Over the past weekend, Edinburgh welcomed several dozen beer bloggers for the third annual European Beer Bloggers’ Conference. You might ask, legitimately, “What the hell do bloggers have to talk to each other about?”, as you narrow the eyes and wonder if it wasn’t just an excuse for one almighty piss-up. Yes, there was plenty of that – we even had the organisational minefield of a night’s drinking in a brewery – and extremely well-produced it was throughout, thanks to the ever-reliable Stewart Brewing. Last year, following EBBC12 in Leeds, I wrote about the Conference in terms of the best quotes and the best beers. This Conference was again filled with shining examples of both, and I’ll be writing about the sudsy highlights later this week.
But, before then, I’m going to write about something that crossed my mind, based on a notion that popped up midway through the second day of the Conference. It was during the talk given by drinks writer Susanna Forbes, when someone mentioned in a question the idea of writing about something different to give you a more rounded outlook on blogging (or actual writing, for that matter). As per the nature of Conferences, we were all enclosed in a bubble, pretty much everyone there understanding the content, context and all the in-jokes. It was great. That’s why people with similar interests meet up, after all.
But what if there was someone there who didn’t know that much about beer, but was merely curious? Someone who didn’t go giddy-kneed at the sight of Garrett Oliver on stage, or appreciate the nuances between different vintages of Ola Dubh (much less how to actually pronounce it). Someone who scanned the first paragraph of this post and did indeed think “What the hell do bloggers have to talk to each other about?”. Had they been there, what would they have taken away from the two-day meeting?
Well, firstly they would have realised (I imagine) that beer, as a subject, is infinitely more complex that the vast majority of people think. You could argue that of all of the different beers tasted throughout the entire Conference, only one (WEST’s St Mungo lager) might have been recognisable to them. What they would have thought of the others is anybody’s guess – but hopefully, if nothing else, it would have jarred something within, the next time they were stood in front of the condensation-laced macro-lager fonts. An itch coming from the back of the brain, with thoughts of chilli-chocolate stout, or Citra sitka spruce ale; there is an alternative.
That’s another thing they may not have realised. Bloggers – whether they openly admit it or not – are responsible for pushing people into drinking something else; and we are charged with doing that by those above us. Speaker after speaker extolled the virtues of craft beer over bland lager, drinking locally-made beer over one imported, buying a beer to go with dinner instead of a glass of wine. It’s in the interest of the men and women making this fascinating beer that this happens, of course, and whether your blog does it directly or subtly, a newbie in the audience might well have thought everyone was out to convert them, like a group of foam-flecked, pint-wielding Jehova’s Witnesses.
I would also hope that the same person clicked as to the reason behind this. There’s nothing nefarious going on (other than, of course, people in business trying to sell more products, and people writing about them trying to gain more readers). It’s because beer people are hugely passionate. It’s not just about strange-smelling things going on in weirdly-named metal containers, any more than it’s about silent pubs and ticking clocks, with dead flies on the windowsill. Listen to Garrett Oliver’s drawl become a yelp as he expounds on the great beers made by his competitors. Watch the corners of Stuart Cail’s mouth rise a fraction as he talks about the genesis of barrel-ageing in Scotland.
And they’re just the professionals. Hopefully our curious chum was taken aback by the bloggers – amateurs with merely keyboards and a passing interest – travelling thousands of miles and spending hundreds of pounds, dollars, euros to sit in a room in Scotland and tell a bunch of their peers what they already know. That discovering new beer never stops. That the first great beer you have you won’t ever forget. That the next pub you go into could be the perfect one, the place that becomes your second home. 73% of bloggers surveyed for the Conference make not a single penny from their writing. I know I don’t. I write for the sheer enjoyment of it. I have no doubt that our hypothetical friend would have realised that more than anything; blogging turns your interest into a passion.
Speaking of which, on Thursday I’ll be covering the highlights of the Conference – the beers, and what the last week of EBBC, the Scottish Real Ale Festival, and the Independents’ Festival has meant for the Edinburgh beer scene…