Beer is not a four letter word

Imagine this. One of the foremost beer writers of the day is presenting a television series about the world beer scene. He's not a 'celebrity', he doesn't have an ex-comedian in tow. Although he does own a few choicely patterned shirts.
He's already established himself in the national press with regular feature articles about beer, brewing, travel and tastings. Those articles are read widely, particularly by those who remember an iconoclastic column about beer that appeared in another national newspaper some years before.

The future of beer journalism? No. It's the past.

In the early nineties Michael Jackson was re-visioning the syntax of beer appreciation whilst fronting a Channel 4 show and writing for the Independent. Richard Boston had already established a regular column in the Guardian, "Boston on Beer", almost twenty years before. That led to the book 'Beer and Skittles', possibly the most under-rated and over-looked beer book ever published.

So why, with the UK beer scene at its most vibrant and experimental, is current media coverage so apologetic?

Two cases in point. The recent Guardian article on 'real lagers' was curate's egg reporting - worthy comments kneecapped by inaccurate PR whilst lazy journalism looked the other way. It was practically an admission that they want to be positive about beer but can't really be arsed to get the facts right. It's only beer, after all. The geeks can go get excited over at Word of Mouth.

Jay Rayner is a different kettle of bouillabaisse. I've got a pancake-stack of respect for him as a food writer and restaurant critic. But he seemed uneasy talking about beer and food on The One Show, making it clear several times that he's usually a wine drinker. Although if he thinks his shirts must mark him out as a flowery vine-lover, he's never met Ashover brewer Roy Shorrock.

To be honest, I'd be uneasy if I offered Jane Asher a beer on live TV and then realised it wasn't the one I was talking about. He twisted the bottle of Doom Bar around desperately as if to transmogrify it into the already-mentioned Chalky's Bite. The whole piece withered on the bine as Chris Evans pledged his troth to lager, Asher was cut off from asking again why her wheat beer was brown and Alex Jones tried not to gag on a double chocolate overdose.

The One Show could have done the decent thing and let Des De Moor run the tasting rather than being a mere talking head behind the Brodies' bar. But Rayner let slip the prejudice that holds back objective, entertaining and factual beer coverage in mainstream media when he dismissively used the phrase "beer obsessives". Like being beer-obsessive is a bad thing.

Put it this way. When I read the weekend papers, I want the motoring column to be written by a petrolhead. I want the gardening pages to be written by someone so green-fingered they could be mistaken for an alien. I want the food features to be written by those who are obsessive, passionate, knowledgeable and witty when it comes to all things gastronomic.

Why should beer be treated any different?

I don't want the beer commentator to be whoever has it listed as third-choice on their interests list. Nor someone who can barely transcribe a press release.

Good journalism can educate, entertain and inform. Obsessive characters who can manipulate their chosen subject and make it accessible to a wider audience make some of the finest journalists. Michael Jackson exemplified that. He knew - and, more importantly, persuaded others - that beer is not a four letter word.


  1. Amazingly well-put. We have that problem here in New Zealand too; wine writers 'lowering' themselves to talking about beer, rewritten press releases writing about hops giving the beer a malt flavour and, in one particular horrifying event, a well-known radio presenter hi-jacking an interview with an Australian beer expert to rattle on about wine, telling him she doesn't really like beer.

    I really hope the Beer Hunter the Movie is finished and makes it to New Zealand.

  2. Spot on Simon. Beer is not a four letter word, nor is it a dirty word. I caught the One Show and couldn't help but pick up on Jay's desperate disassociation with beer: "some of my best friends are beers" kind of behaviour. I also think you make an excellent point re: the need and no-brainer that an enthusiast/expert/obsessive should be the person to inform us of any hobby or interest. You only have to look as far as the popular Olly Smith and his unique brand of embarrassing-dad presenting, but we love him for it and he gets people passionate about wine. I look fwd to seeing better representation of beer in the media.

  3. Marvellously expressed. It's not like there aren't a few beer writers with winning smiles, easy manners and extravagant fashion senses knocking about.

    (PS. You've swapped Alex Jones (Chalky's Bite) for Christine Bleakley (Doom Bar), confusing her with model Christine Brinkley (err, Atlantic IPA?), and have soldiered on without realising...)

  4. Bailey - now corrected. I was obviously on some twisted train of thought there. My wife just pointed out the same error. It must have been the fake tan that threw me...

  5. Great post. Love it. And completely agree! I got into an argument with a wine buff in the pub recently, with him bringing up that wine is all about Terroir and such. Anyways he eventually came round to my thinking - there is a massive diverse range of flavour in beer and it can be appreciated in the same way as wine, there are just obvious differences and a much wider spectrum to play with.

  6. Although the quality of those pieces was pretty poor, it's just indicative of the sorry state of journalism in general. Of course, the media has always had it's share of "journalists" who know sod all about what they are writing about / reporting on, can't bothered to research pieces properly and just rehash stuff they have picked up somewhere else. But it's getting worse and is very much the norm these days. When I first started working in the Fleet St area in 1979 - not in the press but you couldn't avoid getting to know the hacks if you worked round there - the journos were always out and about. True, half the time they were getting pissed in the pubs or El Vinos, but the output was way better than just sitting at a computer recycling any old shit they find or get fed. And the media seems much more concerned to drive the agenda and make the news these days. How many times on the news recently have we seen "and now over to our reporter in Libya for the latest news" pieces when the real answer is "fuck all happening" but we get a couple of minutes of pointless blather anyway. Rant over. Grumpy old man mode switched to off.