September 1, 2011

Are Beer Blogs important? Part 2

Yesterday, I posted the thoughts that beer blogs aren't very important in the grand scheme of things, but beer blogs are useful. Beer blogs, of course, tell us about events, trends, new beers and the happenings of area breweries. Blogs can also tell us about the health and vitality of the larger beer culture. I argued that that there are several quality beer blogs in Portland and their Wikio rankings suggest that they are highly influential. I maintained that the PDX bloggers interact, collaborate and impact one another much in the same way that other actors in the larger beer community do. Portland's beer culture is thriving and interactive and so are it's bloggers. Blogs reveal us. If you have some time, please check it out.

In June, Andy Ingram asked me what I thought of the beer culture here. Among my answers was that Phoenix was too spread out. Since we're dealing with an intoxicant, the most ideal situation to enjoy beer is have walkable neighborhoods with a good mix of beer bars and restaurants around breweries and brewpubs.  In cities of 1 million or more, Phoenix ranks among the worst in walkability. Though Tempe fares better than Phoenix with walkable streets, likely few of us has walked to Four Peaks, Sleepy Dog and surrounding bars and restaurants. Each of us probably has a dozen favorite places to enjoy beer, but each of them is separated by a  15 to 20 minute drive. Accessibility is a problem.

As Andy further suggests, because Arizonans come from many other places and since we have access to a dizzying amount of great beers from Colorado, California and Europe our first beer choices aren't always local. It's a local disconnect. All the focus on somewhere else doesn't really further the conversation of where we are.

Our local award winning beers and characterful breweries don't get the love sometimes. Who doesn't like drinking a Hopsquatch in an open air mission style dairy? Who doesn't marvel at the larger than life German brewer that squeezes into the tiny Sun Up Brewery to make delicate English cask ales? A brewer working out of a converted bank, spearheads a spectacular Canned Beer festival-- Hell yes! Papago, arguably one of the best beer bars in the world with the likes of Flanny's, Taste of Tops and Hungry Monk nipping at its heels... we got that! A 28 tap grocery store? Yep!

In short, while we do have several things to celebrate here, our beer culture seems incomplete and disconnected. The areas of success don't seem to have a spillover effect. We've also had a fair number of beer endeavors start and end. Stan Hieronymus wrote about our beer scene at the close of 1999. Bandersnatch, Rio Salado, Copper Canyon, The Timber Wolf... it's sad to see how many breweries and beer bars have gone, but that is our lot.

If you're still with me, here's how our beer blogs in Phoenix reveal us. I can't claim that I've done an exhaustive search, however, if you are a regular Phoenix beer blogger and I've missed you, then you've done a horrible job at getting your message out. Drop us a line because we intend to create some networking opportunities.

There are several people writing great stuff here. No two ways about it. A central issue is accessibility and that problem seems to surround writers that work with print media. Beer PHXation frequently references Andy Ingram's Beer Buzz hosted on AZCentral. I'd refer you to a collection of his posts, but it doesn't exist. AZCentral does not have a landing page for all of his posts nor does it have a RSS feed. One has to search all of his posts and then select from a google listing of posts that are presented in no particular order. Similarly, Cicerone Chuck Noll of World Class Beverages writes for Zane Lamprey's DrinkingMadeEasy.com, but there is no home for his content and no RSS feed. James Swann, the energetic beer monger at Whole Foods Chandler writes a print column for AZ Weekly, but there is no web copy. James' work will soon be appearing on Jess Harter's Mouth by Southwest. Jess writes about beer occasionally, so we look forward to this addition. Zachary Fowl (also a Cicerone) writes a Beer Review column for the New Times blog Chow Bella. To read his post,  you have to decide if you want only his beer review columns or all columns written by him or just beer by all Chow Bella writers. I am not making this stuff up.

Kicking off the "citizen" beer bloggers are The Brew Bros. It's a Chicago based national site with 4 Arizona writers and writers in other parts of the country. The Brew Bros focus is "attending events, sampling new brews, interviewing brewmasters, touring breweries and brewpubs and maybe even hosting ... events." If you're looking for Arizona content, it's in there, but it's all but impossible to navigate for local content. Much to my dismay, the writer's bios have been dropped making it hard for someone new to find the Arizona writers. Found it. For the Arizona content, you'll want to follow Patrick, Justin, Kenny and Alyssa. You're also going to get regional beer reviews and some travel pieces. Alyssa's content is mirrored on her Drink Better Beer Blog, a mostly local event and beer review blog and Patrick has just started a beer blog called AZBrewBro.

We're aware of about a dozen blogs that were started within the last year but have not posted anything since March of this year. There are no reliable local beer event based blogs. The most frequent beer blog topic is beer reviews. Reviews are almost a commodity since there is almost no criticism. A bright point, however are beer reviews by Alyssa and Zachary Fowle. They are notable in that they write a balance of praise and criticism.

Looking at individual posts, we see some great things, but there isn't a beer blogging community here yet. We don't often enough comment on or reference other local blogs. Carrying through with the analogy, we are doing things in isolation, we have accessibility problems, we don't give local issues enough attention and we lack walkable (readable) nodes.

There is, of course, this blog going on year 2. (We are approaching a milestone wherein many blogs cease without warning!) We write almost 100% locally focused pieces on beer culture, brewery & industry news, trends and analysis. We celebrate and admonish. We feel that we are writing the best beer blog in the Valley. We say with this with some pride and plenty of regret since we have not built a community.

You've read this. We've found each other. Let's build a community.

12 comments:

  1. I think this community is starting. Look at the Whole Foods beer festival last weekend...everyone you mentioned was there. I often will go in to accounts to relax and have a beer and there are several of the people you mentioned hanging out. I also see people meeting and having beers together on Face Book. Then there is Papago, our beer Mecca, a place where you find beer professionals and the cray beer community intermingled quite often. One last example, Girls Pint Out who's mission is to educate women in craft beer...this group is constantly inviting new ladies into the fold. I think this community is starting and building, we just need to nurture it. We nurture it by not being like the wine crowd...like Jeff Alsworth says (and incidently I say it too) "be beer geeks not beer snobs." Using our knowledge to look down our noses at those less knowledgable will alienate new comers...I think the community does a fairly good job at being welcoming. I'd really like to see that continue so that we get even more people involved. I really think we are witnessing the building, though small and intimate, it exists...I'd love to witness the tipping point. The potential is there and I think we have all the right people to nurture it.

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  2. You are absolutely correct Kristine. We do have an embarrassment of untapped potential and events like Whole Foods are a good start.

    I'll make the distinction, however between "showing up" and doing something.

    The Facebook group started with excitement but it remains to be seen whether it will actually do anything. The signal to noise ratio, I'm sure, caused some industry people (frankly- people with better things to do) to tune out a bit.

    Thank you as always.

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  3. Well said Rob. Good blogging is hard. And being consistent even harder. Congrats on the two year mark and for keeping our community on its toes! I barely call myself a blogger, let alone a beer blogger, but you've voiced something that's been in the back of my mind about my site. If I was to identify how I wrote about beer, I'd fall in the "beer and travel" category. But you can't easily find my posts about beer and cities I've drank them in on my homepage. Yes, it's time for a re-design. Any Word Press pros out there?

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  5. The discussion on whether beer communities exist and how furniture gets moved started simultaneously and spontaneously this morning with Alan and is now morphing (with references to this post) into a discussion on whether communities can be built over at Stan's.

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  6. Insightful post, Rob, and thanks for the praise.

    In my experience, the cities that are craft beer meccas are that way because the mentality is adopted by ALL the people who live there. At a Padres game in San Diego, I saw more people drinking Stone Pale Ale than BMC products. We're slowly (very slowly) reaching that point here, but as is revealed by your posts of restaurant beer lists, it's an uphill battle.

    It's not like we don't have the makings of a great beer city. Papago and Tops are world-class beer bars; Four Peaks, SanTan and Sonoran put out some decent stuff; we hold events (Strong Beer, the Rare Affair) that I'd pit against any in the country. We still need a brewery to start producing decent Belgians and sours, but for the most part we have all the right puzzle pieces; we just need to put them into place.

    The question is, whose job is that? The beer bloggers? The brewers? Event organizers?

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  7. Ultimately the job of building the beer culture in a market lies with everyone with an interest in great beer. However, it seems, without fail, that every great beer culture starts with local breweries. Phoenix is going through a period of enlightenment in that regard and we are seeing the breweries open up. We are still in that "Brew it and they will come" stage. However, we will shortly hit the "shakeout" stage where only the strong survive. To me, that is the make or break point. If we demand great beer and reward the breweries that give it to us; if we demand sours and Belgian styles and reward the breweries that give it to us; if we demand what we deserve, then we can take the next step. Building a great list of non-Arizona offerings as well.

    One of the pitfalls we face, that more mature craft markets do not is exactly what we are rejoicing in; diversity of selection. The craft business is so successful that many distributors and retailers alike believe that having the most craft beers is the key to winning. They sometimes do this without regard for quality; and in a counter-intuitive move, base it on price considerations. Once again, we will reach a saturation point and a shakeout of those brands will come. Then we can build on the brands that survive, and add the quality brands that have held back from coming to AZ either for production issues, or for concerns about getting lumped in with all the others flooding in to our state.

    But the topic of this post was the bloggers; and I think we will see the same lifecycle there. There are many people posting their thoughts, but as the culture improves the cream will rise to the top.

    The most important thing as Arizonans drinking great beer is to continue to demand excellence and reward those who give it to you with your business. Beware, however, that in the pursuit of excellence it is helpful if we do so in a friendly way. Talk to the bartender who knows nothing about the beer he or she sells; ask the manager to carry beers that are of more interest to you; become a beer advocate (lower case, not necessarily upper case). Greg Koch is doing some great things in this regard and if you don't follow him on Twitter, you should. You should also check out this web site which is only loosely related to Stone - http://www.sellingcraftbeer.com/

    Okay, I have droned on...any longer and I will have to charge Rob my usual fee.

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  8. Interesting comments about a correlation between beer culture and walkability. I was curious about Asheville, a small city known for good beer, so I looked it up. Its walkscore is 50, considerably higher than much larger North Carolina cities such as Charlotte. More importantly, its downtown core has a walkscore of 91. To me, that's what really matters -- not so much wall-to-wall walkability within a city's borders. Very few communities can boast that. Instead, it's about walkable districts within larger cities. Those districts seems to foster good beer scenes just as they foster good live music scenes. Phoenix can and should have more local music and more local beer, and both will have a better chance if we cultivate pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods where breweries, pubs, and clubs can thrive.

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  9. I only write good reviews on beer because I only drink good beer, haha. And I don't make it a habit of going to shitty places, either. And if I do, I surely don't want to tell the world they exist.

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  10. I agree with the posting and comments around the walkability and it's impacts to the beer culture, among other impacts to the culture of the city in general. One would be hard-pressed to find another city with the unique climate and layout we have here in the valley, and as such there doesn't seem to be any pre-defined approaches to help foster an increase in the culture of community.

    Does beer culture lead the way to help address this lack of community? While a nice thought, it would appear to have larger roots in how the various cities work to connect their residential to their commercial. Does the light rail do this? Started with good intentions, time will tell if the limited release of rails helps bridge the gap.

    It's a nice post Rob, I like the work you do on here, and since I've been out of the scene that does exist today, I like to pop in here and see what's what when I can - I hope not to see this blog disappear into the magic 2 year cloud of nevermore...

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  11. Patrick, Dane,

    You have your own audience and reason for writing what you write. I'm giving you my feedback as a reader, aggregator and critic. David and I write for, perhaps, a completely different reason. If you want to speak to the Phoenix market and get my attention, the changes you discussed will make it easier to do. I've also been in contact with all of the print media writers and they are also talking about changes.


    David and Michael.

    I'm going to dig much deeper into the walkability index. I thought it deserved its own post. David is correct in that neighborhoods are the correct scale to look at. Mass transit bridged these walkable nodes. I have some prelim info from Sean Sweat and I hope to get some urban planning geek credibility.

    The larger point on walkability was the analogy that our blogs are not walkable. Perhaps the metaphor was stretched too thin.

    ¡Salud all!

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  12. Nice write up.

    I do think "walkability" plays a pretty big part in beer culture. When there is an event in Chandler, I have to decide if I want to drive almost an hour, only to have to drive back an hour. I am all for supporting beer fests, breweries, local, etc, but the drive does come into play some.

    I think twitter is starting to help. While not a blog, it is a way for people who do not want to commit themselves to a blog to post things about beer. Restaurants will put up special tappings, bottles, etc. I went to moto recently due to a twitter post about their super hop cask from Odell.

    I have also met some good friends through beer in this town. I hope the culture continues to grow, and that the breweries continue to experiment, and brew some more styles.

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