5B & the do’s and don’t’s of beer blogging

The Believers in Better Beer, Bites, and Blogging conference (aka 5B) was this past weekend and it was a fantastic time. I want to thank all presenters and participants for really making it a great event. Scott LaFollette from Blank Slate Brewing Company and I did a presentation on beer reviews from the brewers and bloggers perspective. We kinda tweaked it a bit into a list of do’s and don’t’s of beer blogging. Scott was wise enough to print out copies of the list for folks but in case you couldn’t make it to 5B, didn’t get a copy, or lost your list at beerfest here it is again. These are just ideas that Scott and I came up with and should not be considered an all inclusive list or hard and fast rules. Also if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll realize I  need to do a better job of following a few of them. Bottom line is do what you enjoy, but here are some ideas to help.

  1. If you are going to use a rating system make sure everyone knows how the ratings work.  Just scoring a beer as an “85” and not mentioning that it’s a scale of 0-100 is meaningless.
  2. If you are using a rating system give insight as to why the beer gets the score it does. To say it’s an absolutely fantastic beer then score it a 4 out of 5 is not enough. Discuss what kept it from getting a perfect score.
  3. Be descriptive.  Describing the color of a brown ale as “brown” isn’t very exciting.  Don’t be afraid to use a thesaurus.  Try to paint a picture for the reader.  This will translate into more return readers.
  4. Be objective first, then opinionated:  talk about the brew as descriptively as possible first, then provide your opinion. Take the bud light challenge:  don’t tell your readers what you’re drinking ahead of time and objectively describe the beer to the greatest extent possible. Then provide your opinion and reveal that it’s Bud Light.
  5. Review based on the beer label not what you think it should be.
  6. If it’s a style you don’t personally like then don’t review it.  If you think sour ales are gross then don’t review one and say “it’s gross”.  Stick to what you know or else make it abundantly clear throughout the review it is not a style you usually like.  As a brewer it pains me to see things like “I generally hate stouts and this one is no exception – score 2 out of 5”.
  7. Know your flavors and off flavors.  This takes time and study, but the more knowledgeable you are in detecting and naming flaws the more thorough of a reviewer you will become.  If a beer has an obvious flaw that may not be brewery caused (light-struck, oxidized/stale etc.) then this should be taken into account in the review OR another sample should be procured before proceeding.  Make sure you are getting the best example you can for the review tasting.  Don’t pull a pilsner out of the clearance bin with an inch of dust on it and then review it.
  8. Since we’re all headed to a beer fest in a few hours we wanted to remind you that you shouldn’t review beers at beer fests. Check into them on Untappd and keep a list of what you really want to try again. Save your full review of the beer until you have a bottle of it at home.
  9. Try to use clean, appropriate glassware or at least glassware your readers are apt to have. This can have a profound impact on beer flavor perception.
  10. Proofread and spell check.  Twice.
  11. Do be critical.  Don’t be mean.
  12. Provide availability and location information. This can be difficult to get sometimes but telling your readers where they can buy a bottle or drink a pint can be more useful info then how much you liked it or not.
  13. Provide general information such as style and abv, then more if you want.  I’m currently trying to provide calorie information because I need to lose weight.  If the beer features crazy hops or special malts I try and mention those as well. Most of this stuff is easy to find, saves your reader from going somewhere else, and enriches your blog with information that others might not have.
  14. Know your reader and focus on what’s available for them. While it’s great fun to review Pliny the Elder, it’s not available in Cincinnati and that’s my target audience. So instead of running down the whole list of the internet’s bests focus on what you can buy at Kroger’s or drink at Arthur’s.
  15. Pictures and video. Personally I don’t like to use video in reviews but if you do then rock it!  But pictures are definitely a must.  Forget the whole “picture equals 1,000 words” cliche.  A picture of a bottle = your reader knowing exactly what to look for among hundreds of bottles on a shelf.
  16. Use a standard form or order for describing things.  For example, commit a few sentences to the appearance and then a few to the aroma and then flavor, body, artwork and whatever else you want to talk about.  Devise some kind of format that works for you (whether it’s the BJCP form or a list of things), but be consistent about it and have some kind of clear breakdown of it for your readers.  Humans are creatures of habit and like things to be the consistent.  Utilizing a standardized format will help with that.
  17. Tag everything plausible. Brewery, beer, style, abv, state, color, etc… More tags = more search results.  After coming up with all those tags re-read your draft and link to everything possible.  This makes it easier for your readers to find more info, brings more traffic to fellow bloggers or brewery sites, and hopefully your Facebook page or Twitter feed!
  18. In the end, have fun with it!  That’s a big part of what blogging is all about.  Right?

If you have any other suggestions to add to the list please leave a comment. If it’s good enough I’ll edit the post to update the list!