We’re Beer Bloggers?! We ARE Beer Bloggers!!
When we started Trails2Ales, we were focused on a podcast. Kevin and I figured that was the best way to record and share with others the fun and banter of mountain biking with the geeking out we do over craft beers and breweries. And while the podcast is a great format for telling the tales and sharing interviews with bike and beer people we meet, we can’t capture everything in the course of a natural conversation. And, we don’t want to confine ourselves to a strict production outline to be sure we get it all in. We also found we wanted a way to post pictures and links to supplement our stories. YouTube videos provide a means of delivering a combined visual and aural experience which is great for conveying trail stories and short beer reviews. But the best method for getting into more detail about places, people and things is the written word and thus, this blog.
We’ve used the blog to share pictures and stories of biking events such as Dirt Rag Dirt Fest ’17 in WV and ’18 in PA. We’ve posted about beer-centric events like the Workhouse Brewfest. Kevin posted about his bike packing trip to WA and MT and we’ve even blogged our experience at the Pints for PAWS fundraiser in Arlington, VA. If it involves bikes or beer, it belongs here. Feelings about breaking a chain on its first ride, we got a blog for that. Pictures and stories to go with one of our brewery visits, we got that, too. And each entry is enhanced by the inclusion of pictures and links to provide visuals and access to additional, useful information that might help the reader make decisions about bike and beer experiences of their own.
One thing we didn’t do is label ourselves a “beer blog”; in fact, we didn’t give it much thought. We just looked at it as another component of the Trails2Ales package. That changed one day during this past winter when reading in a craft beer journal. I stumbled upon a short blub, taking up just a few inches of space, announcing that Loudon County would host the 2018 Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference. Beer Bloggers & Writers? Is that us? If the criteria are simply: we write about beer and post it on our blog, then the answer must be “Yes.”
Should I Stay or Should I Go
Hesitant to over-qualify ourselves, I headed over to http://www.beerbloggersconference.org/ to learn more. The page described the conference as:
…oriented towards beer bloggers and writers…applicable to breweries, brewery guilds, Destination Management Organizations, and PR companies.
I was attracted by these points:
- Excellent Content of relevance to beer bloggers and writers including sessions on writing, social media, technology, community building, career growth, and marketing
- Outstanding beer and several meals included from our sponsors and local hosts
- Pre-Conference Excursions to Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House and Dogfish Head and a Post-Conference Excursion to Richmond, VA.
- Networking and fun with your fellow attendees at this intimate gathering of approximately 150 passionate beer connoisseurs
It said attendees include:
- Citizen Bloggers, Writers, and Social Media Influencers who write about beer or the beer industry.
- Industry Bloggers who have a blog related to their brewery or other beer industry business.
- Digital Media Innovators who work in the world of blogging and social media.
More important, these instructions:
To sign up as a blogger, you must have an active (at least three current posts) blog that has been in existence at least three months, be a published beer writer, or have at least one private (non industry) social media account substantially focused on beer or the beer industry. You must be listed as a contributor on the blog/social site.
That sounds like us doesn’t it? Still, I didn’t register. I considered writing to the organizers to see if we belonged. Eventually, I decided, let’s look forward not backward: what do want Trails2Ales to be? We are a hybrid or MTB and craft beer enthusiasts. We will talk up bikes and bike gear and trails with riders who don’t drink at all, or with those who don’t care where their beer comes from, what style it is or if it is even considered craft. Independent? Who cares? We will talk beer with drinkers who have never taken a bike off the pavement and those who find any form of exercise an anathema. What we want to be here at Trails2Ales is entertaining and informative across both themes. Maybe we’ll help riders give more thought to their beer; maybe we’ll get beer fans on to a trail.
So yeah, we are beer bloggers and writers. So yeah, I registered for the Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference and decided to let them tell me if I mislabeled ourselves. Turns out, they let me in. And, so yeah, on August 10th and 11th I will be immersed in sessions and workshops focused on writing about beer.
What’s In Store
Day 1 features a set agenda with sessions (beer pun anyone?) for the entire group including presentations from the Brewers Association (champions of independent brewers) Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head (a fiercely independent brewer) and Devil’s Backbone (once a shining example of independent brewer, now part of AB InBev and subject to scoffing whenever they declare they are still craft). It is curious how the sponsorship of this conference includes CraftBeer.com, the site run by the Brewers Association, the organization that defines what classifies a brewery as independent and the similar but more local VA Craft Brewers Guild, along with decidedly NOT craft Guinness, the they-say-craft-others-say-not-any-more Devils Backbone, and the also might be considered craft but not independent Terrapin. I am interested to learn how the conference demographics fall into the categories of “Beer is Beer” and “Beer is Beer But Independent Craft Beer is Better” and “Give Me Independent or Give Me Not That Beer.” The first day will include other thought-provoking topics on the subjects of diversity in the beer industry and a look at changes the beer marketplace.
Day 2 provides some tough decisions for attendees. The morning is comprised of breakout sessions offering two options for each time block. They are all of interest to the nascent beer blogger with topics on blogging, podcasting, Instagram and others. If I have to point to one session that I am most looking forward to, it is the one called “The Art of Negative Feedback”. When we meet brewers, brewery owners, and staff and they agree to be interviewed, we do so as cheerleaders of what they do, not as hard news gatherers looking to drum up some dirt or break a story. We go into each with the expectation that the beer will be good, the vibe will be fun or chill and the people will be laid back, interesting and dedicated to beer. If we find any of the above to not be so, it is easy dial back the enthusiasm, harder to convey actual criticism. The beer that isn’t good just doesn’t get written about. These brewers are names and faces to us, it is hard to say, “Hey, Jill, that IPA was a drain pour!”; “Hey, Frank, that brown ale tastes like it has an inch of water at the top.” It is evident though that some people got into the beer scene to hop on a trend not out of love of the craft. That alone does not disqualify them from mention if their beers are good. Case in point is Dave Blackmon founder of Smoketown Brewing Station in Brunswick, MD and subject of a couple Trails2Ales podcasts. In our conversations with Dave we learned he backed into brewing when told a building he bought would be make a great brewery. He hired a brewer and went to work. And the results are fine brews and a great local watering hole for a small town. But what if the opposite were true: what if someone with a similar origin story turned out to be just making a money grab, in it just as an investment. What if the beers were not good? Could I call them out? I want to hear how other writers handle it. The Art of Negative Feedback workshop is being delivered by Paige Latham Didora who is a writer for ABV and Heavy Table . She says the workshop will focus on writing about beer in less-than-ideal circumstances, and the best ways to offer constructive criticism from a professional standpoint. Let’s see if I can sharpen my sword in that workshop.
And There Will Be BeerYou won’t be surprised there is a bit of beer drinking planned during the conference. Due to my actual paying job I was unable to attend pre-conference excursions earlier in the week to Guinness, Dogfish Head and Crooked Run. I will, however, be there for the beersploration on the agenda for the end of both days of the actual conference. At the end of Day 1 we embark by bus to Vanish Farmwoods Brewery where ALL 24 of Loundon County’s breweries will be serving their beer.
In the afternoon of Day 2, we are back on the bus and over to Lost Rhino Brewing to participate in Live Blogging. At this event we get 5 minutes with each participating brewery to learn about their beer and post our findings and thoughts on our blog, Insta, Twitter, etc. This event sounds both intimidating and fun: a relatively inexperienced app user, I am not the fastest at going from thought to post. I am much more comfortable getting on a laptop and mulling over my presentation. Live Blogging could be the kick in the butt needed to make me pick up my mobile device game.
Oh Look, The Time!
And now, off to get organized. There are batteries to charge, memory devices to prepare, writing implements to gather, strategies to outline. Stay tuned…