Wednesday, October 15, 2008

ON “ALL ABOUT BEER” MAGAZINE

I recall that when I took the time to write about some of the beer magazines I was perusing a couple of years ago, I had little to say in any direction positive/negative about ALL ABOUT BEER, the longest-running and most venerable of the monthly publications currently extant. I do remember laughing at a vicious comment a reader left comparing the magazine to “Cat Fancy”, which summed up a prevailing sentiment that the magazine was perhaps too whitebread and rah-rah and stale to the point of being boring, opinions that I was certainly sympathetic to. With new entrants like BEER ADVOCATE and, to a lesser extent, DRAFT championing craft beer in a far more exciting manner, focusing on the new heroes, styles & extreme beer ethos revolutionizing the American beer palatte, All About Beer was looking like it was about to go the way of the dodo. Then came a pretty stunning visual facelift of the magazine itself, along with some revitalized content this past year. Where does the thing stand now? As a subscriber, I’ve got my opinions, and I shall share them presently.

I’d say they are about halfway there. On the plus side, ALL ABOUT BEER looks much better, having moved a circa 1980s design forward by about 15 years to roughly the early days of the Internet. Their typography and layout looks about 1996 to me, and hey, I guess that’s readable and appealing enough. They don’t quite match the “beer porn” photos that DRAFT does such an amazing job at, or the cool font and illustrations (let alone the content) of BEER ADVOCATE, but beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, as you’ve no doubt heard. Content can be solid – except when it’s not. Let’s take the most recent issue from September 2008. There are two very well-researched first-person articles about craft beer in Australia and New Zealand, both good takes on how those countries are following the lead of American brewers to bring ales of all types to lands generally considered to be brewing backwaters. I learned something, let’s say. All About Beer also does these style tastings that have great descriptions of the styles themselves, and what to expect upon tasting them, and this month they focus on all manner of Belgian styles. An article on “wild ales” was also quite good and informative, despite the lack of photographs. I’ll keep subscribing thanks to articles like these, which are generally well written by folks who’ve tasted a few beers in their time.

Let’s talk about the downside. Is there anything less relevant to my life, your life, and the lives of good-beer drinkers than the acquisition of Anheuiser Busch by InBev? No? Then why does AAB spend an entire editorial trying to analyze it? Who the f*** cares? Readers of the mag don’t drink that swill, and I don’t understand why any bloggers write about this either. Completely and totally uninteresting. I still can’t stand how this magazine can’t seem to say a single truly negative thing about the beers they review and feels the need to be so magnanimous all the time; for example, they always let two esteemed panelists review a set of 4 beers each, and I swear every one reads exactly the same. The beer is always good or great, it would always pair well with chicken/fish/tacos/whatever, and is always broken down to its sub-tastes. Snore. Just once I’d like to see someone call a beer he/she was sent “a pile of puke” or something to that effect, just to prove these beers don’t arrive with $50 bills taped to each bottle. Finally, and this is probably intentional, but the demographic doing the writing and being written to strikes me as a bit, um, long in the tooth. Not saying I’m not there myself as a fortysomething, but if someone is thinking about creating a new beer magazine targeted at the 44-65 age bracket, please don’t bother. It’s already here, and it is called ALL ABOUT BEER. And am I the only one who can’t even get through a single paragraph of Fred Eckhardt’s? Bless him, I love the idea of an old guy drinking great beer into his 90s and serving as a rallying point for old guys worldwide, but – um- about that writing? What, exactly, are these articles about, and why does drool form on my shirt as I try to read them? Right, because I fell asleep. You get it.

So I guess it’s fair to say that this magazine is improving, and is still worth of subscription. I’d just like to see it come off a little less like the Methodist church newsletter, and more reflective of the modern, dynamic, exciting craft beer industry it covers.

1 comment:

Daniel Bradford said...

Jay,
Many thanks for your review of my magazine. Your compliments are appreciated as are your criticisms. We strive to respond to our readers interests and the growth of our circulation in the past year suggests we're making some headway.
As for InBev/AB editorial, besides marking the end of a legend, that deal could dramatically alter the landscape of how beer is brought to market, affecting the availability of a lot of domestic craft beers and foreign specialty beers (e.g. Affligem and Leffe) which I probably didn't emphasize enough.
Regarding our reviews, we do ask our reviewers to describe the beers, give the reader a language; not judge the beer. It's pretty easy to find judgement of beers on the web. Besides, if we don't think the beer is interesting for some reason or another, we don't ask to have it reviewed.
Finally, as for the average age, yes, our readers are a bit long in the tooth. They are 41, own their own home, have kids, pretty well off financially (better than a beer magazine publisher!), college grads (a lot of post grad work, too). However, our office, fortunately, has skewed about 15 to 20 years younger than me for the past decade. Still, I'll need to review what we're writing and make sure it stays relevant to a younger market.
Please continue to keep an eye on what we do and let me know your thoughts. Generally, if someone isn't happy with something too often they simply abandon it. I'm glad you have taken the time to offer substantive criticism, instead.
Thanks,
Daniel Bradford
Publisher