Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Beer Advocate Now Redux - Wednesday, Mar. 3rd

Beer Advocate.

I've talked about Beer Advocate in the past. Many of you may know this. It's why my page count went from about 200 to 5000. It still gets hits every day, despite how submerged it is in not just my Twitter stream and archives but in my subconscious as well. People still care.

I still care.

In case you haven't seen it, you can read the article here. It's...how shall I put it...vitriolic. I was angry at how I and several others were treated. I put on my rant-pants and furiously cranked that bastard out with all the hellfire and brimstone I could muster. I hit "Publish Post" and let it at that. What was born as an angry post by a tiny, minuscule blogger turned onto a behemoth monstrosity of hatred and frustration. Hell, it even spawned a few Twitter accounts chronicling the entire thing. How crazy is that? But, as the comments that once so rapidly poured in stemmed from a deluge to a trickle to finally halting, I let the topic fade. I bring it back, not to pour salt in wounds but to explain and remedy.

Life is too short to hold grudges and animosity. If you've never peered back in the archives, you'll see that, at this blog's heart, it was not just something for me to keep note of what I've tasted for my own personal benefit but to keep me occupied during a terrible time in my life. As I've said before, I don't share a lot about myself on this blog so I'll open up a bit more. I am a product of modern medicine. Without it, I would not exist, as simple as that. My ailments range from the mundane (toe surgery) to the massive (spinal fusion and thoracic vertebrae replacement). I have been to hell and back and I thank whatever is up there that's helping me to "keep on truckin". I've learned at hard expense the value of the spark that is life and how rapidly and suddenly it can be snuffed out. This hard knocks school of mental and physical training has afforded me a rather circumspect view on life. Today's culture of materialism et. al. angers me. Life is too short to be focused on obtaining things. You should focus on obtaining experiences and emotions. Who gives a shit about a Nintendo Wii? Go out and see the world, explore different lifestyles, foods, art. The Wii is a piece of plastic, silicon chips, ceramics, and wasted time. Yeah, yeah. I know you're saying "But Scott! You play so many video games!" This is true but I don't play them solely for the fact of material gain in game. I don't spend all my time trying to obtain that one thing that no one else has. I simply play because I enjoy spending time with the people I've met through it. I've met fascinating people through all walks of life through games like Final Fantasy XI and Team Fortress 2. Video games are an amazing sociological environment, especially massive-multiplayer online games. But, I digress.

Life is too short to hold grudges and I will waive my grudge against Beer Advocate right here and now. I've been in contact with Jason and we both feel that life is too short to carry this on. We've agreed to put this behind us. There is no more between us than just people that enjoy good beer. However, this isn't me rescinding my opinion, no. At the core of that piece is the dislike I still have but I have been able to identify the true target. It was folly to pin the blame on Beer Advocate, pure and simple. I will explain.

What really made it clear for me was a recent article by New Brew Thursday, an online beer blog that I hold in great esteem. Using (to great effect) John Gabriel's Theory of Assholes and Anonymity, they explain what had angered me so much and that caused me to place blame on BA. If you check the comments, you'll see my post. Here it is, in it's sad splendor:


"I love this post.

I know many of you know how I feel about Beer Advocate. While my fervor has calmed quite a bit since my first incendiary post, I still stand by some of what I said. The craft community, at large, is a wonderful community of people that not just care about beer itself but all those involved in it. It is, at its core, a big family. Many home-brewers are completely willing to loan out needed stuff to budding brewers. Many seasoned beer veterans with well stocked beer larders break out the rare and aged for those that haven’t had it with a maniacal glee only seen in the craziest of crazies. Those filled with knowledge take great joy in sharing and discussing what they know. It’s a beautiful thing that so many from such different walks of life can come together and bond over something so simple as beer.

However, this is in person and unfortunately the same sentiment doesn’t always carry over online. True, there are some that go above and beyond the call of duty to the craft beer scene online and are almost more helpful than some I’ve met in person. There are also those that go above and beyond the call of duty to be snarky, rude, and difficult online. There are those that feel that if you don’t come into a situation with, not just a basic but rather advanced, knowledge then you are unfit for the community at large. It is a shame but it happens.

You know how I feel about BA but you also don’t. For years I’ve loved Beer Advocate. I first came upon it my freshman year at college. My first beer was a can of Busch Light and it was the worst thing I’d ever tasted. I couldn’t help but think: “There must be something better than this.” I did a quick search online and came across Beer Advocate. It opened my eyes. Through means of which I won’t discuss here, I procured my first bottle of craft brew: Dogfish 60 Minute. It was the second beer I ever had and I loved it. I would regularly spend hours upon hours on the Beer Advocate site, making up intricate shopping lists (much to the chagrin of one-stop shoppers). I waited patiently for three years to sign up for the forums. I respected them so much that, in the face of internet anonymity, I waited for the 21 year old age minimum. That’s how much I loved them. And, I still do to some extent.

I won’t deny what the brothers have done. They are an immense service to the craft beer community and will continue to do so through their festivals, magazine, and website. The post I wrote was hurtful, I agree and some of it was exceedingly harsh. It was not pure malice and hatred but rather hurt and betrayal at the events that had happened. Brothers, if you can here me, I won’t lie. Even after the fiasco I still visit the forums using a proxy, just to read. If you ever want to have a beer, let me know. I would willingly have a beer with you and try to fix things in the name of craft beer. I wish that things had gone better. I wish that the snide and snark on the forums was better controlled. But what can I do aside from having a beer."


New Brew Thursday is completely and astoundingly right. Beer is SUCH a humble hobby. It was born of a need to use grain and have a safe beverage that wasn't contaminated like their groundwater. It was a food for the working class in olden times. How can a hobby coming from such meek origins have people in it that continue to be huge, pompous assholes. It boggles my mind. While the Brother's run a good site, there are people on there that make it extremely difficult for newbies to use it. They are just outright vicious and hurtful to anyone that doesn't come in with a Cicerone-quality level of knowledge (not slamming Cicerone, they are awesome). For some, if you don't know the proper cave lagering temperature for a Czech pils in the 1800s before you go on there, you're shit outta luck getting aid from them. There are genuinely helpful people on there, true, but there are some major dicks on there taking hearty pulls and deep draws from their bottle of Bitch-Sass flavor Haterade (which, again NBT uses to great effect). Why? I don't understand it. I'd appreciate it if the Brothers could shift their moderating powers from repeat threads and such to curtailing this but they're only two guys.

NBT says it probably better than I can, so I'll repeat their tag-line (sorry for the cop-out guys): Advocacy for great beer starts by not being a straight up hater. And so help me, that's what I'm going to do. So, join me my fellow brethren. Put down the bottle of hatred and pick up a bottle of craft beer. Papazian says it best: Relax, have a (home) brew.

Stay classy, readers.

13 comments:

  1. I'm kind of interested in what made you backtrack. I realize you said you still hold "some" of the same opinions but at the same time there is definitely a "mending fences" tone to this update. As many of the commentators on your other post have iterated, there are plenty of us who have been dealt with smugly by the Alstrom Bros (well, mostly Todd, in all fairness to Jason).

    In fact, the way I came across your blog to begin with was by Googling "what ever happened to venom on beer advocate". This goes back to 2005-2006, the peak of my BA usage. There was a user at the time named "Venom" who was one of the most prolific contributors to the site that there ever was... literally in the top 5 reviewers and nearly omniscient when it came to chiming in on nearly every ongoing thread out there. At one point - seemingly out of nowhere - what started as a minor difference of opinion between Venom and Todd's wife/gf escalated into a name calling match where Todd's better half essentially called Venom pathetic for being one of those people who use their toddlers as avatar pics. Yeah, I know... petty, right?

    I guess I just assumed when Venom disappeared shortly thereafter that he'd deleted his account and moved on, but now I'm not so sure. For one thing, a quick check doesn't reveal any way to delete your account, and also I'm pretty sure I've seen people get banned before while the comments that got them banned remained in place. Well, there's no sign of anyone named "Venom" ever existing on BeerAdvocate.com. I couldn't find the thread that this argument took place in (I contributed to it, so it should be in my modest/easily searched backlog of posts) which also leads me to believe that the Alstroms are not above deleting stuff out of the archives that may make them look bad. In fact, even though I distinctly remember several unpleasant encounters with Todd I can't find a single damn one of them in my post history.

    My working theory is it all started with this magazine. It seemed like they started to play nice when they were soliciting subscribers, not to avoid turning away a subscriber so much as not wanting to scare off potential advertisers. I haven't used BA on any kind of regular basis since 2006 so until I read your blog I assumed they were still putting on their happy face, but apparently you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

    So my suggestion: don't back down. The only reason Todd Alstrom can afford to be so smug is because for everyone that tells him to fuck off there are 10 more yes men waiting in line to kiss his ass and tell him what a great job he's doing on the site. This is nowhere more evident than when he replies to a perfectly reasonable question or suggestion with his trademark "you're overthinking things" or "it's simple", followed by a bunch of dittos, some of which are coming from people who had espoused contrary opinions further upthread but have now come around to Todd's way of thinking. There would be no reason for such cowardice if he hadn't demonstrated a knack for ruling that site with an iron fist... you don't like the way we run things, go start your own damn website. And of course any censorship or locked threads are always chalked up to as being antithetical to the principles of advocating beer. To capitulate is to enable this man-child's dictator tendencies. Don't be that guy.

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  2. Shit, I also wanted to mention that the volume of posting on BA in 2010 is NOTHING compared to what it was five years ago. Back then there seemed to be a ton of us that basically had a tab open for BA in our browser, just hitting that refresh button and waiting for more commentary to read/reply to. Nowadays there would be no point in that because it's not unusual for one or more hours to go by between posts in the majority of threads. Plus Ratebeer fixed the main thing about their forums I didn't like, which is that there used to be no breakdown for regional scenes. Now they have breakdowns by CITY, and even if they are no busier than BA's they have at least elevated themselves to a legitimate alternative.

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  3. Anonymous: Very interesting commentary and insights. As for my post, it's true that it's rather "mending fences" but I'm not mending fences solely to look better in their eyes. Rather, I mend them in terms of craft beer on the whole. When this first came out there was a veritable shitstorm of filth and hatred that poured out from all across the ranks of beer aficionados. Hate was spewed with indiscretion and ferocity. If you doubt me, check the comments on the original post. Some of them are just down right cruel.

    I'm not cowtowing here. I still stand by my opinion that what they did is wrong and many agree with me. It was poorly handled on both accounts; mine and theirs. I put it behind me for the betterment of craft beer. I'm not saying that we're super buddy-buddy but I respect what they've done at pitching good, lovingly made beer to wider audiences and founding a valuable resource of information. Like it or not, they are a huge influence on the craft beer industry and that deserves mention. I put this behind me solely because negativity can only hurt craft beer. The bickering and in-fighting on "who's the better moralist" and "who's more righteous" helps no one and hurts everyone. What does it achieve aside from bad feelings, derision, and splitting of a community that should be banding together to bring the word that is craft beer to the masses? I put this behind me not for the sake of appeasing the higher gods of favoritism but for the sake of the industry itself. If I really wanted to appease them, I'd take the damn thing down off the website. But it's still there, isn't it?

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  4. With all due respect, that sounds like exactly the kind of rationale the Alstrom Brothers use when they want to shut you down for disagreeing with them, so it's almost like you're playing directly into their hands. I'm not at all convinced that craft beer needs to maintain an absolutely united front to survive, and though I agree with you that the Alstroms wield a certain amount of power, I'm not sure how healthy it is to willingly cede figurehead status to a repressed douchebag like Todd in lieu of other alternatives. There are plenty of issues the craft beer scene is fragmented about, not to mention any other underground "scene", so where's this overwhelming need for unity coming from?

    Besides, as you alluded to in your original post, Beer Advocate is the de facto online beer resource for one very specific reason: it got there first. Sure, they throw beer festivals in the Boston area multiple times a year, but truthfully most of their posting these days is restricted to self promotion only, so in large part they've been pretty much coasting on their own laurels for years (the last article either of them wrote for the website was 2007). And just how long are we expected to ride their jocks just for being first, anyway? Before you give them too much credit you might ask yourself why they've never broken out of the Boston market, nor ever got their endlessly talked about brewpub off the ground, if they are in fact forward thinking entrepreneurs? You wouldn't expect someone who had a long term, growth oriented vision of his company to have ever posted items that later needed to be covered up in the first place.

    But oh yes, the whole "positivity vs negativity" thing. Hippie bullshit, sorry. There are actual legitimate conversations, such as whether it's really a good thing for BMC to be getting into the craft beer game or whether they merely intend to offer minimally acceptable, "token" examples of the major styles while using their marketing clout to push the competition off the shelves... well, you don't really get to hear the dark side of that too often on the BA forums because it's "contrary to the purpose of advocating (not just craft!) beer" and, besides, it "negs" everyone out. So apparently some kumbaya circle jerk is preferable to legitimate dialog if that dialog has any chance of leading to grim conclusions. Yeah, sorry, I'm just not on board this "unity and positivity at all expense!" bandwagon. No offense.

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  5. None taken.

    Firstly, I think you're taking this far too literally. I don't want everyone proverbially sitting around a fire sharing their feelings in a peaceful environment. Healthy, constructive debate is a cornerstone to a good movement. I have absolutely no problem with the topics you mentioned. And I agree, shushing up "conflict" just for the sake of appearing passive and appeasing isn't right.

    However, I specified the debate. Across the broad spectrum, "healthy and constructive" debates don't happen. Some endeavor to actually be respectful of others on the board and share valid points and counterpoints. The majority treat it as a flame-fest, using their years of knowledge to leverage superiority over those not as experienced. What good does that do ANYONE trying to break into the craft beer community? To be shut down with insults and curses when just trying to ask a question drives people away. When I tell people I'm a beer geek, it's not a positive thing. Most of them ask if I spend my time arguing over inane points with other beer geeks online. That helps no one. It just makes us look like elitist assholes. We're slowly digging our way into the cliche "wine snob".

    As far as their prominence, I never said that they were the pinnacle of information as people. They were first and they yelled the loudest so everyone paid attention to them. This is completely true. However, just because they did this doesn't mean that they're not a good source. Themselves? No, not really. But by building a community where people could get together and SHARE? Very much so. I don't give them credit for being super knowledgeable, I give them credit for having the wherewithal to make a site where people who are knowledgeable could share with others. And what they do with their business is no concern of mine. If they decide not to pursue things as aggressively as I would, so be it. If they're complacent to just ride out on what they've got, what do I care? Not to be mean, but let them make their bed and lay in it. Maybe it'll be a feather bed. Maybe a bed of nails. Not my problem.

    What I'm pretty much saying here is: we need to stop being so goddamn petty. Some people on the BA boards (and not just the BA boards, really) are just spiteful, hate-filled people. They revel in their knowledge and lord over others that aren't as "smart" or "genius" as they are. Things like this should be weeded out. We should band together to rid the craft beer community of people like this; who only tarnish the reputation of websites and the people that care about beer. I'm not saying everyone joins hands, forms a commune, and drinks the proverbial Kool-Aid. I just want debate to be healthy and not forty posts of "YOU'RE AN IDIOT" or "LERN 2 SEARCH" or "FUCK OFF AND DIE YOU NOOB."

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  6. Yeah, I kind of see your point, but at the same time - since there was ZERO chance that the Alstroms would admit any pettiness or wrongdoing on their part - there really IS no opportunity to recapture a united front at this point... there is only BeerAdvocate.com and that twerp that dared to defy them for five seconds before getting bitch slapped back into submission by their bloodthirsty lackies. Overdramatizing to prove a point, you understand, but that's going to be public perception.

    But your own experiences with the intolerance on their forums should have been a stern lesson in the fact that there IS no compromise with a lot of them, you either follow along in slavish devotion to their wisdom or you're cast aside as a feeble noob. So if you're concerned with the craft beer scene it seems that there would be more value in vocally opposing Beer Advocate's editorial standards than there would be in uniting behind them. Is the fact that Facebook users are constantly advocating its overthrow a threat to social networking sites? No, they're as strong as ever, and furthermore FB is having to cave in to their demands, just on the sheer numbers alone. I guess what I'm saying is revolutions are not started by those who only speak when they have something nice to say. Elitists are kept in check by dragging them from their perch kicking and screaming, not by appealing to their vanity and sense of fair play.

    The wording in your original post could have afforded to be less personal, yes, but this second entry could have centered around an apology for the language and left at that; sorry, but when you use phrases like "It was folly to pin the blame on Beer Advocate, pure and simple" and "Life is too short to hold grudges" but then later reiterate that you haven't changed your position, it just comes off as the same kind of spin that politicians use when they are essentially capitulating on an issue but are trying to save face. And btw, I'm sure that fence mending conversation with Todd went something like "dude, get over it; have a beer" with no admission of error or misstep on his part.

    But hey, this is just one guy's opinion. Carry on the good work. Either you're interested in being one of the future torch bearers for the craft beer scene, in which case perhaps my hyperbole might strike a nerve, or else you just consider yourself a common blogger with no significant influence - present or future - in which case we're just rambling on about what Marlon Brandon might characterize as a "popcorn fart in the wind".

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  7. Intriguing. I agree. Do me a favor and email me (drinkreviews@gmail.com). I'm curious about a few things.

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  8. Respect goes both ways. Todd does not respect beer or its advocates. He exploits others contributions to afford himself the opportunity to not have a real job, to travel the world and drink beer, paid for in large part by the community he bans and disrespects. And why not, there are 10 asskissers for every person who points out his totalitarian regime.

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  9. BeerAdvocate has become increasingly difficult to continue visiting. It seems that everyone is very aware of the dark shadow cast by the Alstroms, and that if an opinion is stated that conflicts with theirs your account is in danger of being deleted without warning or reason.

    Many of the users that made the forums colorful and fun, have since disappeared (not sure if they were all banned or is some finally got tired of the crap and left), making BA a shell of what it was before. Sure there are still plenty of users, but the "feel" of the site is much different than it was before.

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    1. I joined last month and it's been exactly this way. Commenting on posts using any form of humor (harmless, no inappropriate pics/gifs/etc) have resulted in my posts being deleted and being sent a warning alert from Todd. He is monitoring my posts now and won't let them be posted until he approves. Dude is a giant bald douche.

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  10. I'm getting pushed to the limit with Todd myself. It's too bad too, because I dig the site. He makes the experience worse, when he really doesn't need to. Sometimes I just want to be like, "Dude, do us all a favor and get laid already!" I mean, I'be had a hair across my ass before too, but it eventually snaps. Todd's seems to me stuck forever. It's sad.

    Those posting above are right though, for anyone who calls Todd out for being a dick ten others give him a hand job. It's frustrating.

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  11. I'm JoeyBeerBelly and I've been "gassed by the Nazis" that run Beer Advocate.
    I already have a new profile and log in through a proxy server.
    I have over 1600 beer reviews under JoeyBeerBelly that I no longer have access to.
    I'm sure it's still somewhere in their database.
    I'll get them all back one way or another, brother(s).

    Cheers,
    JoeyBeerBelly

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    1. What is up JoeyBeerBelly! Has anyone noticed beeradvocate really doesn't like it when users generate a lot of content for them and become well known on the site?

      Its pure junior high at that website. The alstroms are trying to salvage their memories of not being liked in person, this is the revenge, to be jerks online. But when media wants to interview 'em, its all like "we support constructive criticism," which is the biggest lie they have ever told.

      At some point, the brown nosers will realize, he is 100% asshole.

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