It’s that time of year again. As the post-Christmas hangover turns into a week of bleary limbo dreamtime and the whole country forgets what day it is, and beer bloggers turn from listing obsessively every beer they drank on Christmas Day to listing obsessively everything from their Favourite New World Hop of the Year to their Favourite International Collaboration Between Brewers of Between 500 and 3000 Barrels Output Per Year Featuring Russian Oak Barrel Ageing And Resulting In a Beer of 60 IBUS or Above.
I first did a review of the year two years ago, partly because I thought it would be a bit of fun and partly to reflect on broad trends in brewing and pubs. I repeated the exercise last year and found myself just one of scores of bloggers listing their favourite brewers, favourite beers etc.
This year, with the Golden Pint Awards, it all seems to have got a bit serious and standardized and regulated and defined, like many things in the beer blogosphere. I congratulate and support everyone who lists their year’s highs and lows, I offer my piss-take above in good spirit, and I hope you have a good time doing it – it’s great for everyone to be able to compare notes. It’s just not for me.
So this year I’ve taken a broad sweep in trying to summarise the year in beer. I’ve invented category titles to fit what I want to write about. It’s a mix of pure self-indulgence and commentary upon the state of the industry, with the odd great beer thrown in – which kind of sums up my blog.
The beer blogosphere is expanding so rapidly, evolving so quickly, and becoming so much more intense, I honestly don’t know what or how I should be blogging any more. Most bloggers don’t worry about that – the whole point of blogging is writing what you want, with no editorial constraints. So that’s what I’m going to do.
Part one today - the most self-indulgent part. Part two tomorrow, and thoughts on 2011 Thursday or Friday, if you’re interested.
“What the fuck was that wooshing past” sensation of the year: Beer Writer of the Year 2009
As I said at the Guild dinner this year, it didn’t feel like a year – that’s because it wasn’t, it was only 51 weeks.
But it felt like ten.
I worked for about five years towards winning the BWOTY award. It’s not like it was the only reason for writing or anything like that, but this is now my chosen career and so I wanted to be recognized as being at the top of the game. After the work that went into Hops & Glory, winning was more a relief than anything else – I knew it was the best I could do. If I hadn’t won with that, I doubted I ever would win.
After I won, I realized I’d been so focused on winning, I had no idea what to do afterwards. What can or should a beer writer of the year actually do?
I had hoped I’d be able to be a bit of an ambassador for good beer to the broader world. Having the title certainly opened some doors and got me some opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise, but it failed to get me the presence in national press that I and so many other beer writers still crave. Between us we have had more press opportunities in 2010 certainly than I’ve had before. But we’re still lacking that big breakthrough. Newspapers like the Guardian and associated weekend magazines enjoy a significant proportion of good beer fans among their readership, but seem almost ideologically opposed to allowing regular beer coverage in their pages. Same with TV shows like Saturday Kitchen.
I’ve enjoyed and been very humbled by the recognition I now get within the beer world. But I've been just as frustrated by my inability to spread the beer word beyond the already converted. It’s a long job. We’re not giving up yet. But by the time I was handing the title over, it felt like I was only just getting started.
Happily, after reading through a record number of entries (there are so many of us writing about beer) I passed the title to someone who is very successfully spreading the word about great beer and great pubs to the broader public – Simon Jenkins.
Personal warm glow of the year: The Beer Trilogy
We all judge books by their covers, and we never quite got it right with my first two. The paperback release of Hops and Glory gave me the opportunity to repackage Man Walks into a Pub and Three Sheets to the Wind, and the chance to heavily rewrite the former to bring it up to date and also get rid of all the factual inaccuracies and repetition of received myth that characterized the first edition. I'm very, very proud of the reworked edition of my first book - there's a lot of new stuff in it. But I still haven't found anyone who's actually read the revised edition.
But it has worked – each of the first two books sold double what it did last year, and Hops paperback has sold well too.
This is partly due to another endless round of book events – talks, tastings and so on, the highlights of which were selling a 250-capacity venue at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and another almost as big at the Ilkley Literary Festival, at which my old English Lit teacher, whom I haven’t seen for 25 years, loomed up out of the crowd. If we weren’t both Yorkshiremen, we’d have been blubbing like babies. We almost did.
These highlights gave me the strength to shrug off the crushing sense of doom and despair when a mere six people turned up at the Notting Hill Travel Bookshop in October, and only two turned up to my final event in Sheffield last week.
I’m now seemingly doing a permanently ongoing round of after-dinner speeches, literary festivals, food festivals and private/corporate tastings - a whole new side to my strange career. That’s the thing about beer. It’s never dull, always evolving.
Heroes of the year: How many do you want?
Ron Pattinson for his obsessive historical quest. I’ve read and used some of what he endlessly quotes, and I’ve read some stuff he hasn’t. But I could never imagine attacking old brewing records with the gusto he does. God knows why he does it. But he’s built up an essential beer history resource.
Fuller’s – who among their multi-pronged approach to examining the relationship between beer and age, did a collaborative brew with Ron and their own past.
Andy Moffatt at Redemption, officially the nicest man in brewing, a man who simply will not let you buy a drink, and then turned up to my Christmas Party with a barrel of London Brewer’s Alliance Porter (more on London Brewers later).
Garrett Oliver. Thornbridge. The insane Jamie Hawksworth of the Sheffield and Euston Taps. The new wave of Czech craft brewers like Matuska. Stuart Howe at Sharp’s for a commitment to invention that’s made it into the national press. And everyone who is brewing so much good and interesting beer, I’ve given up even trying to keep track.
More tomorrow. (This may actually be a three-parter.)