Okay, here’s the set-up, the trigger, the thing which set my teeth on edge:
My good Facebook pal and UNCGreensboro alum, Ashley Rose Salvitti, posted a link to a Huffington Post beer article, never suspecting that it was going to cause me to go off like a string of cheap firecrackers.
Ashley – who runs Portland’s uber-valuable and, dare I say it, more fun than you should be able to have with all your clothes on – Beervana Brewery Tours buses, was posting this as a celebration of Portland’s position as Numero Uno on the HuffPost list, as it well should be…but when I went to read the list, after city number three, my jaw hit the floor.
That’s the link. I suspected something immediately upon reading that list and a 30 minute google search bore out my thinking.
For those who don’t have time to follow the link, here’s the list:
1. Portland, OR
2. Denver, CO
3. San Diego, CA
4. Boston, MA
5. Philadelphia, PA
6. Austin, TX
7. San Francisco, CA
Here’s the problem and it’s the same problem with about 90% of these “Best Beer Places” lists: the person writing them knows little or nothing about beer. Here’s the LinkedIn list of the author’s (Kristina Fazzalaro) skills:
See anything about beer there? In fact, in her whole LinkedIn profile, the word “beer” is never mentioned ONCE. I’ve found zero articles, blog posts, or anything else in a google search of her+beer, except for this one list. In several of her travel pieces, she notes that a restaurant has a large beer list or that “beer-loving college students will love this place…” but NO evidence of real beer knowledge at all.
I’m up on the soapbox, now, and I must immediately apologize to Kristina Fazzalaro, who is simply a hard-working, honest freelance writer of the type that I was for many years and to whom ALL my sympathies and support is eternally extended. She was given an assignment by an editor and did her best to make it work. I do NOT blame Kristina Fazzalaro at all for what’s in this list. I blame her editor at Oyster.com, where the list first appeared, and the one at HuffPost who decided that reposting it there would be a fine idea…and here’s why.
WHY the HELL is it so hard for a major website like HuffPost to grasp that there is no less responsibility to find a contributor with verifiable knowledge and some track record of writing on the assigned subject when the subject is beer than there is when you’re writing about social issues, government, the economy, or foreign affairs? Would HuffPost assign someone to write about politics based on nothing more than the fact that they vote regularly and know who their congressperson is? Because that’s exactly what this list equates to. It was evidently too much work for the editor who arranged this to find an experienced beer person and ask them to do it. Ms. Fazzalaro obviously has beer buddies, because the first three are inarguable, even if I’d dispute the order. But the omission of Bend and Seattle and Fort Collins/Loveland and Boulder and – for the Love of God! – Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo in favor of PHILADELPHIA, Boston, and Austin is ABSURD. I can’t and won’t argue with the inclusion of San Francisco, either, except that it should come in behind the cities I mentioned above.
You might well ask, “Well, Steve, why are you getting so bent out of frame about this? What does this have to do with you?” That should be well answered by everything that appears here and at this website’s P-I address that I have written about beer. If you read all that and don’t get a strong sense of my enormous passion and protective instincts about the American craft beer culture, then I submit that you weren’t paying attention or I have to start seriously examining my writing skills.
The real and substantive damage that lists appearing in reputable sites like HuffPost do to craft beer is twofold: 1) It sets up unrealistic expectations for breweries in those cities named which, like Philly and Austin, don’t have much history of craft brewing. As with Asheville, North Carolina, and the ridiculous hyperbole created by their selection in a virtually-worthless examiner.com poll as “Beer City USA”, people arrive in these cities, after visiting real craft meccas like Bend and Portland and Seattle and Denver and San Diego and wind up baffled and bummed because the beers simply don’t measure up to what they’ve tasted elsewhere. And, 2) Having a less experienced craft beer newbie use the list as a yardstick by which to measure the entire craft culture gives a horribly distorted picture of what the term “craft beer” means. I saw that graphically, recently, when a young woman came into my office and was talking about her trip to North Carolina and her visit, with her parents, to Asheville, which ended with her saying, “Y’know, I really didn’t care for the beers we tasted at any of the breweries. Maybe craft beer just isn’t my thing.” I got all dizzy and flushed and actually opened a couple of beers for her to try. Turns out, craft beer IS her thing. She just started off with the wrong craft beers.
Huffington Post and Oyster.com – which is a HOTEL site(!) – both share the blame for creating and perpetuating yet another piece of internet effluvium that portrays its subject about as well and as accurately as Fox News depicts Barack Obama. If this had been a health-related piece, the headline would have been something like “Guess What? Chocolate is Actually One of the Best Things You Can Eat!” – it tells part of the story but boots the majority of the facts.
If you start with little or no real knowledge, the end result is just not gonna be very pretty….