Writing About Beer (How To)

As a long-time author about all things beer and brewing around the North Texas area, from time to time I am contacted to review a new craft beer publication under development. I always strive to do my best to evaluate the work objectively and per the publisher’s guidelines, and also offer whatever constructive criticism or advice that I can given my particular background and experience.

Many craft beer fans may be unaware of the basics of commercial publishing on any topic, which is entirely understandable for those outside the writing and publishing world. The threshold and investment for amateur blogging is fantastically low, as literally anyone can create and establish an identity and begin publishing raw content online in less than an hour. But basic blogging/vlogging on impulse is very different than creating a coherent and consistent voice, especially one that may be attractive to readers and potential publishers.

The unofficial rules surrounding writing about craft beer are surprisingly basic, yet one does not know what one does not know. With a little attention to a few fundamental principles, any aspiring food or beverage writer can turn out quality pieces of original work as long as they put in the necessary effort. Following is a summary of my recommendations for those intending to generate any craft beer content, online or in print.

Do your research.

Nothing will derail an attempt at creative craft beer writing faster than getting the facts wrong, especially about items that are absurdly easy to verify. Get a name or title incorrect, or consistently misspell a beer style, and you’ve fumbled the message you’re trying to convey to the reader over trivialities. If you write about Brewery X in Houston when the brewery is actually in Austin, you’ve immediately blown any credibility you may have built to that point. No excuse exists for missing easily verifiable (and free) online data.

Writing about craft beer and breweries is meant to be fun, but the works you produce should also be fun to read.

Details, details, details.

Here’s a list of three beers I tried. Why should I care? We all have journal lists (online apps or paper notebooks) of beers that we’ve enjoyed over the years. Add some perception to your descriptions: How did it look in the glass? What did you detect in the aroma? What flavor elements were present, and what other products can you relate to this particular beer? Does it remind you of other food, other places that you’ve traveled, or familiar experiences that you’ve had? Transport the reader, and give them a compelling reason for continuing beyond just the commercially registered name.

Have a focus.

Many of those attempting to write about craft beer experiences default to a diary or journal model (ie, this happened, then this, and I went here and drank this). Any piece of work with merit should have an overall focus and direction, and it should maintain that same perspective throughout. Is this a guide for a specific local area? Is it topical, focusing on personalities or specific demographics, or a historical or stylistic bent? Are you pursuing a particular beer goal or endpoint, and did you finish? The more narrowly you can focus your subject matter, the more success you will have with any content you attempt.

Include a narrative.

This is a basic point of any written narrative, craft beer or not: Have a story to tell, even if it is one you have to construct and frame yourself. Any written content, fiction or nonfiction, should have a progression from start, to middle, to finish. Lay out what you mean to say with a broadening vision, and connect each element to the next in a logical (or entertaining, or informative) fashion. Simple cataloging is for Google. Your work is your voice, and even reciting researched beer facts can become a compelling anecdote or adventure told through your eyes.

Corollary: This is not to say that a specialized (or encyclopedic) listing or guidebook of an area or topical interest is undesirable, but the printed and bound will never be as current or as immediate as online resources. If the goal is to produce a guide or reference of some sort, provide more than just names and addresses. Rate or rank the items (locations, beers, staff); add descriptive commentary, personal impressions, tips and advice for travelers; and string together ordered recommendations, such as how to proceed or experience or complete an area or interest.

Add something new to the universe.

First heard in an interview with a television journalist, this adage was their basic bar for what to include in their daily news broadcast. Are they reporting on new information, or just parroting the same story from the wire that every other source received? As a writer—craft beer, sci-fi/fantasy, political op-ed, historical research or steamy romances—have something to say that is new, original and as unique as you can personally manage. A more fundamental principle of writing I cannot convey to new and eager writers than this.

Writing about craft beer and breweries is meant to be fun, but the works you produce should also be fun to read. Far too much content today is background noise, rarely remembered hours afterward. Give the reader something worth reading that is accurate, informative, enjoyable and told from your own fresh and personal perspective. PH

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