My First Mistake…

Was not following my gut instinct and saying, “None for me, thanks.”

I’d done it several times in that weekend prior to the moment in question, and I’d go on to do it several more moments after. So what made this moment special; that I should have declined and did not?

Mostly, a series of expectations, new-ness, and trying to fit in with the crowd around me.

There I was at Beer Bloggers Conference, sitting down to the “live beer blogging” session. “The premier event of the Beer Bloggers Conference,” live beer blogging is “a fast-paced, fun event that is sort of like speed dating with brewers”. The goal is to give a brewery five minutes to sample a beer out to a selection of bloggers/tweeters, and to answer questions and discuss the beer or the brewery or anything else. It’s supposed to be a little chaotic and a lot fun.

It’s NOT supposed to put one in an ethical quandary, but that’s where I found myself. The first or second beer up at my table was Rogue Ales’ Marionberry Braggot. And my initial instinct was to decline it, because I don’t want to support Rogue Ales. It started with this job ad that was posted to Craigslist back a couple of years ago. (I re-found it by Google searching and hitting upon this Reddit thread.) It’s pretty clear to me that’s a toxic set of expectations: being on call 24/7; placing company before career; and perhaps most tellingly, doing the work of several full-time positions for less than even one of those positions should be paid in the Portland Metro Area. Unfortunately, over time and from former employees and the internet, I’ve heard that this is not abnormal for Rogue. I don’t want to support a company that’s awful to its workers, so I have (mostly) not purchased Rogue’s beers since that ad came to my attention. The exception being the one time I visited a friend (who is up to her ears in PhD work and couldn’t leave campus) at the only pub on her campus, a Rogue pub.

That said, I also didn’t want to be the odd person at the table. I didn’t want to be “rude.” I didn’t want to make waves…

These days, I realize I should have. They didn’t have to be big waves. I could have just said, “Oh, no thanks. None for me.”

My second mistake came from my first. I shouldn’t have tweeted about it. But once I’d tried the beer, I felt obligated… I mean, that’s how this whole “session” (exchange, let’s be honest) works.

It’s funny. I’ve been contemplating this post for a very long time. Since August 2014, really. Basically ever since the confluence of the above BBC session, of attending the ethics panel (specifically) at 2014 BBC (which had happened mere hours before), and my good friend Angelique commenting on my unexpected behavior.

The ethics panel at BBC last year was really good. Alan McCormick of Growler Fills was the moderator (and, frankly, strongest panelist), but there were some interesting comments all around. Unfortunately, the one that stuck out most to me was the comment from one panelist (and I do not recall who) that readers just assume bloggers get everything or most everything for free, and so you didn’t really need to make a point about calling that out.

I tweeted about it at the time, mostly thinking that I had only only ever attend/received one thing due to my blogging. But then I had the experience above, and it really drove home the point.

Free changes the dynamic. This doesn’t mean someone can’t give an honest write-up, and I don’t want to say otherwise. But, particularly in luxury items like beer, when it doesn’t cost you, it’s easier to be less critical about something.

Since that panel and the almost immediate moment after where I was trying to meet what felt like an “obligation,” it’s really been on my mind. And, frankly, it’s been easy to think about without implementation, because I hadn’t been offered anything free since. Until last night, when someone emailed me to offer me a guest spot, due to the blog, at a new event. I am mulling it over, and am likely to accept. But my BBC experiences, in particular, have made me very cognizant of the need to consider costs (all costs, not just money) and value. And I’ll be carrying that awareness with me if I do another event.

When I met Jared Rouben, now of Moody Tongue, he was the brewmaster of Goose Clybourn and was running their beer academies most months. One of his most common questions was a two-part whammy. “Would you buy this beer?” “With your own money?”

It matters. And while you don’t have to buy beer/tickets/whatever to be able to give a good assessment of the beer/event/whatever, if you don’t carry awareness with you, it’s going to be impossible to exercise good judgement.

Such as saying, “None for me, thanks.”

You may recall I had to write two posts as a citizen blogger to get the most discounted rate for Beer Bloggers Conference 2014. I wrote both of them after the con. This year, as part of the point for BBC is to drive attendees, many of us have been invited to write one of our posts in advance. This post, though one I’d intended to write for awhile, qualifies as such. So please know that I am writing about ethics and, serendipitously, this post requires an ethics disclosure.

1 Especially because this is egregiously incorrect advice for bloggers. The FTC makes this very clear; bloggers need to disclose anything and everything. For a more easy to read version, check out what WIRED has to say on the subject. Special thanks to my friend Kelly for pointing out that this isn’t just a common sense or common courtesy thing (which I was thinking), but an actual law.

2 thoughts on “My First Mistake…

  1. Great piece! I never gave all this that much thought in regard to Rogue, because in general I find their beer drinkably unoffensive, but have never been excited by anything I’ve had of theirs. The job posting I’d not seen, and my biggest reaction is to laugh. Revolutionaries?! And what do they consider the thousands of other breweries making amazing beer? It’s similar to when Arcade Fire had a “formal attire” dress code on their last tour. I still listen to Arcade Fire and will still choose Rogue over Bud Light, but I generally tune out anyone who takes themselves that seriously and who has that little humility or perspective.

    • I’m sure the “revolutionaries” idea came from when they were founded. It turns out that 1988 was a huge year for craft brewing, in some ways, because a number of really big name breweries got their start then, and there weren’t many at the time. Rogue, of course, was one of them. Perhaps it was a “revolutionary” idea at the time.

      The problem, of course, is that they are very much closer to “status quo” for most craft beer geeks, and becoming more and more so even in the mainstream. Lots of big “micro” brewers are having that trouble now. Clinging to the idea is toxic.

      It, as you say, lands you in a place where it’s obvious you lack perspective and possibly humility.

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