October 31st 2019
It’s Halloween and I’m scared. Not by the intricately ghoulish decorations festooning most of the homes, bars and restaurants around the city of Austin, and not even of the grim, depressing change in the weather (although I can’t say I’m looking forward to it). I’m scared about being a beer writer. Particularly, I’m scared about being a rubbish beer writer, and inaccurate beer writer, an irrelevant beer writer or just a plain ol unread beer writer, which is surely the scariest.
Beer writing, like all writing and, in fact, brewing, is subjective. Of course, there are rules with writing, as with brewing, as to what constitutes readable/drinkable and what can only be described as a waste of resources, but even these are relatively flexible these days (style guides can prescribe essential characteristics but do not account for individual palates) so ultimately a lot of the value of our output is decided by the kindness (see judgement) of strangers. That’s pretty scary. I prefer beer to words, absolutely no question – it’s much less scary and much more fun, but if I were a brewer I would certainly experience some of the same anxieties I have as a beer writer: is the balance of ingredients correct? Am I overusing, underusing or misusing key elements? Have I forgotten something crucial, or I have I overcomplicated everything and gotten myself into a tangle? And the scariest question of all – will anybody actually like it? Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’ve gravitated towards beer writing – the shared experience of creator and critic – or maybe it’s just that I really, really like beer.
It would be both naïve and foolish to deny that we have a glut of writers in the beer world, so many so that I can easily while away entire days reading the beery outpourings of my fellow beer bloggers without lifting a finger to my own work, and getting scared by the competition. It’s a heck of a lot easier, and much less scary, to read than it is to write, to imbibe rather than create. And it’s particularly scary to ponder the point of committing so much of my time, energy, and effort into working on blog posts that will only be read by a handful of people – surely I should just give up and leave this beer-writing malarkey to the experts, such as they are?
As a beer writer, I feel that I tread a fine balance between sharing honest opinions that may be unpopular and wanting to be accepted into the industry. My opinion is, after all, just my opinion, and while I try to make fair and considered appraisals, opening my thoughts up to external criticism from folks who may well be far more qualified than I am is really very scary. I am a beer drinker, a traveller, an explorer with endless experience of appraising beers, service, décor, value for money and atmosphere, but I do not hold a Cicerone or similar. Without a formal qualification, are my writings just the irrelevant ramblings of a random boozy brown lady? That’s a pretty scary thought.
I often feel I walk on eggshells looking for something new to say that is authentic, worrying about finding ways to expand my beer vocabulary without sounding like a pretentious moron. Looking for different words and phrases to adequately describe beers, places and experiences that may actually be quite similar to make for more interesting writing, to be a better writer. Knowing how often I get this wrong, that’s pretty scary – and yet I keep trying. Writers, it is often said, write because they can’t not write. It is a calling, a divine existential need to put pen to paper (as was) and express themselves regardless of the size, nature or opinion of their audience. I’m not really sure that I buy that. Like a lot of other beer writers, I suffer from anxiety, which surely makes us into a bunch of masochists when writing can be such an anxiety-inducing process?! Why do we do it then? For me, it is partly a desire to catalogue my experiences in a way that opens them up to other people – to let folks know about the amazing beers and taprooms I’ve discovered and encourage them to have their own beery adventures. But why me? I guess because of all the many beery voices that I hear, I rarely have my own experiences reflected back. Whether it’s my femaleness, my brownness, my Britishness in America or Asian-ness in Britain or just my general weird multi-ethnic, multi-cultural status, I have found a scary absence of voices articulating experiences such as I have them. Which raises another scary question – does anyone even want to know? Is the absence of voices like mine indicative of a lack of demand, a space that does not, in fact, need filling because there’s no one there? And would I find beer writing as scary if I was a white male, if I knew for sure there was a place in the beer world for me? That’s a heck of a lot of stuff to be scared about.
In even the scariest of Halloween movies, you eventually become less scared. You acclimatise to the thumping music, the building tension and the next big shock – but if you turn it off after the first five minutes you miss out on all the fun. This Halloween, I’m going to try to be less scared, to keep on writing, to keep it together and be brave in the face of those inevitable pitch rejections and unread blog posts, to push on through the movie and get to the fun bits. Wish me luck, but please don’t ask me about pumpkin beers…