Drunken Speculation

MR | Third Edition, April 2014 – Easter Tuesday Reading

WhoneedsthekwikemartLast week on Drunken Speculation, SEQBeers rolled on with:

Happy Easter to all, which sounds weird coming from me, considering I have no affection for religion. Nonetheless, Easter Monday has meant that Monday Reading has been delayed a day for no particular reason other than it’s hard to work to a schedule when you’re on holidays.

To the Australians who have decided to forgo taking three days of annual leave this week to toil away in the salt mines instead of enjoying a super-long weekend, at least you have this week’s edition of MondayTuesday Reading to ease you into pretending to work today.

To Tweet of the Week!

The big story of the week was the resignation of New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell after he forgot he accepted a $3,000 bottle of wine from a lobbyist (apparently, not the first time a bottle of alcohol has blown the lid on political corruption in this country). When the resignation hit the news, Twitter erupted into punnery. The above was my favourite. Then again, if this is the height of the social media conversation, I may need to discontinue Tweet of the Week.

Moving on, what did others have to say last week?

Literature & Libation – So you want to be a beer writer? – Part 3 – Avoiding Sentimentalism

This may sound odd, but your job as a beer writer is not to tell me about beer. At least not directly. Telling a person reading a beer blog about a beer in a review is like describing the nuances of a piece of plywood to a master carpenter; you’re going to bore the carpenter, and he doesn’t really care about that aspect of the wood, anyway. Your job is to connect a reader to the beer in a way they don’t expect, show them what it meant to you (or didn’t, if you hated it) and let them draw a conclusion. Do your best to actively avoid inserting your own take and viewpoint, and focus more on capturing the context that exists outside of the glass.

(It’s probably worth hitting Page Down once or twice if you’re not interested in beer writing navel gazing. I can’t help myself but I don’t blame you)

Oliver from Literature and Libation makes some good points about the relative dearth of quality in beer writing, particularly blogging (“I could go on about sloppy writers who clumsily wield grammar like a linguistic sledge hammer, smashing clauses into phrases with about as much grace as a sloshed rhinoceros” rings a bell). He identifies one of the root causes as sentimentality. I was tempted to disagree but the conclusion I’ve come to in the last week is that most beer blogging isn’t actually about beer, it’s about the writer and their relationship with beer. Viewed through that lens, the quality of beer blogging is directly related to how compelling the protagonist (i.e. the writer) is. In most cases, the answer is “not very”, which is why most people get bored with other people’s writing. So if you insist on being sentimental, you at least need to be an interesting human being to pull it off (note to self: be more interesting).

I imagine that the causes for the lack of polished writing are similar for most of us. Lack of knowledge? Maybe. Lack of skill? Also a likely contributing factor. Lack of time to polish a turd? Oh yeah. However, if you wait for your work to be perfect, you’ll never hit the publish button. Admittedly, some writing is too poor to be released (if I could take back two posts, it would be my last two contributions to the Sessions) but you’ll never practice writing or get feedback if you don’t occasionally throw something out into the morass. The beauty is that most blogs get so few hits, the potential for damage is really well contained, and by the time most bloggers have any following, they usually have sharpened up their game.

This doesn’t address the fact that most blogs are read by beer nerds, not the wider public. If feedback we’ve received is anything to go by, bloggers are elitist wankers, out of touch with the common punter and holders of impossibly high standards. That is, our opinions are rarely worth the cyberspace they’re written on, which is a bit depressing when you think about it.

Beer Prole – Good Vibrations & Bad Vibes: Amateur criticism and social media 

The craft beer industry is full of people who have a really close connection to their product, take pride in their work, will be genuinely hurt by online criticism and consequently annoyed by it, especially when that criticism comes from people who appear not to know what they’re talking about.  Except it is also the case that the people who are criticising them aren’t usually claiming to express an expert opinion, but are merely venting the feeling that they didn’t get value for money from the beer they bought, which might have been an actual problem of quality, a misunderstanding about what the brewer was trying to achieve or possibly even an utter failure of palate.

Wonkblog – The traumatic, sensual, addicted language of restaurant reviews (and what it says about you)

The cheap good eats prompted a lot of variations on addiction, craving, chocoholics, jonesing, bingeing, drugs of choice, food crack and edible crack. The good expensive restaurants, meanwhile, included a lot of food that was erotic, pornographic, orgasmic, tempting, voluptuous, sinful, sultry and sexy (evidently not words you would use to describe a two-dollar slice of pizza).

Then you’ve got the really fancy people who appreciate “unobtrusive” service or well-appointed “vestibules” or food that’s “commensurate” with its price tag…

Stuart Gregor – Australian manufacturer has a future. It’s called craft.

Get this – the Federal government makes almost THREE TIMES more revenue out of one bottle of our gin than we, the producer, do. Yep that’s right. We make around $12 per bottle (and then we take out COGs and expenses) and the Feds get $24 excise plus $5 GST – so close to $30 PER BOTTLE! It’s INSANE.

And it makes Australia the highest taxed spirits industry in the world. An American craft distiller is taxed 10 TIMES less than we are. Yes, granted, we like Austrade but this sort of punitive tax regime HAS to be fixed to allow more of us to flourish and employ many more thousands of people in our craft industry.

Reviving manufacturing in Australia, which has the smallest manufacturing sector of any developed nation (on par with banking haven Luxembourg for fuck’s sake), is not going to occur by slashing the excise on alcohol. It could help but there are much bigger, much more deeply entrenched diseases to be exorcised before Australia can become any kind of manufacturing/exporting power house. Here’s three: high labour cost, high Australian dollar and high land cost. The powers that be, and indeed their opposition, have shown no interest in seriously addressing any of these issues, with the possible exception of the former only as an exercise in transferring wealth to the already wealthy. Hell, a tax on land value could obviate the need for an alcohol excise as well as reducing the cost of production for the entire economy. So let’s focus on that, because it’ll bring wider benefits to all of us, including producers of alcohol. (I will also add that in a nation with a serious water security problem, like Australia, pinning our economic future on making booze is not necessarily a winning proposition)

Brew Tas – Colonial Style Homebrew & James Squire

To deal with these problems, lots of beer was brewed with most or all of the fermentables coming from sugar. The sugar was cheap and would ferment out nearly completely, robbing any bacteria present of the chance to sour the beer too much. The image below is part of an account of colonial beer and gives a picture of brewing practice and drinking habits as well as calling out James Squire who had died 10 years before it was written. (It’s a bit unfortunate for the modern James Squire brand that they chose to name themselves after someone who was more about marketing than brewing good beer. Not that they let history get in the way of their stories.)

Nick from Brew Tas is doing an excellent impression of a local version of Ron Pattinson over the last week and I, for one, am finding it fascinating.

Luke’s Beer – Confessions of a World Beer Cup Judge

The first round comes out. You potentially get up to 12 different beer samples for the category you are judging. You get plastic cups, branded Brewers Association, and a fill line at 1.5oz (approx. 44ml).

People have been surprised when I say they are served in plastic cups. When you start looking at the numbers you realise that it is logistically impossible to use glass, and get it washed and dried to re-use again in a reasonable time.

It’s Not Just the Alcohol Talking – Follow-up: Long Live the Beer Store

Even in the short amount of time since my article made the rounds, it has become increasingly obvious that the Beer Store is a heartless, fear-mongering enterprise that will stop at nothing to maintain its monopoly on private alcohol sales in Ontario. Case in point, the new Beer Store-managed Twitter feed “Ontario Beer Facts” (@ONBeerFacts), where they play fast and loose with the definition of “Facts”.
Worse yet is their 80s PSA-inspired TV ad in which they suggest that convenience store clerks are evil, pedophilic incompetents.

The Shout – Coors settles in Sydney as Woolies deal sought

“Initially it was retailers saying ‘I’ll take a couple of cases because I don’t know if this will sell’,” he said.

“Well their next order is five cases, their next order is 20 cases, so we’ve seen growth across the country with both brands, Coors and Blue Moon.”

In the on-premise, Coors said the brands are in 500-plus venues.

“Without Coors being on draught it’s a bit tough in the on-premise, so we’re hoping to have that further down the road this year,” he said.

“We’re strictly trying to get bucket promotions so that people are aware – five Coors for $20.”

Other highlights included:

On a lighter note, my Beer of the Week was Doctor’s Orders Prescription 12. A black Belgian IPA, Prescription 12 wasn’t just a layer cake of “let’s throw whatever the hell we can at this and see what sticks” but a beer with a distinct character that was both strong but with a degree of nuance.

Anything I missed?

5 comments

  1. Argh! It’s more than a little embarrassing reading my awkward writing after the ‘so you want to be a beer writer’ stuff above. Thanks for the kind words though. There’s heaps more fun stuff to come.

    • The way I see it is that Lit&Lib sets a high bar in terms of literary quality. Whether you get over the bar is not as important as having a marker by which to measure your own work because if I thought that this blog was the peak of writing quality on the subject, then we’d be doomed.

      • I’m really flattered that you’d even consider me a bar, given the importance of the word “bar” in our line of work 🙂

        I’d love to see the quality of contemporary beer writing meet the quality of contemporary beer. You (and Nick, from the bit I’ve read so far) are pushing it in the right direction, and that’s the best thing ever. Not everyone needs to be highly literary (I know it’s not everyone’s style) but we should all be taking pride in our writing, and our voice, and our contribution to the field in general.

  2. I think you nailed it with, “it’s about the writer and their relationship with beer.” Maybe that’s part of what I was trying to get at 🙂

    • As I re-wrote that section and starting from an argumentative position, I realised that I was getting at what you were saying but summarising it in a 100 less neatly formed words. Sometimes you need to write something out to get your own thoughts straight.

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