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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.

Live & Dangerous: Live Beer Tasting at The European Beer Bloggers Conference #EBBC12

May 20, 2012 4 comments

Below is a collection of my tweets and photos from the live tasting and beer blogging event at the European Beer Blogger’s Conference yesterday afternoon.  Let them serve as an example of why:

  • tweets are of the moment, best tossed into the ether never to be seen again;
  • I’m a woeful beer taster; and
  • after 10 beers in an hour, I’m an even worse beer taster than I am normally.

Thanks to all the brewers for the beer.  The conference was great fun and there will be further posts to come, even though they’ll be perfect examples of the type of incestuous intrablogger back-slapping that proper writers like Adrian Tierney-Jones warned us against at the conference itself.  Although Adrian didn’t use the term “back slapping”…

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