Beer NorthwestMedia Draft

Media Draft – Beer Northwest Magazine

For a while, I’ve wanted to do a media criticism feature on to comment on the various magazines, newspapers, websites, films, and television programs that cover our beloved subject. Media is very close to my heart and I have long believed it is important that writers, editors, bloggers, publishers, and visual producers treat beer with both respect and a critical eye. In the trade, we have a number of publications that serve little purpose but to puff-up their advertisers and friends. These publications play a role in promoting the craft beer scene but they can hardly be looked upon for serious or reliable commentary on beer. Other publications, which allows their writers to go by various ridiculous pseudonyms (‘Monkey Boy’ and ‘the Beer Bitch’ sound like credible sources, right?) or take craft beers and infuse them with various ‘bad beers’ such as Schlitz for ‘tasteless’ panels, do little but give beer a black eye and reinforce the frat or fat boy reputation beer has suffered from for so long. With that said, beer should be accessible and the process of enjoying it fun, not high-browed and pinky waving. There can be a middle ground and I hope this feature will in some small part allow its readers to stop and think about the various media publications that cover beer.

In the last year, the beer industry has seen a significant increase in media outlets either covering the subject or exclusively focusing on it. My somewhat recent trip to the Great American Beer Festival gave me the opportunity to collect a large number of these publications. So when the second issue of Beer Northwest magazine arrived today, I decided it was time to clear out some of the clutter in my office and start the occasional series I call ‘Media Draft.’

Covering beer, food, and ‘lifestyle,’ Beer Northwest magazine covers the brewing scenes in Oregon, Washington State, and British Columbia. The new publication is the brainchild of editor and publisher Megan Flynn. At 24 years of age, Flynn is certainly the youngest publisher of a beer trade publication that I know of and she qualifies as one of the youngest non-blog based writers out there. In most circumstances, readers might be nervous that someone so young would hardly possess the experience to treat the subject of beer with both professionalism and respect, let alone master the complicated business prospect of publishing her own magazine. A review of the first two issues of Beer Northwest allays any such fears.

beernw.jpgIn its Winter 2008 issue, the magazine eschews the expected design feature of tying the issue back to its subject. In the interest of disclosure, I’m a writer, not a designer. While I certainly keep an eye on the design elements, I’m not likely to dwell on them in these reviews (unless they really add to or detract from the content). Instead, I intend to focus more on the substance of the various publications. Instead of running a photo of people clinking pints or glossy snaps of copper brew kettles on the cover, the magazine instead opts for a simple photo of Mt. Hood (taken by Flynn herself). It tells readers that the magazine is definitely not going to shy away from the ‘lifestyle’ angle that is so much the buzz in journalism schools and magazine board rooms in the last decade. Putting aside the issue of whether there is such a thing as a ‘beer lifestyle,’ which I will address in a future Media Draft, Beer Northwest remains focused on beer.

The lead features focus on a travel guide to beer near Mt. Hood, a travelogue of brewing establishments in Victoria, BC, and an interesting piece on eight female brewers. The mood of the editor’s note is refreshingly light, with Flynn vowing to do several beer-related things in 2008, including “find the guy who threw up on my booth at the Holiday Ale Festival.? The contributors include a range of young locals and the occasional seasoned reporter (award-winning writer Lisa Morrison has contributed to both of the first two issues).

For a regional publication, Beer Northwest is a surprisingly well-conceived and executed enterprise. It shies away from the hokey, poorly constructed blather that constitutes so much of local beer writing. Another refreshing aspect of the publication is its lack of the macho, beer-guzzling bravado that is celebrated in several other recently released beer magazines. Instead, recurring pieces, such as the Openings department, do well by smaller, lesser known beer outlets. Flynn does much of the writing for the magazine and this department, and it often does well by its subject, with short, informed, and to the point profiles accompanying slick photos. The features and shorter department pieces frequently reference and include food and cooking as means of adding value, not to mention the group of departments solely dedicated to food. The magazine also understands that the craft beer industry and its success is not simply about a good product, it’s about people. For a long time, beer publications simply reported business updates and gossiped about new releases, overlooking the industry’s greatest asset, its passionate talent. Beer Northwest frequently covers the human angle, with profiles and interviews of brewers, publicans, chefs, and other beer-related personalities.

The magazine also does a nice job, perhaps better than any other I’ve seen, in including the voices of women in the articles. Be they writers, brewers, chefs, or bar owners, women find equal play in the magazine without making a big deal over the achievement. True to its name, Beer Northwest never forgets the region it covers. Bikes, trails, and outdoor activities (perhaps this is the Pacific Northwest’s elusive ‘beer lifestyle’) show that beer drinking and enjoyment aren’t limited to the end of a smoky bar. The Watering Holes department features a bicycle-based pub tour conducted by a group of brewers in Eugene, Oregon. While the article doesn’t include a disclaimer warning about drinking and riding, its tone is respectful to the point that you just assume that such bad behavior just wouldn’t play in Eugene. Lisa Morrison’s feature on the role of women in brewing, along with its short profiles of eight women of beer, is a welcomed and impressive focus.

The quality of the coverage and simple yet well-done design is certainly helped by the fact that Beer Northwest is a quarterly magazine. Whether it can survive with the diminished advertising revenue that often trips up less frequent publications remains to be seen. At 72 pages, the magazine’s second issue is a substantial read and a step up from the premiere issue’s 64 pages. The design has also stabilized from the uneven, clip art-like offerings of the first issue. The editor has also dumped the borderline offensive cartoon strip, Suds, that appeared in the premiere. The cartoon in the magazine’s Last Call department attempted, without irony, to contrast wine tasting from beer tasting with the help of a stereotypically big, fat, and belching bald dude representing the beer faction. I’m glad to see the poor impressions this last page left me with have faded away with the new issue. Even though I’m stationed on the opposite coast, I look forward to receiving my Summer 2008 issue.

In the interest of full disclosure, I presently write for BeerAdvocate Magazine, where I pen the ‘Unfiltered’ column, and I also write a bi-monthly feature for Beverage Magazine. I occasionally also write for a series of other magazines, a list of which can be found on the ‘about Beerscribe’ page.

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