I bought the May 2005 issue of All About Beer, published for 25 yeas now out of North Carolina. The picture shown is of an earlier issues as the magazine's web site has not caught up to its current newstand issue. I seem to buy an issue every year or so which is a fair comment on my regard for it. It is an odd mix of ads for imports and reviews of micros with a nod to the macros in both the ads and reviews. It is unfortunately "authoritative" in the sense that a lot of grey haired guys who make money as beer consultants write columns for it. These are guys whose books I have read - and argued with in my mind - as well as Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewing whose work I actually enjoy pretty much unreservedly. In this issue's "Letter from the Editor" we are invited to give the magazine our feedback in respose to the return of the publisher to full duty:
Daniel stirs things up wherever he goes, and All About Beer will be no exception. Over the next few issues, look for his passion for the best in beer to spill over these pages. You'll see the magazine move in some new directions. If you feel strongly about your magazine, pick up the phone: here's a publisher who wants to know what you want from All About Beer.Here are some of the things I would suggest without spending on the long distance:
- Ditch some of the "beer gurus." I was a little less than pleased to read a tedious reprint of a 1999 Michael Jackson article on hangovers, especially when it is written mainly about spirits rather than beer. Likewise a column on tasting chocolate and beer in Tokyo (I'll be sure to follow up those helpful hints) in an issue with a long article on beer and chocolate is not particularly good editorial selection. These writers do not in themselves have much to add to the beer fan's understanding after a few experiences with them - their repetoire of reusable adjectives are often quickly spent. A quite embarassing example of this is at page 48 the monthly section called "Beer Talk: World Beers Reviewed" in which plummy banal descriptions are used in the tasting notes such as "picture-perfect pour" or "pours like silk feels" or "the beer world's answer to an Australian syrah?" These are practically meaningless. Charlie Papazian, promoter of homebrewing and self, is the worst offender. Again, Garrett Oliver is the best for sticking to the relevant - words that describe flavour and aroma as well as food partnering.
- Be current. I wrote a review of Man Walks Into Pub in July 2003. Page 58 in a May 2005 issue is a wee bit tardy. Similarly, most stories in the "What's Brewing" section of short news items have already been posted on beer blogs - and they were posted there when you first read them, two months ago.
- Get more focused on the USA. It is too bad that such a large part of the advertising in the magazine, especially up front, is paid for by importing wholesalers rather than micros but that revenue interest does not mean that the readership is interested in yet another central European pilsner. Only a handful of readers will ever follow experiences in Japan or Poland featured in columns. Get into the field. The best of 2004 features too many brews from the same brewers. Very unlikely and it makes me want to cross-reference the ads. That Ommegang is the only New York State brewer represented in either the article on the top beers of 2004 (twice) or the one on 2005 Stouts and Porters (zero) is suspicious as well, the later tainted by its odd "85-89 points mean silver" form of scoring.
- Be intelligent. I can get most information in the magazine on the internet. But the article on US "malt liquor" was extremely well done and a topic I had not read much about before. Likewise, the trade focused revival of canning by smaller brewers was interesting and would likely cause me now to consider buying something interesting in a can if I saw it. Also, Roger Protz's article on changes at Grolsch in the Netherlands was specific and well written, despite the bad HTML that did not get picked up - ì and î appearing around the word "neighbour" in the middle column. A petty thing but compare it to the internet: I paid 5.99 CND for this specific slice of media. That is 15% of a month's total highspeed internet bill.