Monday, February 15, 2010

Unemployed? Call yourself a "drinks writer": The Great Pretender

Free lance drinks writer translates to unemployed in this case.





Oh yes, I'm the great pretender. What would you think if you asked someone what their profession is, and they told you "I'm a writer."? Some type of journalist or novelist would probably comes to mind. What if someone told you they were a "drinks" writer? You might scratch your head, be a little puzzled, a little skeptical, and for good reason. They might get a pass if they tell you they write about wine for a gourmet magazine or newspaper, but if they tell you they are a professional " free lance beer and whiskey" writer? Odds are you are talking to someone who is unemployed. The code word here being "free lance."

The truth of the matter is, when it comes to writing about drinks, especially so with beer and whiskey, there really are not a whole lot of writers who specialize in the subject and can make a living at it. The late, great Michael Jackson aka The Beer Hunter was the exception to that rule. His work in the field of writing about beer and whiskey was ground breaking. Jackson was a pioneer, he took the slings and arrows and went where no one had went before when it came to writing about beer, and later whiskey. He blazed a trail many would follow, but could only do so because he was a real journalist. Jackson cut his teeth as a newspaper journalist and did his time in the trenches working for papers, magazines, and a editor for television. With that pedigree, he was able to carve out his own niche in the writing world, and became the first "beer writer" to really be taken seriously. When it comes to "beer writers" there is Michael Jackson, and then there is everyone else.

That is not to say there are not some very talented writers out there, that have emulated Jackson. Names like Roger Prozt, and Pete Brown come to mind. These are writers/journalists who have followed the Jackson template, and with the passing of Jackson, are an elite few that could even come some what close to the level of beer expertise and writing Jackson was at. That being said, even they would probably tell you it is a really tough go, if you want to make a living solely as a beer writer.

Sadly, the gap between Jackson and the elite few who can and do make a living at it, is as wide as the mouth of Mississippi River. The dearth of talented "beer writers" is painfully felt, and what you have for the most part are hobbyists who do it as an aside, or people who really don't make a living at it, but like to call themselves " free lance drinks writers" with real financial support coming else where.

I don't have a problem with anyone who writes and gets published and calls themselves a writer. If you have written a book, and you are published, you are a writer. I just think it is a bit disingenuous when you call yourself a professional writer and that is how you make your living when you really don't. Don't puff yourself up as being a "pro" when in reality your "job" as a writer is not bringing home the bacon.

Here is a glaring example. This guy claims to be "the award-winning, beer-drinking, whiskey-sipping, brewery-visiting, cask-tapping, thirst-creating drinks writer." That is quite an impressive self proclaimed title, but I don't think the bank wants to hear that when it comes time to pay the mortgage. He bills himself as a "free lace" writer and the author of four "regional beer travel guides." He actually is very good at writing articles. I've read many of his articles and enjoy them very much, but that is about as far as it goes for me. It really shows the lack of "drinks writers" out there if this guy can get an award for being "beer writer of the year" for an article?

I have a hard taking this guy serious when he calls himself a professional writer. No doubt he has earned himself a little scratch over the years, but clearly he does not make a living at it. He will be quick to tell you about all the "free" samples, comped meals, and "press junket" trips he has gotten over the years. Sorry, but drinking, eating, and traveling on someone else's dime doesn't make it your "day job" and sure as hell does not pay the electric bill. I have read his "regional beer travel guides" and quite frankly, they are a complete and utter joke. This is information you could glean off the web by visiting a few beer and brewery websites in a matter of minutes. What he tries to pass off as information on area attractions again could be sourced off the web or from free brochures at area rest stops and gas stations. Would you really want to take advice about visiting a brewpub or brewery from someone who states this is how he visits places:


When I do PA and mid-Atlantic and New England visits, I'm driving, and trying to hit as many places as possible while staying sober. So it's plan the trip with phone calls to everyone three weeks before, then call 'em again two days before I leave to remind them. Get up at 6:00, drive like crazy, meet the brewer, stay for an hour in which I have to drink 3 oz. samples of up to 12 beers (while cramming down two full pints of water) AND get at least six pages of notes about the beer, the brewer, the place, the owners, the town (and the bathrooms) in only an hour. Then it's back on the road to the next place (and did I mention I have to get directions to all these places I've never been?) and the next place and the next place and a cheap motel, then two more days of that.

Then finally I go home, write stories on the breweries, the towns, the beers, AND trends, changes, laws, etc. ... if I can sell them. And I have to make these trips and spend the money even if I don't sell the story, because I have to stay up-to-date. If I do sell them I get paid a pittance for them. Finally, more often than not, I get up the next day to read outrageously stupid crap about beer in the newspaper written by someone who's on staff and said "hey, I like beer, why don't I write it?"

Think about that for a minute. This is what can be passed off as "regional beer travel guides"? An hour visit at most, as many places as possible in one day, and you want to take this guy's advise about putting your hard earned dollars down and trying a product from a place? Do you really want to get in your car and making the effort? How does this makes this guy an authority on regional beer travel? It is laughable. Read one of his books and say one that Michael Jackson, Pete Brown, or Roger Protz has penned. You will see how laughable his beer writing is vs one of the elite few that do actually make a real living at it.
Clearly there is no money in this type of writing, and the "free lancer" himself admits he really does not make a living at this, no matter how much he calls himself a writer by trade:

"writing lets me stay home to be there for the kids while my wife really supports the family."
He also fails to mention on his blog, that he is a mommy blogger as well. Mommy bloggers are offered and solicit "free samples" from manufacturers of a product in return for a "review". The nasty little secret about mommy bloggers? For years they never disclosed the fact that the product they were reviewing was given to them for free by the manufacturer of the product. How objective of a "review" do you think you are really going to get from a mommy blogger? The Federal government got on to this and the game changed. Now when you see terms like "full disclosure", or "sample bottle" or "press junket" paid for by this company? You know the person is a mommy blogger, and take any "review" from a mommy blogger with a grain of salt.

I guess you have to call yourself something other than unemployed, if you are not the bread winner. Artist, writer, musician, they all have a nice ring to them. The lesson here is, anyone can be a beer and whiskey writer. If you want to support your family though, you better not quit your day job. Pretend all you want, but I'm literally not buying it. I have no respect for anyone who makes their "living" always being on the recieving end. I understand after 19 years of being a "free lance drinks writer" and living off the earnings of his spouse? This "writer" finally went back to work for real. How big of him.

5 comments:

  1. The way AO and I discover brewpubs is much better. We check out all aspects of the business, from beer to food to the hotness of the barmaids. This guy is in league with the douche from earlier. They are both total losers with swollen egos. You can put them to shame without even trying. Who knew Yuengling Porter is not really a porter?? I didn't.

    Shick.

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  2. I would not go so far as to call "drinks writers" like this guy a "loser." I'm not trashing him, I'm telling the truth about him. Once again, I am a diplomat, not a compromiser. Don't go around calling yourself a "pro" and puffing yourself up as an expert when you know damn well, you really don't make a living at it, and never have.

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  3. When hitting a new brewpub I'll order a sampler first, then get pints of the beers I like best. Unless I don't have to drive home, in which case I'll get pints of everything.

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  4. When I visit a brewpub or brewery, I usually spend more than an hour there, and I drink more than 3oz samples. I actually pay for the beers, I actually try the food. If its a brewery, I actually purchase the beer and some swag at the retail store. This guy in far too many cases, does not do this.

    I always do what you do. I'll order a sampler first, and try all the beers on draught. I'll then try a pint of the beer or style I like best. I'll try a few more. If I'm not driving? As you say, I will try them all. If there are two many, I might even go for a second round of samples to get a better idea of how these beers really are. Can you really judge or reccommend a beer after one 3oz sample? Please.

    His opinion on a place is pretty worthless if all he did was try a few 3oz samples, talk to the owner/brewer and move on to the next place. I would put more stock in local reviews by people who regular a place, or a review like mine or yours. We actually drink a full glass of beer! If I know it is an out of the way place, and I place I am probably not going to get to anytime soon? I make my vist worth it, and actually stick around and enjoy the place and its beers.

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