Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Wikio Rankings Preview - May 2011

I'm delighted to present the Wikio rankings again this month, if only because it means that everyone is guaranteed to pop in here for a sneaky peek. So before I reveal the rankings, let me abuse that position by saying a few words about the peculiar CAMRA-related argument that's been raging on the blogs for the last few days.

I'm amazed at everyone's reactions to that speech by Colin Valentine. I'm amazed in so many ways. Firstly, I'm amazed that Valentine felt moved to not only comment on the blogging scene, but that he felt so hostile about it. The reason I'm surprised is that overall, beer blogging is still a pretty niche activity, as is drinking 'craft' beer, and I'm amazed that he felt threatened enough to comment.

I'm not saying that I don't enjoy the 'craft' beer scene in the UK. Hey, I make my living from it, and believe me, I don't do what I do for the money, I do it because I'm fascinated by the seemingly endless variety of tastes and textures that beer offers. But do I think I'm any more important because of that, or for having written a book, or for having won a few awards? Of course not. I'm immensely proud of them, but I'd like to think that I've always had a slightly inflated of opinion of myself that was merely reinforced by these achievements.

I'm also amazed by so many bloggers' complete misunderstanding of what CAMRA is, and how it works. CAMRA is a consumer organisation, and is composed of members who guide the direction that CAMRA goes in. Even if you ignore the fact that CAMRA is de facto about promoting cask ale, everyone seems to have missed the point that CAMRA isn't a top-down organisation. Colin Valentine isn't some Dr. Evil at the head of an organisation, issuing edicts for his minions to follow, he's a mouthpiece for the organisation.

CAMRA is directed by its members, and the sort of people who turn out and vote for motions at CAMRA meetings are actually people like you and I - people who care passionately about something. Sure, the things we and they care about are worlds apart, but you know what? That's life. Not everyone will agree with everything you say. And saying 'CAMRA needs to change' is to fundamentally miss the point. CAMRA's never going to change unless its members want it to change, and if you want it to change, then join, be active, campaign, educate, but just don't expect to do that only by blogging. While electronic media may be a great force for communicating opinions, removing the publishing machine between the author and the reader, that doesn't mean that blogging is a silver bullet in educating people about beer. Preaching to the converted is easy.

Personally, I thought what Valentine said was pretty mean-spirited, and in an ideal world, he'd be censured by the membership. Curiously, the membership haven't called for him to be removed from office, perhaps because they either (a) agreed with what he said, or (b) weren't really listening that closely and don't really care. I'd warrant that it's mostly (b), with a bit of (a) derived from the way that he framed his comments and equated keg beer with craft beer. He's talking bollocks, of course, and should be taken to task about it. By who, mention no names, but follow my eyes... [*looks at the BSF bar*]

So what do you do? Publicly moan some more about how shit CAMRA are? Great work. You poked the sleeping dog and it bit you. Deal with it, but don't moan about it to me, because I'm not interested. Colin Valentine made some noisome remarks, but CAMRA didn't. If any of the broadsheets were one tenth as receptive to new beer writers as What's Brewing and Beer are, and paid as well or as promptly, I'd be delighted. And if the top 100 beer blogs had one tenth of the audience that What's Brewing and Beer has, I'd be delighted. Funny how nobody ever comments on what a great magazine Beer has has become in the last couple of years. In terms of nurturing new talent, and giving bloggers a 'real world' outlet, it's unparalleled. Which brings us neatly back to beer blogs, which is why you're all here, and how I've tricked you into visiting.

So anyway, here are the Wikio rankings for May. Remember - play nice, love each other, and drink good beer in all its many forms of dispense.

1Pete Brown's Blog
2Pencil & Spoon
4Beer Reviews
5Master Brewer at Adnams
6Are You Tasting the Pith?
7Tandleman's Beer Blog
8The Good Stuff
9Rabid About Beer
10Ghost Drinker
11Cornet Speculator
12Raising the Bar
13The Pub Curmudgeon
14Real Brewing at the Sharp End
15The Wine Conversation
16Called to the bar
17Drinking Outside The Box
18Bordoverview Blog

Ranking made by Wikio


  1. The most cogent post I've read on the overwrought topic.

    I could have done without the rankings stuff, though ;-) Why I'm still there is a mystery. I'm sure someone else would rather have their moment of false glory.

  2. Another properly reasoned response. What is your suggestion to BSF though?

  3. Simon - I'm fluent in html - I can redirect your link to a site of your choosing?

    Steph - I'm merely suggesting that there are certain influential CAMRA members who might both have the ear of Valentine and not be unfamiliar with the charms of beers other than cask beers, and that they may have something to do with the BSF bar *taps nose*

  4. Once I'd googled cogent and realised it's not an insult it turns out Scoop's right!

  5. I must agree the mass rattles out of prams about a carefully selected excerpt from a speech did make me raise an eyebrow or two but I couldn't be bothered to write anything serious about it.

    And I've always thought Beer the magazine has been great. Except the home brewing articles, they're not.

  6. I'd love to make a long and cogent response about why Colin said what he said but I'm not inside his head. However, I'm fairly sure he, like many others, had got fed up with some, not all, bloggers and their disrespect for what CAMRA has done.
    It may well be that he's over reacted to an insignificant perceived slight but it does get tedious to hear that CAMRA is irrelevant as it doesn't campaign for 'craft' beer. As you rightly say that's not what CAMRA is about, it's name tells you what it does campaign for. Most CAMRA members would prefer cask ale any day, but the idea that that's all we drink is laughable. CAMRA was formed because of the real and imminent threat to cask ale in the UK in the 70's, it may well be that the threat has diminished but we should ever be on our guard. Is everyone really convinced that Molson has the future of Sharps cask ales close to it's cold heart?
    So, why hasn't Colin been taken to task? At the AGM he was speaking, mainly, to an audience that agreed with him that cask is best, and who probably never, ever read any blogs. So it was a bit like shooting fish in a barrel and maybe of less interest than which bar to head to in the evening.
    As you so rightly say "You poked the sleeping dog and it bit you. Deal with it" no babies were burnt and no goats sacrificed.
    And if wasn't for being up to my eyes in painkillers, after a tooth extraction, I'm sure I'd have made less of a rambling response.

    Your man behind the BAF bar (Bieres Avec Frontieres).

  7. Yes, top post, Zak. Glad someone "gets it".:)

  8. I'll take the 'false glory!' - Woooooo!!!

  9. Really, honestly, Ian, who cares about what beer bloggers think? We're just talking among ourselves. And if a tiny handful of actually pretty uninfluential people have dissed Camra (not that anyone has shown me any evidence of this), so what? Is that a reason to rant about how all beer bloggers are only interested in the next new beer? Not, I think.

  10. Really, honestly, Martyn, who cares what Colin Valentine thinks about beer bloggers?

  11. Seriously, this was an excellent post, supplying a bit of much-needed balance. If Colin V.'s remarks were symptomatic of anything, it's a communication breakdown between CAMRA and (some) beer bloggers - and that's not going to be remedied by all concerned retiring to their bunkers and grumbling.

  12. Martyn - I think it would have to be someone pretty influential to rattle Valentine so much, and I'd be surprised if the whole thing doesn't rotate around this post by Pete, the comments that follow it, and all of the blog posts that various bloggers posted around that time (I'd reference them now, but I've only got 50 minutes to write this AND get the family dressed and out the door). While Pete works very hard to maintain an even hand, some of the comments there are a bit zealous. And there are plenty of blogs written by other bloggers (who are Wikio Top 20, for what it's worth) around that time that say similar things - who can resist a good meme?

  13. I think this is more or less what I've been saying all along and for years. And Pete does have a pop more than most.

    What surprises me most however, is the give it but can't take it thing.

    Hopefully though we can move on. Until the next time.

  14. From my perspective I don't think any blogger is upset. I think most are having a good snigger into their half pint of kegged double black, obscure spirit cask aged, cocoa infused, Belgian style, oxymoronic, freeze distilled, limited edition IPA.

    Moreover, the brewers like me who have found that the traditional cask market is saturated are also loving it.

  15. Thanks for that link Zak, as I've said in other places I'm only an occasional browser of Beer Blogs and tend to be selective when I do, and I've only responded to the Valentinegate affair on those that I do read.
    Martyn has, elsewhere, agreed that it's more that 'some' beer blogs that are dire and I think that's where a lot of the impressions about Bloggers comes from.
    Nobody could accuse me of not being all embracing in my attitude to beer, having previously managed BSF for 5 years I've been instrumental in expanding beer horizons for 1000's of visitors to GBBF. I first worked on 'the Foreign Beer Table' at GBBF in 1982, and when BSF really took off in the mid 90's we were fighting, almost constantly, against some of the grey beards who wanted us out. We were known as the Militant Wing of CAMRA and we were proud to be entryists and successfully gain a significant profile within CAMRA & GBBF. But we were focused specifically on the International perspective rather than the UK (save for the declaration of Fulham as an Independant State). But we didn't succeed by being disrespectful of what CAMRA has achieved.

    Oh, and that motion at Conference referenced in Pete's blog was, if memory serves me right, to stop wine being sold at beer festivals.

  16. Lucid as ever, bringing a bit of perspective to the whole comical affair.

  17. Ian - I'm aware of your role, hence the subtle eye-rolling towards the BSF bar. BSF started as a table did it? From small acorns, etc.

  18. BSF is one of the main reasons I visit GBBF, getting a glass of De Molen dispensed from a oversized barrel by no other than Menno Oliver was a very exciting moment last year.

    Sorry for moving this even further off-topic but I can't be arsed with all that CAMRA bashing he-said-she-said stuffanonsense.

    Back to Wikio ratings... I moved down to 20th but am still holding on for dear life. Kinda nice to rub-shoulders with the cream of the Bloggerati. Mr G Writer is still rockin' and a rollin' at 10th place, DAMN you for turning down my offer to write for HopZine all those months back... that should have been ME!

  19. If only CAMRA would make "Beer" available to non-members.

  20. Martyn when you charmingly said I was talking parnoid bollocks over at Pencil and Spoon I pointed out some of the usual suspects.

  21. What are these Wikio rankings meant to tell us? Are they supposed to represent writing quality, blog popularity, representation outside the community, or are they just a bit of fluff?

  22. Jeff they do — you can buy it, but why should it be free to non members, I don’t get Saga I have to rely on my mum’s copy. (And BTW the way the only reason I want Saga is to try and get some features with them, they pay well.)

  23. Rob - don't you mean that should have been 'us'?

  24. Denzil Vallance2 June 2011 at 18:09

    Zak. Good blog. It reminds me of Frankie boyle's Vegetarian Option joke. "Excuse me, is there a vegetarian option?" "Of course there is, you can f*ck off."

    The point of this "Keg revolution" thing is
    a) It isn't happening
    b) If it is going to happen it doesn't need CAMRA to promote it.
    c)If CAMRA starts to promote keg big business will destroy CAMRA.

    Getting people into cask is a great way of getting them into the craft beer scene where they will experiment with keg and bottles if they wish.

    My only gripe with CAMRA's direction is that it promotes bottled beers and cider. I like and consume bottled beers and cider (And keg beers) but they aren't real ale. Those with the promotion of these drinks categories at heart should take the vegetarian option and start their own campaigns.

    Ultimately there is only one reason for a licensee who cared about beer quality to choose a given beer in keg rather than cask (Given the choice) and that is that it wouldn't sell fast enough to go through 9gall in a week. What craft beer wouldn't be better if it had undergone secondary fermentation in the cask? (I can still taste the DeRanke Gouldeburg(sp) that I had on cask at the Jemmy hirst. It was gorgeous.) All he has to do is keep everything clean, close the tap and hard peg every night and the beer will get better and better every day till it goes off. If it's in cask.

    We throw 2 litres of brewdog keg product a week away during line cleaning and 50 litres lasts about 3 months. So we're selling 4 pints a week. £2.90 a pint for Punk IPA. We can sell a 9 of it in a night on cask. Vive la revolution!

    Dave: Cask ale market saturated? Not from where I'm standing. According to the Cask Ale report locally produced cask ale sales have been growing very fast for years and continue to do so.

    Jeff: I recall a certain erstwhile beer blogger/brewer bemoaning that SIBA wouldn't divulge the prices payable on the Direct Delivery Scheme to him so he could decide whether to join. I explained that this was commercially sensitive information, the result of deals done by SIBA on behalf of it's members. To divulge it to a non member would be unethical being unfair on all those subscription paying members and probably a breach of contract with the pubcos. Beer magazine is published by CAMRA for its members. Same kinda thing. Just pick one up off a CAMRA member's bog floor. ;)

  25. Right on, Zak. I enjoy lots of beer blogs to bridge the gap between pints but the recurring them and us theme seems unproductive. I've just joined CAMRA after years of not thinking it worthwhile - maybe it can be changed from within (although in big old creaky national organisation based on decision by committee it could take a while). I was convinced by a chat with a branch chairman who didn't try to recruit me, he just enthused about the beer. He recognised that CAMRA's communications channels needed to reflect the changing demographic of beer drinkers and spoke about how he relied upon newer (younger) members to keep things moving at a local level at least.

  26. Ian - I'm at loss to understand who are these people that doubt Molson Coors' commitment to Sharp's; certainly not anyone at Molson Coors or the team at Sharp's. We have already invested significantly in the brewery at Rock and in recruiting new people to the team there - you are very welcome to come to Rock and see for yourself, you'll find our heart is very warm and welcoming.

  27. Ghostie - I'll take all the false glory n'all! highest ranking for me - all at the cost of a few out of joint noses. Cheap really. ;-D

  28. Some good points there, Zak.

    I know in my gut that the kind of English real ale CAMRA set out to preserve is, when well served, the best beer in the world. I first traveled to the U.K. in the early 1980's. That was hardly 10 years after CAMRA started, many of the old regionals now gone were still in business. And the beers were phenomenal. (Once again I am discounting beers served badly, and incidentally you can run into bad keg beer too!). I came to them after tasting some of the early U.S. craft brewing efforts. Good as many were, the English beers swamped them. They were more complex and stylish, better tasting (again, in general). Sure, the odd English regional or brewery-specific taste did not appeal, but even the beers from large producers (like Courage) were superb.

    In my trips to England since then, I've found the scene, at least in London, less good. There is more choice certainly than before, but that classic English taste I recall from the early 80's seems less prevalent. Of course Fuller is still great, and I lucked into a well-served cask White Shield which was amazing, but I encountered numerous real ales with pungent American piny tastes, or which were cloudy (which I never saw in the 80's), or which were flavoured with ginger, herbs or coffee. These were just not as good as what I remembered from the 80's and then finally (on a recent trip) I had an Old Hooky near Borough Market and I said there it is, that's it, that classic fruity subtle moreish taste from my first trip.

    I think CAMRA is more important than ever. I have no issues with foreign beer stands at festivals or broader beer coverage afforded in its publications, but English real ale should in my view remain its promotional focus otherwise a unique profile of beer - not just a process but a taste - will I fear become hard to find if not lost, ultimately.


  29. Anon - the Wikio rankings are a measure of how well the blog is linked to from other sources - essentially, a measure of popularity that doesn't take traffic into account

    Lorraine - I have mixed feelings about CAMRA - I like parts of it, and dislike other parts. Overall, if it get's people thinking about the toic - beer - then I'm all for it.

    Gary - I think you're unintentionally conflating two of the arguments - that cask ale is a style of beer (it's not, it's a mode of dispense) and that CAMRA are pro- best bitter (again, they just champion a mode of dispense). While it's true that the classic English ales 9and Old Hooky is a great favourite of mine) are singular to British brewing, the wealth of flavour offered up by new world hops and a generation of British brewers keen to experiment and be influenced is something we should be celebrating, not complaining about. If ordinary brown beer was threatened by these newcomers, then I'd be up in arms, but I don't see any sign of that happeneing.

  30. Points taken Zak but I'd point out that when CAMRA got started, bitter and mild ales, made entirely or mainly from English materials, were the main types of cask beer available, with bitter the more popular form (nationally). So, preservation of the existing real ale types - of existing tastes, in effect - was the goal.

    Of course, this doesn't rule out new cask flavours, indeed one can argue that a cask porter, say, was a new flavour when it came back since porter was not being sold when CAMRA began. However, most cask porter, until perhaps recently, that I tried in England was made in a traditional way and fit in well I would say to the bitter-mild-old ale matrix.

    I am all for diversity, and I fully agree that real ale made with, say, U.S. hops is fully real ale and within CAMRA's definition. Really I am suggesting though, that in the fervor to welcome new tastes, we should not forget the old and the classic - it was these, I feel, which were so good that they were able with CAMRA's great efforts to resist the tide of keg beer and lager. I am not sure that would happen if half the cask sold was APA-style, in other words, given too how modern keg is much better than the old (i.e., when unpasteurized and made with a decent amount of malt and hops). Maybe I am wrong.



Sorry about the word verification - the blog was getting spammed to bits.