Blogging helps beer trade thrive

By Pete Brown

- Last updated on GMT

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Brown: blogging helps not hinders
Brown: blogging helps not hinders
Social media scares some, and irks others, but it is increasingly influential and boosts pubs and brands, says Pete Brown.

By now, if you've been following it — or if you even attended the first-ever UK Beer Bloggers' Conference — you'll know whether it was a success or not.

Or maybe you're sitting there without a clue of what I'm talking about. "Blogging? Vlogging? Twitter? Facebook? Oh, we don't do that. We don't get involved."

If that's the case, you really need to read on.

'Blog' is short for 'weblog' — a log on the web, an online diary that can be created within two minutes and is then there for the entire world to see. There's a book to be written about the many psychological tics and neuroses that would make someone want to do such a thing.

When I started what is supposedly the UK's first beer blog in 2006, I did so because my editor told me it would help flog my books. I did so reluctantly. I posted three entries and then left it, stranded in cyberspace, unsure what it was supposed to be doing there.

When I came back to it the following year, there were around 20 British beer blogs, and a thriving online community discussing all aspects of beer. Mine had been left behind: this scene had already developed its own stars, rules, cliques and in-jokes.

Since then, the 'blogosphere' has gone from strength to strength.

There are close to 1,000 active beer blogs globally, and the number continues to grow. Most 'professional' writers I know have a blog of their own alongside the amateurs. Last year, the first bloggers' conference happened in the US. It was a success, hence last week's event in London.

Beer geeks

If the idea of online beer geeks actually meeting in the flesh strikes you as amusing — I have to admit to chuckling at mental images of a room full of people standing in silence while they 'talk' to each other furiously on their smartphones — there are two things you should consider.

Firstly, brewers were falling over themselves to sponsor the conference, provide hospitality and get their brands in front of this gaggle of unpaid, amateur communicators.

And secondly, in the broader media space, the perception of blogging has changed. I used to be frustrated when someone would introduce me as a beer blogger. I bristled — I'm a successful author and proper journalist.

Because I get paid to write and am published in old media, I thought I deserved to be recognised as something more than 'just a blogger'. But today, when I examine the context of how people say 'beer blogger', I realise they actually think it's cooler than calling me an author, writer, journalist or whatever else.

Three years ago, if I was offered a press trip and said: "Cool, I'll write it up on my blog", I would have been turned down for not having a 'proper' commission.

Last August, I was invited on a trip to Pilsen that was exclusively for bloggers. They weren't interested in whether I was going to write about it in a newspaper or magazine — they wanted it in cyberspace.

Having been fortunate enough to chair the judging of the British Guild of Beer Writers' Awards last year, I can confirm that the majority of what is written on beer blogs is tedious, repetitive, derivative and of no interest whatsoever outside a small clique of friends.

But follow the noise and the traffic towards the good blogs, and you find beer writing where the rulebook has been torn up. It's immediate, it's interactive, it's wholly subjective. It starts off as one thing and turns into another. Ideas spread virally, instantaneously. Love them or hate them, brands such as BrewDog, Marble and Dark Star are famous nationally and internationally among beer connoisseurs, thanks largely to these online enthusiastic amateurs.

And what if you're a pub? People travel upwards of 50 miles to visit craft-beer pubs such as the Cask Pub and Kitchen in Pimlico or the Sheffield Tap when they hear online that there's a Thornbridge 'meet the brewer' event or a rare kegged version of some super-hopped American IPA.

On 'microblogging' site Twitter, where you're limited in what you can say, 140 characters is easily sufficient to announce what cask ales are on the pumps today, or what the specials are for lunch.

Noisome bloggers

My fellow Publican's Morning Advertiser columnist Roger Protz recently referred to "noisome bloggers" in an unflattering way: bloggers are bolshy upstarts who want to upset the order of things, and either don't know or don't care about the old ways. I chose to take this as a compliment, given that it's also a perfect description of the Campaign for Real Ale in its early days.

Some bloggers may now attack CAMRA and urge it to change. Others defend it. But argument online, while robust, is normally respectful and often humorous. Those resorting to abuse are quickly chastised by the community.

The clue is in the collective term for these new online channels — social media. Beer and pubs are social phenomena. And that's why blogs, Twitter and the rest are becoming so influential — they help our industry thrive.

Pete Brown wrote this article before the Beer Bloggers conference took place.

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