Beer Bloggers’ Conference: closing address

Ray Daniels

Ray Daniels closes the conference. Some trophies sit on our table in the foreground.

Ray Daniels was the final speaker of the conference. Ray is best known for being the founder and marketer extraordinaire of Certified Cicerone, a program that trains servers and waiters in the ways of craft beer (beer flavours, styles, how it should be stored, etc.).

Ray’s closing address about how to improve our blogging was titled “Blogging, Braggarts & Brands”. The first part of his remarks talked about how we needed to get closer to our subject and think about our writing:

  • Get involved: organize events, volunteer, go on beer discovery tours
  • Practice your writing and persevere
  • Take risks
  • Recognize realities I: If you don’t know the subject well, don’t be afraid to collaborate with an expert.
  • Recognize realities II: Writing doesn’t pay much.
  • Extend yourself
  • Package yourself: consider self-publishing
  • Collect interesting items: they can be the foci of interesting articles
  • Research is never wasted: Ray is still using information he gleaned from a trip to Europe in the 1990s
  • Keep it clean
  • Get it right I: There is no excuse for unresearched facts — Google is your friend.
  • Get it right II: Spelling mistakes are unnecessary and a sign of a lack of care

From there, Ray branched into some “deep thoughts”. He pointed out that twenty years ago, it was easy to get a big readership via a national magazine, but layers of editors ensured that any “personality” in your writing was polished out of your article long before publication. Today, there’s been a 180-degree shift: It’s easy to get your authentic voice published but it’s tough to find an audience. This blog might be a sterling example.

Ray talked about the descriptive powers of the late Michael Jackson (the beer writer, not the singer). As Ray pointed out, Jackson preferred to describe to the reader rather than decide for the reader. In other words, he tried to relate his total experiences about tasting a beer so that his readers could decide whether to try it, rather than pronouncing an omnipotent “Yea” or “Nay” on each beer he tasted.

So when Jackson wrote about brewers, he talked about their physical appearance, ethnicity, dialect, prior careers, and training that informed their brewing. When he wrote about a brewery, he talked about the geography, architecture, neighbourhood, and agronomy. He began the process of describing and grouping styles of beer, but he eschewed technical terms, preferring to relate tastes to food, and colours to common items. (He got quite frustrated with historical accounts of beer, which often didn’t describe the taste of the beer.) He also tried never to be negative about any beer, using neutral rather than pejorative terms to describe something he didn’t like.

Back in the present, Ray Daniels challenged us to ask ourselves, “What do I stand for? What are my interests? How do I approach my subjects? What will my blog be known for?” Once you’ve got that figured out, start by giving people a reason to come to your blog for a specific subject. If you got a local blog, write about local events.

He likened small blogs that try to carry regional or national news to the restaurants that have a hundred or more taps. Incidentally, he believes those are on the way out — they don’t have enough of a focus on local beer, and most of the beer doesn’t get poured fast enough to preserve its flavour.

Ray’s Rule: “You should never have more taps than you have customers at 8 p.m. on a Tuesday.”

Ray concluded by telling us how to research and interview for our blog articles:

  1. Beware the old press release. Throw old ones away and contact the brewery for more current info.
  2. Do NOT make up quotes. Always attribute quotes in your blog to a specific person, not “a brewery employee.”
  3. There are so many direct ways like email and Twitter for contacting your sources for instant information.
  4. Do some background prep work before the interview. Know something about the brewery and the person you are going to be talking to.
  5. Bring some focus to the interview: Ask fewer questions, but have better focus on what you need for your article.

Ray is encouraged by the future of localized craft beer: “I can see us having 3,500 breweries in the U.S., perhaps quite soon. But in that environment, most will only be known to locals. The number of brands known nationally and even regionally as we have seen in the past will probably be small.”

That’s got to mean good things for your local beer blog.

And with those words of encouragement, the conference came to a close.

 

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