Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Blogging Integrity

I'm not going to be at the Beer Bloggers Conference that is happening this weekend. But Alex Routledge is.

We've just bottled, well actually, still bottling, a very special prototype beer. It night be about 12.5% but we're not sure. You see, we dropped in loads of glucose during fermentation and so have not got an original gravity. We also used three different yeast strains. We have a calculated guess at what we think it is, but there are too many variables to know.

It's been in a conditioning tank for about a month along with a couple of special, secret ingredients. I think it tastes great.

I talked in my last post about integrity of awards. This post concerns the integrity of Beer Bloggers. I know some bloggers take the activity very seriously and are mostly concerned with making a good job of writing about beer. Other bloggers, it seems to me, are much more interested in getting free beer than becoming great beer writers.

We don't generally give away beer to bloggers. This is partly because you guys are a significant part of our customer base. It's not a great business strategy to give away products willy nilly.

The other reason why we don't give away beer is because we have a firm conviction that if you want to write about our beer, then we don't want you biased by the fact you got it for free. Free beer always tastes better.

But, if I tried to pretend that I didn't think that some of you occasionally deserved a free beer off me I'd be lying. So, perhaps it's time to give some away, but you'll have to prove you deserve it.

The beer we are bottling is, like all our beers, bottle conditioned, so isn't ready to be drunk yet. It needs time to condition. However, if you are going to the European Beer Bloggers Conference this coming weekend, you could get a pre-release bottle to take home and wait for us to give the word that it's ready, and then we'll have a big inaugural opening with which you can join in.

I shall now introduce you to the ways in which you can win one of these bottles.

It's simple. Alex will take 24 bottles to the Conference. Between now and when Alex gets there you have to write something, on twitter, on your own blog, or in the comments on this blog, which will convince me you deserve a bottle. If you do write on twitter, please mention @Hardknott so we can find you. If on your own blog then either tweet the URL at me or post a link in the comments on this blog.

What do you have to write? Basically, a response to this post. It might be giving a reason why you like Hardknott, it might be a reason why you don't, but that is perhaps a more risky strategy. You might like to explain how you deal with getting free beer from breweries and then writing an honest blog without biting the hand that gave you the beer. It might be an example of your work, be it written, photography or video that you think especially shows off Hardknott beer. It might be some other response to this post, I'll leave it up to you.

Final word; my decision is final and I'll be making my mind up after Alex has left for Leeds. Talking nicely to Alex, bribing him or getting him completely drunk will not help you. However, do be nice to the chap, he's a good 'un. I may decide not to give away all 24 bottles if I don't think there are enough good entries and I may give more than one bottle to an entry who I think is exceptional.

And, if you do win, this beer should not be opened until we say it's ready to go. For a start, we're going to send it off to the lab so we can get the exact ABV. We also want everyone to open their bottles and tweet, blog or whatever on the same day, once we're sure it's got enough fizz.

Meanwhile, I hope you all enjoy your piss-up conference, and I'm really sorry I'm not going to be there.


34 comments:

Baron Orm said...

Sorry Dave but I've not even finished reading the post and I've felt drawn to comment.

"Free beer always tastes better." - I object at this, please listen to our take on the subject:

Is free beer really free?

Right, now that I've got that out of the way I'll get back to reading the rest of the post...

Brother Logic said...

This sounds pretty craft to me - what were the yeast strains you used?

dredpenguin said...

Oh! having tried a little sip of this prototype I would very much like to get my hands on a proper bottle.

As to why I should get one.... Well I promise to binge drink it (I suspect one bottle will be considered binge drinking by the government guidelines)and tweet about it, while sitting cross legged on a cushion made of groomed cat fur, wearing nothing but a who ate all the pies T-shirt, listening to Metallica and doing the Times crossword.

Alternatively I could swap it for a couple of bottles of something interesting.

broadfordbrewer said...

I am job. Is that going to cut it? I think not, my real response is in my brain and I will coax it out just at the right moment, to trick, or rather encourage you to get me involved.

Claire said...

Why do I deserve one? Well, this would probably be the first Hardknott beer I'd ever taste. I'm just getting into this blogging malarkey, so am trying to broaden my horizons/palate and try as wide a rnage of new beers as possible - treat this as a way of educating me....?

Sam said...

Sorry to hear you won't be at this years event Dave.

As a blogger, it has been a year since I received a free beer. That beer, in its unlabelled brown bottle, was surreptitiously handed to me behind a stack of pallets in the Camden Brewery at the night of many beers at EBBC11. I think it was my first Hardknott beer experience and it was handed to me by you Dave. So maybe we could make this an annual event?

Mark said...

Bloggers that make a habit of asking for free beer wind me up.

If you love craft beer, brewing and the beer industry then invest your disposable income in it. You don't take up golf as a hobby and then go asking for free 7-irons do you?

To that end, I won't ask for a free bottle of Rhetoric. But, if you're interested in what I think of it, I'd happily let you know.

BeerBirraBier.

Tandleman said...

As (hopefully) you may imagine, I'm not interested in supplication for beer. I doubt if I'd like it anyway.

Count me out.

Tandleman said...

PS. It is "quasi". :-)

Stono said...

Thankyou, Im glad someone finally agrees with me on this :) bloggers certainly shouldnt ask or expect breweries to send them free beer to review, and actually they shouldnt review unsolicited free beer at all either IMO.

I definately feel there is a shift in the way you react to sampling a beer when youve had to pay for it over the bar, like actually anyone who listens/watches/reads the review will have to do, than simply reviewing the latest freebie the nice friendly brewery who responds to you on twitter has sent you.

breweries do it, not because its an exchange in the sense that its a fair exchange, most professional reviewers actually get paid for the content they produce, bloggers are doing it at their own cost, in their own time, and its a very quick,cheap way a brewery can get some promotion and advertising out of, which makes them feel like they interact on some level with people on the "inter-web".

But I want to know when someone reviews a beer that they were faced with the same choice the rest of us are going to be faced with in a pub when we see this drink is available & thats do I stick with the regular and pay for what I know is going to be a good drink I like,or do I twist on something new and pay to take a chance that I might very well get something I dont like at all.

So no I dont want a free bottle of Rhetoric, not going to the EBBC anyway, rant for another day;) if I want to try it, Ill buy it, if I like it, Ill buy some more, and thats how it should be.

RedNev said...

The only time I came across your beer, I liked it. I'm not going to the Beer Bloggers Convention, because it looks rather silly to me - besides I'm washing my hair then anyway - and I'll buy my own beer, as I always do.

I do have a certain contempt for anyone who expects something for nothing.

Martyn Cornell said...

@ Tandleman - you've not heard of a Quazi? Looks like a member of the SS, but isn't really.

Neil, eatingisntcheating.blogspot.com said...

I've tweeted many times about shameless bloggers who frequnelty shout "Gimmie some free beer!?" a few days later... "here's your good review!".

Also, the few times I've written about hardknott I've been objective (i.e. I really like infra-red, it's a great beer, but is it a red IPA? I think it's more of a well hopped ESB).

So if you want to give me a bottle then I'll review it fairly. If you don't then thats up to you guys.
Either way I'll carry on drinking your beers, and judging them on their merit alone.

Mr. David J said...

Whilst I like free beer as much as the next man I feel kind of awkward not paying for it, knowing that someone has put time, and effort, and raw materials into making it.

Okay, so I could end up drinking this and think that it's awful, and not worth paying anything for, or I could drink it and think it's worth something.

This beer intrigues me, as I'm sure it does everyone else here. I'd love a chance to be able to try it, but I'd also like to pay for it in someway. I'm now curious if "pay what you like" model that some bands use would work between brewers and bloggers. It could be an interesting experiment to see what price we actually put on beer.

Cooking Lager said...

That free beer you gave me was nice, Ta.

Top strategy though to get bloggers to mention you and your hooch before getting the grog, then presumably again after they get it. Double bubble.

StringersBeer said...

So this would be potentially bottle-conditioned beer? I don't see anything wrong with giving out promotional samples - you've done plenty of that in the past and you're doing it again here. But I believe it should be ready to drink when it leaves the brewery.

P.S. Isn't sugar brilliant?

Baron Orm said...

I agree with you Jon but I also can see this as a chance for Dave to distribute quite a few bottles without incurring the hefty Royal Mail postage charges that would result if he sent them out once it was fully conditioned.

Ghost Drinker said...

I don't see myself getting free beer. I certainly don't ask for any. When someone is kind enough to give me a beer, I'll give them a beer in return which I think they'll enjoy. If the situation arises where I can't give them a beer in return, I'll post about the beer, give them my honest thoughts and thanks.

OthertonAleman said...

It's been interesting to see the range of responses to this. I personally saw an opportunity to make my own, hopefully quite light-hearted, blog post this morning on the back of this and if that is deemed to warrant a beer then I won't be turning it down!

I don't believe in anyone going around asking for free samples, but on the other hand when the samples are being freely offered surely that is a rather different matter. What is more important to me is that any review published on the back of a free sample, is honest about that fact, and attempts to be as honest about the beer as it would about a paid-for bottle.

Rhetoric sounds like the sort of interesting beer that I'd be likely to take a gamble on, if it turned up somewhere that I am able to buy it from, but on the other hand there's no guarantee that will happen - it all depends on where it is supplied to and what demand there is when it gets there. If I don't get my hands on a bottle, either purchased or free, then I won't have any regrets about it. I'd much rather have the opportunity to try it of course, and any comment I make about it will be as honest as I can be, regardless of the price paid.

Tyson said...

If the Daily Mail ever got hold of those compromising photos of Hardknott Sooty...

Dave Bailey said...

Stringers,

Why should beer be ready to drink when it leaves the brewery?

Any unfinished product, be it ripen at home fruit, flat pack book cases, kit cars, wool for knitting, embroidery kits or pre-realese beer that is given away, is fine providing the recipient is fully aware of the deal.

And anyway, what The Barron said.

And yes, I do give away beer from time-to-time, when I feel there is a benefit, but not when there are demands with menaces.

tabamatu said...

As someone who buys and occasionally blogs about Hardknott beers, if I were to (very gratefully) receive a bottle of this prototype I'd certainly give you my honest opinion of it.

If not, I'll probably buy it when it's released to the world anyway, so if they go to someone else, that's cool too.

What I will say on ethics (and as I recently commented on Baron Orm's post covering this topic) is that I think the two most important things when blogging about 'free' beer is to thank the brewer/sender and clearly state in the review that it was received and not otherwise purchased.

@tabamatu
Graphed Beer

Phil said...

A topic on something I feel quite strongly and have been equally vocal about of late, which as a result has lost me a few followers and perhaps gained me a few.

I think it's in pretty bad taste to go around quite blatantly scrounging beer on the premise of a good review, or even the pretence (or not)of writing a book which then remarkably turns into a video review (all characters fictional or otherwise shall remain anonymous).
Despite what some folks say it's not out of jealousy, nor because I didn't think of it first, I think it's bloody down right rude.

I know of one example where a person asked a brewer I know for "real ale" to review was told "it's not strictly real ale" and said "can I have it anyway", much to said brewers amusement.

I have had the odd bottle or even case over the last year from breweries (who shall remain anonymous) and my approach was this:

Odd bottle, one or two tasted alone, liked and blogged about or shared in a group.
Case, arranged a group tasting in conjunction with helping organise a mass twitter event.
Three samples of foreign lager from supermarket marketing team, emailed response did not blog as I didn't like.

Generally that's how I choose to handle it, it may not be to everyone’s liking but I'd rather share if I can. But if I do taste alone and don't particularly like something I don't se the point in broadcasting to the world, I'd rather pass comment quietly to advise if there was something actually wrong or not bother at all.

Do I want a bottle of the "Special Stuff" (Hilary Briss) yes please, what would I do with it? Probably share with a few local beer nuts as the other lucky blighters do.

Nate said...

Great post mate.

I'm not going to be at EBBC either due to other commitments. It sucks but what can you do?

I know I'm only a new blogger but to be honest, I wouldn't even dream of trying to get free beer off a brewery.

Nate
Booze, Beats & Bites
@NateDawg27

StringersBeer said...

Why Dave? I'll tell you why. The biggest problem with bottle-conditioned beers from small brewers? Apart from infection, it's poor conditioning (over or under). The only way you can be sure that you're shipping a quality product is to complete conditioning in-house. You can't put a "best after" date on stuff - well I suppose you could, but you'd also have to specify the temperature.

This is why those brewers famous for their output of reliable b-c beers have big dedicated warm rooms where they can get beer ready to sell. They consider it part of the brewers job and so should you.

Why not just sell a bag of malt, hops and yeast. (To go along with your flat-pack / knitting analogy.)

Baron Orm said...

"Barron"? I'm not a county in Wisconsin!
It's Baron with just the one 'r' please ;)

TaleOfAle said...

Why do I deserved a free beer Dave? Well I have written about hardknott a few times and even visited when you had the woolpack.

That's all the past.

I will try and share a bottle with my good friend thebeernut depending on when it has to be opened. And you will get two articles from Ireland, a place that does not even get your beer!

Also hardknott sooty said I could have some.

Dave Bailey said...

Baron, apollogies, those doublle connsonants justt inffect the pllace.

Stringers, geez, you are difficult, I'm giving the damn stuff away.

I'd agree, a commercial beer should not be sent out until it is within finished tolerance. Some thing we haven't always got absolutely right. I'm sure there have been occasions when you have also sent beer out that you are unhappy about.

Small growing breweries are inevitably going to have issues with consistency. Bottle conditioning adds another level of complexity to the whole business.

We could just give up and go the way many micro-brewers have and just get it contract bottles at some place that will chill filter or pasteurise until the original flavour has been beaten to death.

But as you know, we are intent on being one of the best bottle conditioning breweries around. We know we are not there yet, but we are improving and will continue to do so.

As we grow we will need better conditioning room space, this is true. There are many other things we will have to put in place to get better, and these cannot be done overnight.

Meanwhile, beer hanging around the brewery represents working capital in limbo. This, of course, is another reason why bottle conditioning is a problem. Beer, as stock that is not earning, represents money we haven't got to buy more malt and hops to make more beer.

This beer has cost us a lot to make and once it really is ready to sell we need it to be sold quickly. For this reason we have decided to send it out, give it away, to bloggers with integrity, so that they can enjoy it and then hopefully create some buzz to help sell it once it is ready to go. We have yet to get the AVB tested and yet to get the labels printed. But it'll get done over the next couple of weeks.

But, it's a risky strategy, luckily we like risk. The conditioning period is going to vary beyond our control. We may get some bad reports due to different storage conditions which might undermine the whole project. The whole batch might turn out to be faulty; how scary is that?

But, those who have been to either of my last two Meet the Brewer events will testify, I have a view on what constitutes a seminal brewery......

StringersBeer said...

"give up"? As you know Dave, we have some of our beers filtered / carbonated. The sterile filtration (not pastuerised, thanks) changes the beer for sure - it comes out different - not worse, different, which is why we give ours different names in this form.

There's a market for filtered beers which (it seems to me) values stability and ease of storage. Perhaps not for the primadonna, but it works for us, alongside our BC beers.

Des de Moor said...

Intriguing idea, Dave, and has generated some interesting comments. Free beer always tastes best? If only that were true...

I do get free beer, and I do ask for it, not for my blog but mainly for my page in BEER. But even though people occasionally pay me for writing about beer, I'm as obsessive a beer hunter as I was before that happened, and I regularly buy plenty of beer too. When I go to pubs to review them, I always go in as an ordinary customer and buy a beer first. I usually do later tell them why I'm there, as I've learned that obviously taking lots of notes in a pub is a sure way to get a landlord nervous! When I wrote my book I got some of this back in expenses but well under half of it. Also, when I remember, I keep receipts and claim them as allowable expenses on my tax return.

I know there are some ethical worries here. Evan Rail, the author of the Good Beer Guide to Prague and the Czech Republic, writes for the New York Times, and tells me they won't employ any writers who take any kind of freebie, though they have a generous expenses allowance. Even if the freebie wasn't in connection with work for the Times, it still breaks their policy. Evan was shocked when he came to Europe and discovered that freebies were part of the culture.

I certainly couldn't meet the Times ideal. BEER doesn't pay expenses, but the reason I ask if breweries can send me free beer is not because I couldn't or wouldn't afford it. It's mainly because otherwise I wouldn't get to taste such a range of beers from small breweries that don't have a mail order setup and otherwise just distribute locally.

Hand on heart I don't believe I favour breweries that send me freebies. I always make it clear there is no guarantee their beer will be reviewed. Quite a lot of the unsolicited free beer I get is from bigger breweries and is often not the sort of stuff I want to rave about anyway.

The only difference I admit it does make is that I feel more willing to throw beer I don't like down the sink, although since I've been researching pubs I've had to steel myself to buying a half, having a few sips and leaving the rest. I've had more than my fair share of bad bottle conditioned craft beer from small breweries and I never review it, though I do email the breweries politely to say why. Very few bother to reply, which is always disappointing. It's such a shame when it costs so much to send beer by post or courier, probably more than it costs to brew it.

In the interests of transparency I declare my policy on the About section of my website and over the past year I've started including details about whether or not I paid for beers in reviews if it's not clear from the context.

I'm not pitching for a freebie from you, Dave -- you've been generous enough in the past to me. My admiration for your beers is such that if I saw this particular one on sale I'd probably buy it anyway if I hadn't tried it before.

Chris said...

I wouldn't even dream of asking for free beer off any small brewery. I know how hard it is to make a living out of beer, having once been involved in a beer agency specialising in micros. Not even the twitchers would ask for freebies, I'm disgusted that bloggers feel it's their god-given right to have one. Believe me, supporting a small business with your money is the best thing anyone can do in this day and age.

pdtnc said...

I don't want your beer, I'm not at the EBBC, I won't send you email or letter asking to review your beer.

I will, eventually, pay you a visit, be unafraid to lift/carry/move/dig/wash/rack/get wet/get dirty/be mildly covered in chemicals.
All for the sakes of my own opinions and the way I feel it best to form them, from the experience of others.

:) Would bring Homebrew, take photos, ask questions, be interested in process.

Bryan the BeerViking said...

Hmm. There's bloggers and there's blaggers. The former look down upon the latter, and the latter pretend to be the former.

This is true in loads of other areas beyond beer, and the PRs and marketeers there have had to learn to tell the difference. I guess it's down to reputation, bylines, accreditation, and a bunch of other stuff. I have seen them get it wrong - in one case, refusing one of the biggest online news sites entry to one of the biggest European tradeshows, my how we laughed - but mostly they have learnt to get it right.

If they're begging for freebies, alarm bells should ring. But it's not too hard these days to check them out - what do they publish, what's their readership, who links to them, and so on. Google is your friend.

What bloggers mustn't do is let themselves be pulled down by the blaggers. They are not us, and we need to be confident that there is clear water between them and us.

TheRebelBrewingCo said...

I am a small brewer, producing some traditional UK beer styles and then some slightly more out-there styles which are creating some buzz locally.

We do struggle to get bottle conditioning just right but we're getting better and better as we've barely bottled 2 batches of each beer so far. I am just about to spend a substantial sum on new lab and bottling equipment so that we can get it 100% right every time.

We've been looking hard at whether to send out free beer to bloggers etc to try and raise our profile but as has been pointed out already, it's horrifically expensive and we have better things to spend our few pennies on. Also I read many many beer blogs and I get the impression that many bloggers may even hold it against us, as if we're trying to bribe them. I don't do bribery, I just love beer and would love everyone else who loves beer to try mine and let me know whether it is actually any good!

I'm a very friendly guy, the brewery door is always open and I give out sample bottles to many potential customers every week. Any blogger is more than welcome to come and pay us a visit in darkest Cornwall and will be furnished with samples without any expectation of a review, let alone a good one! I personally prefer critical comments as they're the only ones that teach me where to improve!

Luckily I've not had to stave off any demands for freebies yet, they wouldn't be successful as we couldn't afford to post stuff out all over the country.