In the latest Beeradvocate magazine, Andy Crouch takes issue with beer writers who receive money, trips, beer, or other items from the subjects they write about. Crouch’s concern is with conflict of interest. Crouch notes that
In an age where conflicts of interest and areas of bias blur lines in ways greater than ever before, disclosure at a minimum is key.
I, thus, must confess and offer full disclosure. In all of the times I’ve written this blog, and in all the times I have not written to this blog (note the few and far in between posts over the last year or so), I have received free beer from the industry three times, and twice out of that amount, the gifts were from Kona. That reminds me, I owe Kona a positive blog post.
Now that I have made full disclosure, I don’t feel any better. I don’t feel any better because such disclosure will not likely get me any closer to free beer. I welcome getting free beer and beer trips. I welcome any brewery that wants to fly me out to its hop farm or brewery or yeast lab or favorite place to hang out to do so. I welcome any brewery whose employees remember my name. Hell, I welcome any brewery open early in the afternoon so that I can get a beer before I pick up my kids from school.
Crouch is a lawyer. I am a professor (and, ahem, chair of my department). We are both professionals. As professionals, we should share information so that we may learn from one another. That said, I ask Andy: Where can I get some free beer? It’s not that I cannot afford beer; I can (I’m not proud of how much beer I have purchased this week alone). It’s not that I cannot find good beer; I can (I’m not proud of the amount of time and attention I pay to new releases or taps). It’s just that. . . well . . . humans have a thing for free shit. And, as far as I know, I am partly human.
Free beer, like any free shit, confirms some type of insider status. If a brewery sends me free beer or offers me a junket or lets me even hang out in the brewery and share a beer or two, that sense of “free” indicates specialness. Within any geek culture (and craft beer is a center piece of geekness), feeling special among the gods and goddesses whose essence makes up that culture elevates one’s stature within the crowded masses of people huddled against the bar. “Hello. I’m different from all of you.” The same result also occurs with one’s wife (“THEY KNOW YOU. I guess this beer nonsense isn’t such a waste of time!”). The result of receiving such goodies and eventual status, of course, is not to hide it (as if one does not want to disclose getting free beer). The result, in the age of new media, is to share getting free shit. Free, as in free beer, the open source movement used to say. Only now, we can update such a declaration with “free, as in free beer once I share this information on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter with all you losers who did not get the free shit.” Full disclosure? Social media is the compulsion of full disclosure for almost anything, including receiving free beer. Full disclosure on social media, by another name, is bragging.
As an academic, I am familiar with less notable freebies that either come in the mail or are given out at conferences: textbooks (straight into the recycling bin), pens (for taking beer notes!), tote bags (for beer!), and other unremarkable items. I am not familiar with the notable freebie. There is no reason to fully disclose or brag receiving another textbook that looks like the previous thousand. With beer, it’s different. Nothing notable is free. I buy, trade (which is reverse buying), and ask other people to buy for me beer. Trading is getting more difficult to do (notice not one response to my offer to trade Alpha Kong the other day!), and asking others makes me squeamish (“Anything I can bring back for you?” Yes. How big is your trunk?). I look at my own credit card bills, so I’m safe there. The best things in life, beer, are not in fact free.
Neither is status. To get free beer, to get insider status such as that Crouch wants disclosed, one pays. One pays with time (more regular blogging about beer), beer reviews (the one genre I find silly), effort (establishing and maintaining connections), and work (running a professional site or beer writing business, running a local fair or beer event, etc.). I’m obviously not paying for that status with a blog post every now and then or with a job that has nothing to do with beer (but does have me sign a lot of forms and throw unsolicited textbooks in the recycling bin).
One last full disclosure: I do share my beer life online for free. Facebook (in private beer groups), Instagram (photographing and sharing pictures of almost every new beer I drink), and Twitter (tweeting Rate Beer reviews). I’m already disclosing my – not freely received beer – image as a craft beer drinker. I’m freely disclosing some part of my identity (and when I write “academic” here, I freely disclose another part). Such is the nature of social media, whether we like it or not. We are constantly sharing something – for free. We know, we appreciate, we get jealous, we become pissed off, we irritate each other online – for free. My lack of blogging this last year has nothing to do with privacy or a desire to withhold disclosure. It has to do with time and being too busy to write here. Believe me, not only do I want to receive free shit, I want my shit to be free, too.
So. . . in other words. . .. how do I get some free beer anyway?