up beer reviews. Like Joe, I’m not very interested in reading them and I don’t feel I have enough knowledge or experience. I’m more interested in stories about beer and the people who make or sell it. Therefore, my approach is documentary in nature utilizing a personal voice supplemented with photography. I’m not sure if there’s an interest in this kind of material but I’m very happy with this path and I hope it attracts a few readers.

    I think beer blogger reviews are useful and more popular when a new beer hits the market and everyone wants to know what it is and how it tastes.

  5. Jeff Alworth February 17, 2011 at 11:18 am #

    Stan, you have somehow been sampling from the same wavelength as I–maybe those recent solar flares? I was planning to do a post based on the surprising analytics Google provides for Blogger. The five posts most visited on my blog are Pabst Blue Ribbon Brand Dissection, DMS Awards, Survey of beer apps, and two posts on Discovery Channel beer shows. None are reviews. When I filter by week or month, not a single beer review appears.

    My conclusion–which I many now not bother posting (thanks!)–is that the thing that makes a blog valuable is variety. If I turned my blog over to nothing but cultural ephemera and random news, I would lose the core of my readership. If I delved exclusively into the deep waters of beer geekery, I’d lose a lot of my traffic.

    I think blogs occupy a different niche in the appreciation of beer than they do for oenophiles.

  6. Jeff Alworth February 17, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    Oh, and I should add, in response to Brian and Joe, that I think reviews are critical–at least to my blog. I do try to offer a bit of value-added content though. Reviews are good when they’re considered in the context of style and history, and when the reviewers biases are on display. I try to add this context to make them interesting. Maybe I should survey readers to see if they like the reviews I do (whether they agree with them or not–and a lot of times they don’t). Hmmm…

  7. Brian February 17, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    “Reviews are good when they’re considered in the context of style and history, and when the reviewers biases are on display.”

    Yes! I agree and should have elaborated on this very point instead of making it sound like I won’t read any. Touching on style and history makes for a much more effective and interesting review. Many lack this and are just a string of adjectives.

  8. Bill Night February 17, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    Anyone who wants a review of a particular beer is generally better served by looking it up on Beer Advocate than by looking at blog post(s). Even then, I think beer reviews usually have pretty low information content, to the point that it’s not hard to generate them mechanically.

    Of course, if there’s some value-add, as Jeff says, they can be useful. I also find a little more value in beer comparisons — reviews of two or more beers at a time — and things like review panels where a few people taste/review something at the same time.

    Hey, as long as people are enjoying blogging, what’s to worry about? Another good reason to blog is for the future: we’re documenting the present day as we see it, and it will be valuable to be able to look back on those archives someday.

  9. FlagonofAle February 17, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

    I suspect that the statistics are mostly correct, but it also doesn’t bother me. Blogs are interesting to me because they have a perspective. I don’t read them because they’re a “trusted sources of information”, I read them because they have something unique and interesting to say. I suspect many other blog-readers may be the same way. I kind of feel bad for anyone who writes a blog and expects it to be a trusted source of information or some media outlet for average people. We are a niche within a niche within a niche. I think that’s mostly fine.

  10. Mike February 17, 2011 at 7:07 pm #

    I might be a bit outside the norm, but I don’t really care for specific beer reviews. I’m a homebrewer, and I read beer blogs primarily for style and trend info as well as insight into breweries and beer culture. Blogs give me info about styles that I might be interested in attempting to recreate, brewery processes, etc. It’s rare that a blog post will push me to try a specific beer.

  11. Darren February 17, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    personally I really hope no one takes my beer review too seriously, I dont mind reading the odd bloggers review but I still go back to the old dont judge a beer till you’ve had a pint rule. As for those wine guys, I can understand people not trusting them! 🙂

  12. Derrick February 18, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

    I have also gotten rather weak responses to straight beer reviews. I enjoy reading them, but when reviewing beers, I try to focus on the story behind the beer, connecting the taste of the beer to its context. Maybe wine reveiws are in such demand because you don’t take a flyer on a 40 dollar bottle of wine, the way you might on a 5 dollar bomber bottle you’ve never seen before.

    My most popular posts could be generally described as stories or ideas, that are quite rare in my odd-ball beer runner niche and I have no plans to stop writing them.

  13. dave February 21, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    When I first started reading beer blogs, I read them for beer reviews. BeerAdvocate and RateBeer beer reviews never really worked for me because the associated letter or number grade did not mean much to me. It was just a bunch of random people writing things down about a beer. With a blog however, I could get a feeling for what the blogger liked and disliked (after having read the blog for a bit) and align that with my likes and dislikes (“I had that beer too, and liked/disliked it!”), which led to me ‘trusting’ the reviews more.
    Now that I occasionally write for a beer blog however, I find myself skipping over most reviews, because now I think “I might pick that beer up for a review, and I don’t want to ‘taint’ my thoughts about the beer”. Though if the review entails some story about the beer’s creation, I might give it a read.

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