Social media is often used as a forum to criticise beer, or to titillate with supposed cases of bad practice by breweries, be they ethical or technical. This post from Mark Johnson is a common sense lesson in how breweries should respond to such criticism. However, how should we beer geeks express that criticism in the first place?
With the explosion of new breweries over the last five years or so, many stand accused of treating quality control as a secondary consideration (at best), eager as they are to get a slice of the artisanal pie. I’ve no doubt that this is the case when it comes to some breweries – what matters is whether you believe they deserve a period of grace, or whether you feel they are obliged to get it right from the get-go. I tend to forgive a young brewery the occasional carbonation issue. Some will feel that makes me a mug – and they may have a point. If the issue persists, then it becomes a problem, and if and when it does, here’s how I feel it should be dealt with: contact the brewery privately and offer them a right to reply. If you are satisfied, the matter is at an end. If no response is forthcoming, or you are given short shrift, then you are entitled to go public – Twitter, Facebook or sandwich board if you like. Social media is fantastic at eliciting change, especially when reputations are compromised and profits diminished. The last time I had a genuine issue with a beer (and not simply a matter of taste) was when four bottles of IPA I bought at London Brewers’ Market turned out to be completely flat and went down the sink. I sent the brewery a direct message via Twitter and got a response, stating that they were re-assessing the priming procedure, along with the offer of a gratis beer (which I didn’t take them up on).
As far as Twitter goes, I’ve seen people critique a beer, naming and shaming, but without the brewery’s Twitter handle included. I don’t know if the breweries were contacted directly prior to such tweets, and maybe those involved didn’t feel obliged to do so. However, I believe it’s only fair. The response should be the same for the issue contained in the above Twitter link, which is an intriguing titbit: put the assertion to the brewer giving them the right to reply, and if none is received then make the information public – the above issue is both a technical and ethical one, if true.
Finally, another question to ponder, and one concerned with the issue of objectivity in the beer world. As beer geeks, we are all involved in the industry, to a greater or lesser extent. We all have our favourite breweries, and may even be on friendly terms with members of the team. How does this affect (if at all) our willingness to call out poor practice or plain bad beer?