Back in September, I sat down to chat about beer with with Karen Bredesen, a candidate for a Master’s degree in Journalism at Harvard University. For her final project, the project that would allow her to graduate from Harvard, she decided to write about the craft beer world. One portion of her paper would be about beer bloggers. Karen contacted me this week to let me know she had finished the paper and was on her way to graduating. Congrats Karen!!
She also shared her completed work with me, which I am in turn sharing with you. Enjoy!
Boston’s beer bloggers drive the foam home
By Karen Bredesen
For Josh Dion, running an errand for beer into Westborough’s Julio’s Liquors was supposed to be a simple mission. Instead, that first trip to Julio’s had Dion, 34, looking at row after row of beers and picking through more than a thousand bottles. The whole thing left him overwhelmed and confused.
“I got lost in the beer aisle,” Dion says. “I didn’t know what I was doin’.”
These days, America’s beer outlets are brimming with craft brews. According to the latest data from the Brewers Association, a trade group, craft beer sales in U.S. supermarkets increased from approximately $78.4 million to $130.6 million from 2009 to 2012. Over the same period, beer sales in general have mostly remained flat — making “craft [beer] the growth engine for beer.” And, in response to the growing trend, the Boston blogosphere has lit up with many craft beer writers to enlighten their audiences.
That mind-blowing trip Dion made to Julio’s in 2008 — turned him into one of those passionate beer bloggers. As a day job, Dion is a senior manager for a software company. But, off duty, he is busy writing for his blog, “Lost in the Beer Aisle.”
Posting his latest brew selection’s mug shots on Facebook began Dion’s online beer career. A post here, a comment there — next thing he knew, he’d written mini-essays about craft beers. After six months of such, Dion’s wife, Melissa, 32, nudged him to research more, expand his beer expertise and his audience.
Ultimately, Dion decided that he wanted to blog in 2009, to provide online guidance “for [craft beer] learners seeking not to be judged,” he says.
Dion, who mostly uses Facebook and Twitter to promote his blog, says he gets around 3,000 unique views per month. Dion also organizes craft beer meet-ups twice a year, drawing up to a hundred people at a time. Breweries have noticed. They send Dion free samples of beers, and, occasionally, tickets to beer festivals.
Dion says he routinely works on his blog for seven to 10 hours per week. So far, his blogging hasn’t made him money. However, “It pays in beer,” he says.
Take another citizen blogger, the North Shore’s Mike Mitchell, an industrial designer and bridge operator. Instead of taking on craft beer alone, Mitchell, 41, is a charter member of an online, three-man brew crew that reaches from coast-to-coast, “The Beer Coasters Premium Podcast,” now in its fifth year.
The men originally met in California and two of the three moved away, one to Dallas and the other, Mitchell, to Boston. They wanted to still “have a beer together” and their notion of a virtual pub evolved into an online show, says Mitchell.
However, the Beer Coasters, as a twist, do not limit themselves to only writing posts. Rather, they also run audio files (podcasts), a YouTube channel, and dabble on Pinterest and Google+.
Additionally, the Beer Coasters Podcast is more of an entertainment venue instead of a sobering, beer education site. “The show brings in characters,” Mitchell says, “such as me playing, “’Beer Jargon Guy.’” The character sounds like a host from a vintage episode of PBS’s, “Masterpiece Theater,” and explains uncommon terms found on bottle labels.
The Beer Coasters’ popularity is growing. The site recently peaked with more than 6,200 unique views per month, Mitchell says.
Unlike Dion, Mitchell says he doesn’t get free beer or tickets. The cost of buying the beer for the reviews can be high, he says. A pint on tap can range from around $5 to $10, often with the price hinging on the beer’s alcohol by volume (ABV).
The Boston Globe, a top news source for the region, also maintains a beer blog, “99 Bottles.” Gary Dzen, 30, runs the blog, does freelance work in the paper’s lifestyle section about beer, and is also on staff as a senior sports producer.
The newspaper covers the craft beer industry because of its notable growth and money involved. For instance, Boston’s “Samuel Adams” beer brand’s creator, Jim Koch, became a billionaire this year, Dzen writes in an email.
The blog’s target readership is “a general audience,” Dzen says. “ … I try not to appeal too much to the people who already know everything [about beer] because then it leaves everyone else out.”
“99 Bottles” certainly has appeal: It gets between 50,000 to 100,000 views per month, according to Dzen.
One loyal “99 Bottles” reader is David Eaton, 57, of Norfolk, Mass. “We share the same taste in beer,” Eaton says about Dzen. Furthermore, the blog clears up confusing beer labels for Eaton. “I have no clue,” he says, “[but] Gary does.”
Dzen says that there are drawbacks to his beer blogging. Unfortunately, “It’s hard when I get to know the brewers,” Dzen adds, “and have to say something bad about their beer.” For instance, “I gave Cambridge Brewing Company’s ‘Great Pumpkin Ale’ a bad review and the brewer sent me some nasty notes,” Dzen writes in an email.
Dion, sometimes struggles with his beer writing job, too. At times, he is too tired to drink a beer and write another brew review, Dion says.
Thankfully for his readers, Dion isn’t home alone. When stimulus is needed, Melissa says, “Get in there and drink your beer!”