2013 Beer Bloggers Conference: Not Just Another Statistic

Friday evening of the 2013 Beer Bloggers Conference took us to the Sam Adams brewery in Jamaica Plain, MA, just south of Boston. We filed in to the brewery and took our seats on rows of folding chairs set up along fermenters and other brewery equipment where every Sam Adams beer you’ve ever had began – with one exception.  Boston Lager, the brewery’s flagship, began in founder Jim Koch’s kitchen.

On each of our seats was a hefty Sam Adams bottle opener, a gift to take home. Also on our seat was a cold can of Boston Lager which Jim invited us to open and enjoy.  “I don’t like talking to sober
people,” Jim deadpanned. “Sober people are mean.”  

Beer bloggers, as a general rule, are not mean. Even when sober. Fundamentally, it’s a pretty happy subject.

Over the next half hour or so, Jim, dressed in his trademark denim shirt and Boston Lager in hand,  told us stories of what it was like creating a craft brewery well before today’s boom.  He made us laugh with tales of dealing with the area’s gangs and other undesirables.

He also spoke about pioneering things we take for granted in today’s anything goes world of brewing.  Take aging beer in used whiskey barrels.  When Jim decided to try it, no one knew whether it was even legal.  Much to their surprise, the feds approved it and now even the smallest of breweries do it.

Much less interesting, but entirely pertinent to this post, is the how and why 150 of us came to be seated in this pioneering brewery, which still brews upwards of 250 different beers each year.

“We” are beer bloggers. 

But who are we? Zephyr Adventures, the company behind the Beer Bloggers Conference (also active adventure tours and other blogger conferences, check ’em out) created a survey to gauge the current State of Beer Blogging. Two hundred sixty beer bloggers completed the thirty two question online survey.*

According to the survey, we are primarily citizen bloggers (85%) (i.e. not connected to a brewery or industry member or newspaper or other professional media), male (82%), 25 to 44 years old (75%), married or co-habitating (79%) and have a full-time job (93%).

Man that’s boring.

Why do we do it? The primary reason for nearly all respondents is simply a love of beer. More specifically, we want to have a voice (53.7%), to create a name in the beer world (50.2%) and because writing is a passion (41.6%).  

All of which you could have guessed, but surveys tend to staticize** the obvious, a necessary function.

Why don’t we do it?  We don’t do it to make money.  A whopping 73.4% do not make any money from their beer blog. Another 21.1% make less than $200 per month.

One question I wish they’d asked?  How many beer bloggers lose money producing their blog? Sorry to burst the bubble of prospective beer bloggers, but this ain’t cheap. Regularly producing content people want to read takes time and money. And, no, we don’t walk the earth being plied with free beer.

Yet, we carry on. The reason is not the least bit complicated: we enjoy it.  Done well, it’s a creative outlet that other people enjoy making part of their day.  Personal satisfaction was the top reason survey respondents gave for measuring success (84.2%), but traffic (number of unique visitors) was high on the list as well (69.4).

What do we cover? Nearly everyone includes brewery stories, beer travel stories, beer reviews, and coverage of the beer industry. Beer & food pairing make it into 51.6% of blogs.  I was surprised to learn that 28% of beer bloggers do not do review beers on their blog.  You’ve probably noticed that absence here, but I figured I was in the minority.  Wait, 28% is definitely the minority.  Math skills were fortunately not covered by the survey.

But what does “done well” really mean?

There is clearly no right answer.  Doing beer reviews well is quite different from covering events which is quite different from explaining beer laws.

During their session called “Standing Out in a Crowd by Blogging Local,” John Hall and Norman Miller, both professional journalists/authors, repeatedly emphasized quality over quantity. Obvious in its simplicity, but difficult to accomplish. Creating original content requires time, effort and serious fact checking that is often absent in today’s age of recycled news releases.

Ray Daniels, author, founder of the Cicerone Certification Program, and one this year’s conference key note speakers, offered advice applicable to any beer blog. Ray was close friends with Michael Jackson (not that one), a prolific beer writer in the days before beer was ubiquitous and cool.

Jackson wrote prolifically about specific beers, introducing countless people to styles and flavors many had no previous exposure to. He sought to avoid “highfalutin” words, as Ray called them, to help make beer more accessible. Jackson also had a knack for telling the stories behind the beer. He often provided compelling context by describing the minute details of the place, the brewer, and the facility, etc., in order to create compelling stories.

Context matters.  And while not every blog post need convey a compelling story (thank goodness) taking the time to fact check, dig deeper, question, and consider – and convey that information in an accessible way – goes a long way toward being “done well.”

I like beer. I like to learn. And I like to write. Growler Fills lets me do all three.

As I write this, I’m sipping an Imperial Smoked Porter, a collaboration between Deschutes Brewery and Great Lakes Brewing Co.  I’m doing so next to an arbor I built and on which I grow hops destined for future beer.  Earlier I had a Nutty American Brown Ale which I made in my garage.

I have five gallons of what will hopefully be a wonderful stout aging in the secondary fermenter.  I have five gallons of a citra/amarillo IPA bubbling away in the primary.  I stand over the airlock and breath in those wonderful aromas escaping with the carbon dioxide generated by the yeast.  I know I’m not the only one who does that.*** 

On Saturday, I’m boarding a boat to cruise around Flathead Lake, one of Montana’s gems, to cover the Montana Brewers Association’s fundraiser with Charlie Papazian, a legend in craft beer and homebrewing.

Okay, this ain’t such a bad gig.

In between, like 85% of my fellow beer bloggers, I’ll work full time in something other than beer.

To read the full survey results – and no one will judge you if that excites you – head here.
Beerbloggersconference.org main maintains a list of well over 1,000 beer blogs in North America and many more international, but a quick random check reveals many are inactive or relatively so. Thus, 260 respondents seems a good response rate especially given that most respondents had never been to a Beer Bloggers Conference.
** Yep, made that up. 
*** Please tell me I’m not the only one who does that.