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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ruminations from Paradise

It's been a tough week for me, suffering through some blustery days on Kauai, which is the oldest and western-most of the major Hawaiian islands, if you didn't know. I've been here many times and each trip has its own persona. This time it's unsettled weather.

Being away from Portland has its advantages, and not just when it comes to the weather...which is far better here even though we've seen more rain, wind and gray than usual. Being removed from Portland's beer culture is a bit of a shock, but also instructive.

As I've documented on past trips, there are two craft breweries on Kauai and they both produce decent beer. Beyond that, you find Kona and Maui beers in bars and stores. Some of the Kona brands are unknown on the mainland, but mostly we're talking about standards like Fire Rock Pale Ale, Big Wave Golden Ale, Longboard Lager, etc.

I was thinking about beating up the Kauai beer scene, which is easy to do when you compare it to Portland or almost anywhere in Oregon. But that's way too easy. And, anyway, I've talked about Kauai's beer desert before. Thankfully, I got some help from back home, in the form of a feud involving Portland and Salem over beer. Only in Oregon.

The skirmish started when Willamette Week's Martin Cizmar toured Salem breweries and proceeded to beat up a bunch of their beers in a review. I consider Martin to be a friend, but I have no skin in his reviews. Sometimes we agree on beers and breweries, sometimes not.

I suspect Salem already had a bit of an inferiority complex, being so near Portland. So I wasn't surprised to see someone take exception to Cizmar's comments. That someone is Victor Panichkul, who writes about beer, wine and food for the Statesman Journal. Panichkul delivered a rebuttal which mostly emphasized the quainter aspects of living in Salem. And Cizmar's incompetence.

That wasn't the end of it. News of the feud was picked up by OPB and subsequently by NPR. Perfect. There were some spirited comments on social media, partisans from each side blasting the knowledge and integrity of the other. You can't make this stuff up.

Look, I have no opinion on Salem's breweries or beers. Most of the breweries I know only vaguely. Until I experience the beers personally, I won't take a position. But I do know it's the right and responsibility of beer writers to critique beers, breweries, etc.

In actual fact, there isn't close to enough criticism in this industry. I see too many writers and bloggers pandering to breweries and festival organizers hoping to keep the free beer and event passes flowing. It shouldn't work that way, but ethics and beer writing often don't mesh.

So go ahead and bash Cizmar's putdown of Salem's breweries. Given some of the snide comments in the piece, maybe he deserves it. I'm not defending his comments or opinions. But he has a responsibility to report what he thinks, even if you or I don't agree.

Those of us who cover the beer scene ought to be reporting the bad, as well as the good we experience. Otherwise, our stuff is just so much promotional hooey not worth writing. And we aren't serving the people who are out there looking for information.

Home soon, Portland. The Labs are waiting.


  1. Being a beer writer has got to be a bit of a fine line to tread... you're an advocate of the craft community, yet you're also ethically-bound to be honest about how you really feel if something in the industry lets you down. Right? I mean, I would expect that, as someone who reads a lot of beer writing. And since I live here in Portland, I end up reading Martin Cizmar's work quite a bit. Like you, sometimes I agree with his assessments, sometimes not. But after reading this article it reinforced some things that have been bothering me about his tone. It comes across at times as cynical, elitist and maybe even xenophobic. It would be one thing if it was funny, but it isn't. Are we expecting too much for opinion-based critique, its very nature prone to occasional meanness? Maybe. But maybe it's also possible to be fair without being an asshole.

  2. The reality is, none of us should be an advocate of anything except good beer. As discussed over on the Beervana Facebook page, there is no viable definition of craft beer. But never mind. The real issue here is there's a lot of shitty reporting and borderline dishonestly out there. Part of that is related to the virtual payola that goes on. Part of that is related to friends no one wants to offend. It is certainly possible to be critical and fair without being an asshole. But there's a temptation to cross the fairness line to attract readers. Martin isn't the only one who gets caught up in that.


Keep it civil, please.