Home > Beer > Themes of #EBBC12: Bad beer, free beer and bad free beer

Themes of #EBBC12: Bad beer, free beer and bad free beer

One of the points that emerged from the panel and group discussions, and indeed Stuart Howe’s very funny keynote speech at the European Beer Bloggers Conference was that opinion is split as to whether blogs should ever be truly negative about a beer or a pub.  Some believe blogging can give pubs and brewers useful feedback about possible improvements, or just a much-needed kick up the arse. Others believe constructive criticism should be fed back privately.

Some people can’t be bothered to write about bad beer and mediocre experiences. Sometimes, it can be fun to read (or write) a really scathing review; certainly restaurant critics and their readers seem to relish it. Similarly, reviews of bad music and awful films (see for example Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon in Empire) can be more entertaining than those of good ones. Furthermore, being warned off a bad experience can be as useful to the reader as being tipped off about a good one.

This discussion has some relationship with another major theme of the weekend: free beer.  Does receiving free samples from a brewer undermine a blogger’s objectivity?  Most people seemed to agree that accepting and (honestly) reviewing free beer is acceptable, although many also considered that it was poor etiquette to ask for it, or at least that the thought of doing so made most people uncomfortable.   Having said that, one of the reps from a multinational brewer said they had lots of free beer to give away and were happy to give out samples when asked, so if you want to dismount your high horse, there’s a gravy train to catch.

My own view on this is that if there’s free beer being handed out, far be it from me to turn it down.  I’ve been sent free beer from St Stephanus (SAB Miller) and more recently Hawkshead, which I intend to review shortly.  Along with all the other attendees of various moral standpoints, I also had an awful lot of good-to-excellent free beer at the conference, from producers as large as Molson Coors to as small as Roosters.   However I would never ask a brewer for free beer if they weren’t already in the process of doing so.

As regards free beer that turns out to be bad, I probably wouldn’t write about the beer if it was going to result in an outright scathing review (rather than, say, a middling one).  But I tend not to do that in any event as, particularly in the case of small and independent brewers and pubs, I appreciate that their jobs are difficult and many of them have invested a huge proportion of their time, sweat and imagination to actually create something real in the hope that others will enjoy it.  In that context it seems cheap and easy to point out a few things I might regard as failings or contrary to my personal taste, just to get some moderately entertaining writing out of it.

I’m also aware that my criticisms might derive from teething problems or a blip. Using hypothetical examples, if I feel aggrieved enough criticise the quality of Orwell’s Wallop or the service at the newly opened Damp Satellite Artisanal Beer Emporium, I’m reporting an actual experience, but one that will hang around on the internet and search engines for some time.  My half-litre of Wallop might have been from a bad batch or a new manageress of the Damp Satellite might lick it into shape, but there’s still an indelible stain on a server in San Francisco.

I’ve only ever been truly negative about a pub once on here, and that reflected some appalling service that both gave me a real sense of grievance and the view that people would benefit from knowing about it. Even then, when I see that particular post still getting hits many months later, I wonder if people still need to be “warned”. Perhaps more to the point, I also wonder if I’m still as annoyed as I was at the time.

  1. May 21, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    Would it be worth revisiting a bad beer / bad pub a few months down the line? If still bad stand by your words, if improved write a new corrective blog.

    • May 21, 2012 at 8:33 pm

      That’s definitely a valid point, although I’m not sure how many bad experiences I’m willing to repeat in the name of “citizen journalism”.

    • May 21, 2012 at 9:45 pm

      Why would you go out of your way to give something a second chance when there are so many untested or proven excellent venues/ beers to spend time on instead

  2. May 21, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Great summary — very helpful for those of us who couldn’t make it.

    Ultimately, I think what’s important is that bloggers have thought about it and are reasonably open and consistent about their stance. The people we trust the most are those who practice full disclosure and, if we’re honest, those who write about freebies fairly infrequently.

    • May 21, 2012 at 8:57 pm

      It seems that there was no point in you coming as a learning experience anyway, as all involved seemed to agree that your blog is perfect already! Perhaps you should jointly do the keynote speech next year.

      • May 21, 2012 at 9:46 pm

        would love a boak&bailey session!

      • May 22, 2012 at 6:32 pm

        Ha. Would be hard to pull off while maintaining our anonymity. Perfectly happy to give anyone advice one-to-one by email if they think, for some mad reason, we are qualified to do so, though.

  3. May 21, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    Nice round up Nick on the most topical of issues. I was thinking along similar lines yesterday, as let’s face facts nearly all the beer we happily consumed was free over the weekend and rarely an eyebrow raised. But with the Pilsner event various folk around the room seemed to really resent wearing a PU shirt for a few hours fun.
    For me the ethics are about honesty, respect & good manners. Don’t ask or at least don’t badger breweries for freebies but if any come your way use a little tact in how they are used.
    Good to see you at the weekend, as was the collective, cheers

  4. May 21, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    this is a good summary of that part of the conversation. ditto on the being good to finally meet!

  5. May 22, 2012 at 8:26 am

    On the issue of the guilt of a bad pub review there is always the option of a revisit if it’s local or get someone else to for a balanced view. If it’s still a shocker you can sleep easy and if it’s improved everyone’s a winner.

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