On Tuesday, the award-winning Beervana blog shared sad news: After 39 years, All About Beer is dead.
Of course, this being the craft beer community, controversy followed. Beervana’s Jeff Alworth, who was a contributor, said he received a tip that the decades-long-running print publication would soon be defunct. All About Beer publisher Christopher Rice had previously told Alworth the rumor was not true. Speculation ensued.
True or not, one thing is clear: Beer and publishing are suffering.
All About Beer has gone through several changes in recent years. In 2014, the publication changed hands. Last year, the magazine announced it was purchasing Draft Magazine, another print beer magazine, and planned to create a partnership between the brands. (That didn’t exactly happen. Instead, Draft was demoted to an “affiliate network,” Alworth writes.)
Earlier this year, All About Beer stopped releasing print issues and went fully digital. Now it has reduced its staff to one person: Rice. Subscribers, meanwhile, have not received refunds for their print subscriptions, and most remain in the dark about their beloved beer mag.
Sad, but that explains what happened to my subscription!
— Jim Fick (@jpfwa) October 16, 2018
I’m one of them. I have personally subscribed to All About Beer for several years, and have a row of print issues on my bookshelf to prove it. I, too, am saddened by the loss of one of my favorite beer mags. But just as disappointing is the way it’s been handled.
All About Beer (and VinePair) contributor Niko Krommydas wrote on Twitter, “I was recently assigned a story that was to run on both the AAB and Draft websites, and was in contact with the editor up until late September. I asked about the print stop and he assured me that the story would run online this year and in print next year … when the magazine relaunched. That was the last I heard about it. Last week, he sent out a general email saying he had left the company.”
All About Beer is not the only publication suffering. BeerAdvocate shifted from monthly to quarterly print publication earlier this year; and 26-year-running Ale Street News made a similar shift to less print, more digital. Even corporate-sponsored publications like Supercall and The Beer Necessities shuttered with little warning to staffers or contributors.
This is a problem. And I can’t help but see parallels between the publishing industry and the beer world it covers. Whether we like to admit it or not, almost every publication we’ve ever read is supported at least partially by advertisements. That’s true of All About Beer, of VinePair, of The New Yorker, of USA Today, and so on. The exceptions? Indie zines and vanity projects of the independently wealthy.
All About Beer is a pioneer, credited as the first publication devoted to beer. Despite its impressive longevity, its demise is near. It’s not one person’s fault. It’s everyone’s faults. Today’s beer lover doesn’t want to pay for content; and craft breweries aren’t willing (or able) to pay for advertising that keeps publications afloat. This leaves us with a wealth of talent in brewing and writing, and empty-pocketed publishers. (Big Beer brands like ABI and MillerCoors, on the other hand, are some of the biggest advertising spenders in the world.)
To keep beer editorial alive, we as readers need to be willing to pay for it, just as we’re willing to pay a little more for quality craft beer from independently owned producers. Meanwhile, craft breweries themselves need to be willing to pay publications to run ads for their breweries.
We need each other to survive. It’s time to start acting like it.
Bill Coors, Coors Heir, Dies at 102
On Monday, MillerCoors announced the passing of William K. Coors, also known as “Bill.” The former chairman of Adolph Coors Co. served as chairman from 1959 to 2000 and vice chairman until 2002. He was 102.
Bill Coors brought the Coors brand national, pioneered the use of recyclable aluminum cans, and emphasized quality control. He served as a talented taster for Coors until his 100th birthday.
For some, he is a pinnacle of the American dream: grandson of a German immigrant; Ivy League-educated engineer; a man who began his beer career sweeping floors and served as chairman for more than 40 years. It’s important to honor someone so prolific in the beer industry.
Part of honoring the legacy of one of the beer industry’s biggest successes is to acknowledge some of the unfortunate realities that contributed to that success, though. As with many of our country’s pioneers, there are some less favorable points in Coors’ legacy.
In the 1970s and ’80s, Coors “alienated unionists, blacks, Hispanics, women and gays,” writes The New York Times’ Robert D. McFadden. Those policies led to a 10-year boycott by organized labor, civil rights groups, and minorities.
In response, Coors eventually pledged to hire more minorities, as well as invest hundreds of millions of dollars in minority communities. The Coors family’s philanthropic foundation has also donated millions of dollars to environmental, educational, and cultural causes.
In beer, as in life, nothing is black or white. Coors’ passing shows us what one person can accomplish in their lifetime. It also reminds us of how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go, to achieve a beer industry and community that’s accepting and welcoming to all. To embrace our future, we need to acknowledge our pasts. I believe we can celebrate this industry leader’s legacy and pledge to improve our own.
Beer Awards May Have a West Coast Bias
In his annual recap of Great American Beer Festival (GABF) wins, Brewers Association chief economist Bart Watson called 2018 “the most difficult year on record to win a medal in the GABF competition.” Brewers entering the festival had a 3.6 percent chance of winning a medal, compared to 3.7 percent last year. A brewery that entered 20 beers, Watson writes, still only had a 50/50 chance.
As Watson says, this makes multiple award-winning breweries extra impressive. But I see a correlation between privilege and prestige, too. 10 Barrel Brewing, for example, won two gold medals and a silver medal for its Baywindow Berliner-Style Weisse; Passionate Envy Fruit Wheat Beer; and P2P American-Style Stout. All great beers, to be sure; but 10 Barrel, based in Bend, Ore., and owned by Anheuser-Busch, likely had an easier time of sending multiple beers to the competition than smaller upstarts.
In his analysis, Watson aims to dispel the “myth” that West Coast brewers have a geographic advantage to winning GABF medals, saying, “the best predictor of how many medals a state wins is how many beers they entered.”
This may sound pretty straightforward, but then again, the top five medal-winning states for 2018 are California (73), Colorado (33), Oregon (22), Texas (18), and Washington (17). The top five by percentage of medals won out of beers entered are Washington (5.3 percent), Oregon (5.2 percent), California (4.8 percent), Texas (3.7 percent), and Colorado (3.4 percent).
Four of the five are states from western regions.
By charting the geography of entries, Watson shows that some regions simply send fewer beers than statistically expected, while others send more. For example, the Northeast sent 2.7 percent of entries, while the Southwest and Mountain West sent 20.7 percent and 14.8 percent, respectively. (A likely reason no New England breweries won a medal in the New England IPA category.)
Why, then, isn’t New England, home to some of the nation’s most coveted craft breweries, sending more beer to the GABF? To me, New England’s lack of participation says two things: One, these breweries are not as concerned with contest-driven recognition (that they have to pay for) as they are with making a name for themselves locally. Secondly, national contests are less important in a self-governing consumer market. Who needs a GABF medal when you have Untappd, Instagram, can release forums, and beer traders telling you what’s hot?
GABF is still important, especially for those who do defy the odds and win medals. These awards can validate the hard work brewers do and the great beer that’s coming out of the nation’s small breweries. But at the end of the day, it’s the consumer, not nationwide contests, that determines what becomes popular. I suspect brewers’ credibility stems more from their local following than their wall of medals, or lack thereof.
Russian River Debuts Second Brewery, Sends Message of Hope to Craft Beer Pioneers
Russian River Brewing announced the launch of its much-anticipated second location in Windsor, Calif., last week. The brewery brought double- and triple-IPAs to the beer geek mainstream with its Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger IPAs in the early 2000s, and pioneered American barrel-aged and sour beers in the late 1990s.
The new operation is still under construction, according to an Instagram post, so is “still a few weeks out for tours,” but the brewpub and gift shop are open for business.
Russian River’s expansion is a shimmering glimmer of hope for “first-wave” craft brewers. In today’s craft beer landscape, small breweries that saw success in the 1990s and early 2000s face immense pressure from local competitors. Yet with 20 years of success and counting, Russian River releases some of the most sought-after brands in modern beer history.
Co-founders Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo pioneered a rare achievement in the craft beer world: keeping things cozy and local, yet becoming known around the world for beers that many want but few can drink. With its magnetism and mystique, Russian River set the stage for the Trilliums and Tree Houses to come. I’m excited to see what’s next.