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Monday, September 10, 2018

Promoting the Making of Flawed Craft Beer

It is certainly a truism that not all craft beer is good. There may be no better way to evaluate that statement than to have a bottleshare where people show up with random bottles, cans and even growlers. That was my Saturday. So much suspect beer.

That point was nicely made in a recent article by John Holl in the LA Times. In the article, Holl describes some of the negative experiences he's had with craft beer. Like the can of hazy IPA that exploded in his living room. Also skunky aromas, popcorn smell, etc.

Holl notes that he is often labeled a whiner when he brings up shortcomings in craft beer. That's part of the cultural worship surrounding the rising popularity of craft beer. Hardcore fans and geeks sometimes have a hard time admitting bad things happen in their pet industry.

Of course, a lot of us tend to look past the quality issue. Craft brewers make beer in hundreds of styles and (theoretically) thousands of flavor profiles. That fact has conned craft fans into thinking flavor equals quality. That isn't necessarily the case.

The big brewers are partly responsible for those attitudes. Budweiser, Miller and others reduced beer down to almost nothing in terms of flavor. Along the way, they became sticklers about quality, developing sophisticated systems to ensure that their beer is consistently tasteless wherever it is made. They had to...off flavors are easily detectable in the swill they make.

I'm not a fan of big beer or it's tasteless product. But I'm also not a fan of some of the garbage I tasted at my party on Saturday. We sampled beers that were corked, oxidized, under and over carbonated. We tried beers with floaters, beers that were too thin for their style or way too sweet. Ye gods.

You start asking yourself how there can be so much shitty beer. I'm quite sure some of the beers in question were old or, at least, not as fresh as you might like. You don't how it was stored or transported. Fine. But that still leaves a more than ample of amount of bad beer.

My question is simple: Now that craft beer has attained celebrity status, where can average fans find out what's good and what sucks? The collapse of print media has left a coverage void. Blogs might have filled it for a time, but blogs are losing steam. Where's the objective coverage?

There are obviously sources like Untappd and others that provide ratings based on aggregate input from many reviewers. The problem is, most average consumers don't use those apps or sites. Where's the informative mainstream coverage?

The answer is there isn't much of it. Instead, an escalating amount of craft beer promotion is happening on social media. Attractive, often scantily clad young female promoters are an emerging theme, particularly on Instagram. There's rarely any objective context involved, but this is one of the big new ways consumers learn out about beers and beer events.

I admit complicity. I sometimes post photos of beers that turn out to be flawed. Fortunately, my social media following and influence is small. Those with thousands of followers have a lot of impact with similar posts. Keep in mind that many of these folks are either paid industry shills or want to be.

When I think of all the flawed and borderline craft beer out there, I can't help but wonder if social media promotion, which tends to give brewers a pass, isn't partially responsible. Its promotional power is a boon for breweries, but it does nothing to push consistency and quality.

How does this get fixed? I have no idea.


  1. I wonder, given the sheer number of beers available to review, whether informative mainstream coverage is possible? With wine, you have a few magazines, and yet they only cover a fraction of available wines in a given year. My hunch re: social media -- and I could be completely mistaken -- is that if folks are savvy enough to see things promoted on social media, they're likely to come across UnTapped (or Beer Advocate or Ratebeer or the like). Huge chunks of folks know about, say, Yelp and TripAdvisor even if they only eat out/travel every once in a blue moon and/or rarely spend time online -- I'd have to figure the same becomes true for folks exploring beer, even if only episodically.

  2. The sheer volume of beer being released is definitely part of the problem. That will only get worse...or better, depending on your point of view, and it means that finding objective information will be even tougher moving forward. But my main concern is that social media promotion has no critical context and is growing exponentially in power.


Keep it civil, please.