Wednesday, October 18, 2006

News: Beer in Media: Jim Witmer and Eric Asimov

There has been a lot of discussion lately about mainstream media producing disappointing craft beer coverage. Jay Brooks blogs extensively about media outlets that don't understand the beer they are reviewing (see Craft Beer Defined as "Unusually Flavored", Hip Trip Trips Up on Beer Pairings, and Dowd on Beer). These outlets must sense that there is growing interest in the art of brewing, but regularly, they send the wrong people to cover the stories (very often folks with wine backgrounds who don't understand the art and craft of brewing). These stories would be comical to those of us who do understand, but for the damage they do to the promotion of craft brewing (see Brooks' and Stephen Beaumont's criticisms of New York Magazine's "Ales in Comparison").

Fortunately, there are folks who seem to get it. On the local front, Jim Witmer has published a series of beer-related features in the Dayton Daily News. Witmer, DDN photographer and avid homebrewer, captures the spirit of brewing in his articles, which range from examinations of styles (pumpkin ales, barleywines, etc.) to beer-and-cheese pairings to coverage of beer-related local events (like the Dayton Art Institute's Oktoberfest, which always features a strong line-up of excellent beers, and Minster's resurrection of a beer recipe). Witmer often pairs up with Mark Fisher, the DDN wine critic, to provide insightful articles that promote craft beer. (Excuse the lack of links--Witmer's articles before a certain date don't seem to be archived on DDN's site.)

has developed quite a following among local beer lovers. We can still support Unfortunately, the management at DDN doesn't understand the appeal of brewing quite like Witmer does. As a result, Witmer's articles are on indefinite hiatus. It's a shame, because Witmer has a strong local following. We can still support Witmer's efforts, however. He has put together a 2007 craft beer calendar featuring beautiful beer photos and accompanying style information, suggested beers, and interesting tidbits.

On a national level, the New York Times also seems to get craft brewing. Eric Asimov's regular features "Ales of the Times" and "Beers of the Times" explore various styles of beers. In each column, Asimov presents accurate and interesting context about each style. He, along with fellow NY Times critic Florence Fabricant, pair up with the likes of Garrett Oliver (of Brooklyn Brewing), Phil Markowki (of Southampton Publick House) and other beer-savvy folks to explore flights of a given style. The tasting usually include 15-25 beers, and Asimov and others comment on the top ten, offering recommendations. His most recent column covers porters, but he's also reported on barleywines, pilsners, wheat beers, lambics, farmhouse ales, Trappist ales, American pale ales, and India pale ales. The current feature, like several others in the past, is coupled with an interactive segment that further promotes the beers.

Asimov also helps to bridge the beverage divide, elevating brewing by refusing to take sides in the beer vs. wine debate. He states: "I refuse to get into a battle over whether wine or beer is superior: is painting better than sculpture?"

Craft beer growth is outpacing the other segments of the beverage industry, according to the Brewers Association. It experienced 7 percent growth two years ago, 9 percent growth last year, and is showing 11 percent growth for the first half of 2006. Clearly, more and more people are being turned on to beer as something other than something one guzzles from a keg. Let us hope that more and more journalists and media outlets will follow the lead of the folks like Witmer and Asimov and produce features that educate their readers, instead of paying lip service to the growing interest.

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