Craft Beer and Writing? Not the Unusual Pairing You Imagine
By Gail Hairston
With the notable exception of the southeast, craft beers have flooded most regions of the country in the past decade. Microbreweries, craft brews and brewpubs, large and small, have challenged the way Americans drink and think about beer.
Once regarded as a product created exclusively by traditionalists and hobbyists for self-consumption, craft beer has become one of the fastest-growing segments of alcoholic beverage sales in the United States. According to the Brewers Association, which calls itself “a passionate voice for craft brewers,” craft beer provides over 108,000 jobs, and many of the breweries and brewpubs have, in turn, helped revitalize city neighborhoods, generated new jobs in related industries, and played a key role in expanding digital and social media usage.
According to the Brewers Association, the 2015 craft beer market produced 24.5 million barrels of brew, showing a 13 percent rise in volume and a 26 percent increase in retail dollar value, amounting to about $22.3 billion, or 21 percent market share. Brewing, selling and drinking a craft beer has grown at such an astounding rate that the association even offers a handy Beer Style Guidelines for the brewer and consumer.
When Americans are that enamored with something, that personally committed to something, what do they do? They tell their friends, of course. They communicate their likes and dislikes, they critique the latest craft beer sold at the local pub, they compare, they discuss, they debate, they argue on and on. Using primarily social media, people are writing reviews of breweries, their craft, their brew, their pub, their profits, their growth, their potential; how to get started; how to attract customers; how to train servers. The list spins on and on.
For those of you who are still unsure of expressing an opinion in this heady new world, the University of Kentucky Department of Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Studies chair Professor Jeff Rice has scheduled UK’s second Craft Writing: Beer, the Digital and Craft Culture symposium. The event is only the second of its kind in America; Rice offered the first one just two years ago.
“I thought, when we organized the first craft beer writing symposium two years, it was just a fluke. But we got such a tremendous response from the public, we decided to try it again,” said Rice.
“The event showcases the professional writing — in print and digital media — dominant in the craft beer industry. Writing has played a major role in promoting the business of craft beer. The event draws interdisciplinary attention to the ways industry utilizes writing — in various digital forms — to promote, inform, highlight, argue, market, brand and foster relationships between products, consumers and other relevant parties,” he said.
“Craft Writing: Beer, the Digital and Craft Culture” features speakers Joseph Tucker, executive director of ratebeer.com; Heather Vandenengel, author of “All About Beer, Beer Advocate” with All About Beer Magazine; John Holl, editor of All About Beer Magazine; Jeremy Danner, brewer at Boulevard Brewing; Julia Herz, director of the Craft Beer Program for the Brewers Association and publisher of CraftBeer.com; and keynote speaker Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, founder of Evil Twin Brewing. The event is slated 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Sept 30 in UK’s Taylor Education Building,Room 158. It is free and open to the public. Register at http://craftwriting.AS.uky.edu.
After the symposium concludes, attendees 21 and older will be invited on an informal crawl around Lexington. Everyone is on their own, but the group will make its way to as many of Lexington’s beer spots as possible.
“Craft beer can be thought of as belonging to the other emerging artisanal movements we associate with food: farmers' markets, local food movements, small batch production,” said Rice. “Craft beer tends to emphasize similar values over the conglomerate ethos. In addition, like these movements, craft beer emphasizes flavor above all else.”
But why focus on writing about craft beer?
“All businesses engage in writing,” explained Rice, who has a book coming out in November called “Craft Obsession: The Social Rhetorics of Beer.”
“The medical profession, the diamond industry, the horse industry, the food industry, etc. They produce histories, memoirs, specific genres, insider publications, newsletters, magazines, websites, blogs, social media based writing, videos, and so on,” he said. “Craft beer, in that sense, is no different from any other industry. I, for instance, once worked as a writer in the diamond and jewelry industries. Writers are always needed because everything we do depends on print and digital communication.”
Rice’s College of Arts and Sciences Department of Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Studies focuses on the study of writing. The students study how persuasion, argument, information distribution, social media usage, web development, public policy, decision making and so on work via writing and rhetoric.
“We teach students how to enter various professions as writers,” he said. “We live in an age dominated by writing. What better way to learn about writing than from those who do it professionally?
“Craft brewers are small and have limited resources. Take the example of marketing: they don't have the budgets that InBev or Miller Coors breweries do. So, they need to adapt to using social media as a writing space in order to tell their story, generate their brand, engage with audiences, build customer relationships, and so on. This is a writing/rhetorical issue.”
Rice welcomes students to the symposium, where neither beer nor other alcoholic beverages will be served.
“For UK, this event is perfect for WRD students and faculty, but also for English, agriculture, chemistry, communication, business and other students,” he said. “Craft beer is the fastest growing segment of the food and beverage industries. Now is the time to get involved since the industry is growing and generates billions of dollars in revenue — as well as creates new jobs in related sectors (service and production).
UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: uky.edu/uk4ky. #uk4ky #seeblue