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Thursday, September 17, 2020

In the Clouds: Portland Beer and the Road Ahead

Because I am not prone to follow Twitter, I missed a notification (in May!) from Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives relating to the materials I assembled as part of my work on Portland Beer. I donated those materials to the OHBA in 2014 and they finally have the materials catalogued for use. The work was finished up by a graduate student intern and took some time.

Why I wasn't notified directly about this I don't know. But never mind. The archived materials include transcribed interviews with founding craft brewers and other industry-connected veterans, as well as pertinent newspaper articles and documents. There are also a number of photos, all protected by some form of copyright.

I had intended to share the recorded interviews, which would provide interesting oral histories down the road. But I eventually realized doing so would require a lot of tedious editing due to the nature of those conversations. So the recordings will stay with me, probably for good.

These materials may be of interest to folks researching Portland's brewing history at some point in the future. I should note that all of this stuff is digital. Although I have physical artifacts that might be included in an archive like this, I don't believe OHBA has the space to warehouse these kinds of items at this point in time. Perhaps someday.

Portland Beer was, more than anything, a labor of love. While it may not be perfect, it is the only book to date that traces the development of the brewing industry here. Prior to writing the book, I spent a couple decades observing craft beer as a consumer, homebrewer, festival attendee and volunteer. I launched this blog in 2011 partly as a means of getting further immersed in the industry.

In fact, I doubt the publisher of my book would have enlisted me to write it without the blog, which (somehow) gave me credibility I would not have otherwise enjoyed. Whether I should have taken on the book project is another matter and one I will debate with myself in the years to come. Being a beer historian and writer is cool and all, but it doesn't pay many bills.

Regardless, the book is what it is. While I may question the decision to write it, the book is a decent contribution to Portland's story. It will likely remain a part of the historical record for as long as such records are kept. Perhaps one day someone will update the story. My book may be updated at some point, though only the final chapters would need significant changes.

The blog is another matter entirely. It is a living document, requiring constant attention and effort to stay relevant. The OHBA announcement regarding the book materials mentions the blog. They evidently did a web crawl of the content here and made the results part of the archive. That's fine, but the blog isn't very active at this point. Not compared to what it was a few years ago.

Why is it less active? You have to go back to the beginning to understand. I had been laid off in the Great Recession of 2008-09. I expected to return to the marketing communications work I had done for 20 years. When there was nothing happening by 2011, I started my beer journey. I probably should have pursued realistic work outside my career path instead of starting the blog or writing the book.

At the time, I thought the blog would help keep my writing, research and technical skills sharp and make me employable. Plus, I was interested in beer and knew I would be okay spending significant time around it. I was right about the latter, wrong about the former. It became evident soon enough that I wasn't employable, not doing the work I had done before, anyway.

Oh, the blog (and to some extent the book) did open up paid writing opportunities, another objective. I've been able to write about beer for a variety of outlets. That's fun work and it can be pretty interesting. But, as with the book, it doesn't provide much of an income stream for most who pursue it. Changes in the media landscape have made that path increasingly sketchy of late.

I actually kept rolling with the blog well beyond the point where I knew it had no upside. I enjoyed it. While a lot of the early posts were fluffy and promotional, the coverage improved as my perceptions and knowledge of the industry sharpened. Part of that evolution meant the approach became more analytical and critical. That became problematic down the road.

My vision for the blog was always that it would provide thoughtful, objective coverage. I didn't want to find myself regurgitating press releases or providing promotional coverage in exchange for beers or schwag. It became increasingly clear over the years that my vision was out of step with the industry, which mostly prefers promotion to objectivity.

While my output had declined over the last couple of years, it went off the deep end at the end of 2019. First Biscuit passed away in August. Then came knee replacement surgery in late October and the recovery. Then came the pandemic. Then we acquired Bunk, a dog who has required constant supervision and attention since we brought her home at the end of March.

There's no clear path back to what I was doing before. That work requires a lot of time and effort for not much return and no upside. I don't exactly know what the future holds. I'll probably write on topics that are of interest to me in and out of beer. I've actually done some of that already with posts that are wholly personal. How much of what I do going forward will focus on beer I can't say.

Of course, I will continue to observe the industry. I've contributed to Willamette Week's Beer Guide for five or six years and will continue to do that sort of work when possible. I wish there were more opportunities for paid beer writing, but the nature of the industry and state of the media landscape have made those prospects fleeting.

So there you have it. If you were wondering why things have slowed down here, now you know. As the puppy grows up and I have more time to focus on what's going on in beer and other things, I expect to spend more time thinking and writing. But there's no timetable and really no restrictions on content.