I picked up a copy of the latest issue of TAPS magazine, a photo contest prize giver, this morning while we were out at Chapters. Well worth the $6.95 I paid and, frankly, so well worth it I thought I would write a post setting out why. This may seem an obvious motivation for a blogger on a Saturday afternoon but there are a number of points that should be made about this magazine and how it is developing. And I make them not, as Canadians too often do, in relation to other things Canadian but in relation to the pantheon of world magazines.
- The Audience Is Defined: I have a sense that TAPS is getting close to a sweet spot that not enough other beer magazines have sought. It is not just a shill for large breweries. It also appears to have abandoned the beer ponging brand hugging chuggers that might be attracted to the incredibly well titled magazine Beer which I had a disappointed look at in the fall of 2007. But it also forsaken the extreme fringe focus of a periodical... or rather movement... like Beer Advocate magazine which I reviewed last summer. I think that this middling ground among interested beer buyers is where curiosity meets mobility and is the best bet for growth.
- Solid Production Quality: If beer is somewhat recession insulated, so are magazines. But if I am going out to treat myself on a special brew or read, I want it to be well made. And TAPS is. Heavy stock glossy paper shows off the thoughtful photography. Plenty of white space in the layout and an attractive font give it an easy feel. But these production choices also makes the typos stick out a bit more: page 8's use of "one's" for the plural faces the spelling "Itallian" in a heading. Blogs can handle that sort of thing. Glossy quarterlies can't.
- Don't Fear The Macro: Being a Maritimer, I am aware that Moosehead is a decent regional brewers of the sorts of beers I wouldn't buy anymore. But it is good that TAPS includes an interview with Andrew Oland, the owner of Canada's largest remaining independent brewery. It balances the more niche topics like the three fine food and beer articles. And the stories on specific beer bars and brewpubs is good - that is where people meet their beer as often as not.
What would I do to improve the magazine further? First, ditch the national bubble and the gold stars while still keeping the overall tone Canadian. That odd hint of neediness inherent in the Great White North shines through the sub-heading "Canada's Beer Magazine" as well as statements like "[o]ur writers are the best in Canada on the subject of beer." They do very well and I have a very merry emailing relationship with many of them but there are at least a few other good and more experienced Canadian beer writers we all can name. How about being comfortable enough in your skin just say that TAPS features some of Canada's more interesting beer writers? I can live with that.
Second, seek out the stories that might be unlike the ones readers see on the web or in All About Beer or Beers of the World, the closest US and UK comparables. Bill White's feature on his trip to Germany was fine but it is a bit like Roger Protz's recent feature on a trip to Germany in All About Beer and, worse, not likely anything 1% of the readership might ever experience. How about a regular column about making the dash south or even to the next province for the weekend or just to fill the trunk with those thousands of beers we cannot buy around the corner, something that is actually the great pastime and obsession of the Canuck strain of beer hound.
Lastly, but on a related note, has Premier Gourmet or any other border beer shop been asked to place an ad? And - while we are at it - where are the other craft brewery and provincial beer lobby association ads? An effort like TAPS is putting out needs their support as part of the larger beer scene available to the Canadian beer fan. Sadly, we seem too often to be a culture that does not truly believe a rising tide raises all boats in these sorts of situations. So, if you control that sort of ad placement decision and are reading this, consider yourself smacked in the ear if you are not supporting TAPS.
All in all, TAPS is certainly a magazine I can support even if it does not necessarily speak to me on each and every page because it aims at describing where the beer scene is in Canada now. Sure, adding a little coincidental web interactivity would be nice as well as a review that might give you a heads up that the beer in question might not be worth your time. These things should come with the maturity and accompanying security of market share that TAPS deserves.