The Trouble with Free Beer

I was reading a funny entry over at Make Mine Potato the other day. They were begging to receive some free beer like Don and I do from time to time. To them I say be careful of what you wish for, because with free beer comes great responsibility. 

I have several “free”  beers in my fridge from three different brewers at the moment.  While that sounds like a cool thing (and it is), it’s also a little stressful.  Because I like drinking beer more than I like reviewing beer.

If you’ve ever done an official beer review, you know it takes some doing.  You have to get the beer to the proper temperature, find a glass that’s clean and somewhat appropriate for the style of beer, take a picture of the pour, take notes on the nose, the taste, the mouthfeel, the finish, your conclusions, etc., etc., etc.  It’s a fun thing to do, but it’s also work, and sometimes (most times, actually) I just feel like drinking without all the fuss.

But that doesn’t mean that I can just mindlessly suck down the beers people send – that wouldn’t be fair.  If you send me a beer, I’m going to respect your initiative by giving it my full attention, just not the moment it arrives.

So now my fridge is full of beers that are waiting for my attention, constant reminders that I’m falling behind in my “work.” Eventually I’ll rave about the great ones, blast the bad ones (you’ve been warned) and leave the mediocre ones unsung, for no one wants to hear about average beer.  But for now they just sit there stressing me out a bit every time I reach around them in search of a bubbly delight that I can pop open and enjoy without having to think about it.

I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re a stand up guy like I am, just like lunch, there’s no such thing as a “free” beer.

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35 Comments on “The Trouble with Free Beer”

  1. February 16, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    yeah I know the feeling. Although I think I’m more anxious to get to the reviewing. I rarely review more than one beer in a calender day and when I have free time I think “why not spend all day knocking out these beer reviews?”

    Do you guys actively pursue breweries and ask for samples to be reviewed or do you let the breweries come to you? I know some vloggers than spam every brewery begging for free beer and more often than not they get it. To me that seems a bit like “cheating.” To me, half the fun of being a beer nerd is going to the beer store and looking around and talking with the guys there. It’s why I’d rather go to a comic book store than simply buy stuff off ebay.

    Have you ever given a free beer a bad review and then that brewery stopped sending you stuff? happens to me a lot ,lol

    good blog guys.


    • Don
      February 16, 2011 at 11:28 am #

      Chad, we don’t ask. The closest we come is when an ad agency offers on twitter or facebook, and then we have to say “sure send us some”. But to just send out requests for beer or whiskey seems a little too disingenuous to us.

    • February 16, 2011 at 11:47 am #

      My problem is I now rarely drink during the week, leaving the weekend for reviews. But on the weekends, I just want to chill out, which gets in the way of reviews. Plus I’ve been out of town for the past few weekends, and that has really put me behind.

      The only time I ever asked for beer from a brewery was Sam Adams a couple of month ago before Infinium launched. We were coming up first on Google for all “Infinium” keyword searches, but hadn’t had a chance to taste the beer because it hadn’t launched yet (we had a news-only piece about it that Google loved for some reason). I wrote an email to Sam Adams asking for a sample before it launched so we could have a first-hand review of the beer on the site, as we were the #1 source for Infinium info on the web. Sam Adams passed it on to their PR folks, but we never heard back.

      Other than that, it’s been offered and we always say yes.

      So far we haven’t received anything awful, so we haven’t been blacklisted. That said, I don’t think Saranac will be sending us anything soon based on my opinion of their beer. 😉

  2. Don
    February 16, 2011 at 11:25 am #


    • February 16, 2011 at 11:50 am #

      It’s true!!

  3. February 16, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    Yeah! What Don said.

  4. February 16, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    Maybe this should be the Cheese blog. Some nice cheddar will go good with Jims whine!

    • February 16, 2011 at 11:49 am #

      Don’t be a snob, John. Beer pairs with whine, too!

  5. February 16, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    I agree with Chad. I have never sent a brewery an email asking for free beer. I have been given free beers by brewery reps at events I have attend (ie: they bought me a beer) but its usually because they have seen me several times and I attend the events because I honestly and genuinely am a fan of their brewery.

    I have home brew friends that have offered to send me beers for opinions, not necessarily reviews on my blog as I tend to do less and less of them as i feel my qualifications are not the best for that.

    However, as Chad said I too think the best part is going to the beer store, perusing the shelves and picking out some stuff that looks intriguing to you or is recommended to you if you have a place with a knowledgeable staff.

    • February 16, 2011 at 11:50 am #

      I agree, too – I love poking around the beer store – it’s my candy store!

      • Don
        February 16, 2011 at 11:51 am #

        Mmmmm…Beer Candy!

  6. February 16, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    Hear ya loud and clear. My worst experience with free beer was getting it from a friend and former co-worker who became the social media voice of a semi-known imported macro line of beers a while back. Knowing exactly what my friend was hoping to get from me, I procrastinated. But he kept hounding me about the review—even after warning him that I’d be giving my honest opinion of the beer one way or the other. I was fairly certain I’d be disappointed by the beer. And I wasn’t excited about disappointing a friend with high expectations of my review of it.

    Thankfully, my reviews are only 140 characters fleeting and couched in hopefully semi-poetic prose. Don’t recall the exact wording (except, I know I used the word “Heine” in there somewhere), but I was able to write something that a craft beer enthusiast would read as imported, yellow fizzy beer but to a more casual reader wouldn’t downright slam it. (I think I may have just contradicted myself, unless you actually like Heineken—O.K. maybe I did downright slam it).

    But my friend didn’t think so, I guess. He retweated it under the brand’s handle—even after I explained that I thought it was mediocre and that if a reader payed attention to the words in my tweet review, they’d see that. Maybe when it comes to imported macros these days any press is good press!

    Guess what I’m saying is that you’re right, free beer comes with responsibilities. One of which is to not be swayed in your review by the fact that it’s free beer. While it’s hard to turn down free beer, personally, I prefer to just buy the beer and avoid the complications.

    • February 16, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

      I agree with you Chad, honesty trumps all. If something is great, I’ll give it its due. If it’s bad, I’ll have fun tearing it apart. Those are the easy calls.

      My problem is when things are mediocre. Take Buckbean. They sent us both free beers and thankfully Don (who really enjoyed them) got around to reviewing them first, otherwise I would’ve probably damned them with faint praise. It’s a situation where you’re thankful that someone took the time to send you a beer, but it doesn’t do much for you. It’s not a bad beer, but it’s not anything you’d buy with your own dough. Those are the ones I usually don’t write up, whether I bought them or someone gave them to me.

      • Don
        February 16, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

        With that in mind get on those Bison Organic Beer reviews! 😉

  7. February 16, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

    Good stuff, Jim. I’ll try anything, and sometimes I get beers I’d never buy myself and they turn out to be alright.

    Still, if they send ’em then I’ll write about them and mention that it was a sample or something in the post, but I agree, writing about so-so beers is much harder than great beers or outright crappy beers.

    • February 16, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

      I’ll try anything too, especially if it’s for free. Scott. I have some beers from Bison Organic in the fridge that their PR people sent me after I expressed my sentiment that most organic beers I’ve had have been deeply average. We’ll see where these fall on the Suck/Average/Awesome scale.

  8. February 16, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    First, I know Make Mine Potato and he’s just one blogger. Second, you’re thinking too much about it. When I review a beer (which hasn’t been a lot lately), I just say what I think of the beer, like I would at the bar. Although he gets a bit wordy, the Hopry does this really well. Of course, he records the session as it happens.

    • February 16, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

      It’s not a big deal, but to take the pic and write down my thoughts can be a PIA when my wife is waiting to watch a movie.

      And I figured Jeff was a solo act over there, but didn’t know for sure.

  9. February 16, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Thanks for the link, Jim. I’m still waiting on that free beer though….is Captain Lawrence reading? Russian River? Hill Farmstead?

    • February 16, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

      Because you’ve never had any of these beers, Jeff? I love how you’re so selective with your free beers. Seriously, everyone, if you don’t want to read beer reviews, go to Jeff’s site. That’s not an insult. He doesn’t do reviews is all.

    • February 16, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

      I don’t think any of those guys are reading, as they haven’t sent Yours Truly an ounce of beer!

  10. February 16, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    I have not had Hill Farmstead. So I’m willing right now to say Hill Farmstead is amazing in exchange for beer. Of course, that’s why I have not had Hill Farmstead. They are so amazing that it is impossible to get any. In fact, I will pay Hill Farmstead. They don’t have to send free beer. I will pay to say that they are great! So will many others, it seems. Anyway, I’ve had your blog on my RSS for some time now and read you all regularly.

    • February 16, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

      Thanks for reading, Jeff. And I’d like to apologize for Don. What an embarrassment. 😉

      I’ll be honest and say I haven’t heard of Hill Farmstead – they sound like they make old fashioned ice cream!

      • Don
        February 16, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

        Hey Zimmy…Tank u for doin the BLOG wit me. R we goin for Ice Cream later? I like Ice Cream. Yummmmmmmmmmmmmm!

        • February 16, 2011 at 6:09 pm #

          Sure, Donny, we can go for ice cream later. Now get back in your holding pen.

          Now where the hell did I leave that cattle prod…?

  11. Matt
    February 16, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

    I must have misread that entire post because at the end I felt like you were saying getting free beer in return for a few thoughts and one photo was a burden.

    • Don
      February 16, 2011 at 6:18 pm #

      You don’t understand how difficult thinking is for my brother Jim! Not only that but he has our Father’s acumen for taking photos. Those things can combine in his world and destroy an entire evening. Sad really…

    • February 17, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

      Well when you put it like that…

  12. February 17, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    We don’t do reviews either – for the main reason that most of our drinking is done socially and I’d rather talk to the other women there and discuss what we’re tasting and enjoy myself than try to pick out the hops “hey….is that Simcoe I’m tasting?” because 90% of the women who attend Girls Pint Out events don’t care about the hop varieties, they just want the beer to taste good.

    • February 17, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

      You nailed it – drinking is more fun than thinking. Be social!

      Also, there are lots of places to get beer reviews, so I don’t feel pressured to do them. On the other hand, the other sites aren’t sharing deep journalistic insights like we do (you know, whining about getting free beer!).

  13. February 17, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

    Our deep journalistic insights include: what to wear to beer festivals, how to avoid the craft beer couchbags at the bar, and what to offer your friends to introduce them into the amazing craft beer world without freaking them out…..and making fun of my Rachel Zoe-ishness. I hope you don’t know who that is.

    • February 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

      Ha ha. I’ve heard the name, but I’m proud to say I have no idea who Rachel Zoe is – it’s sounds like a name I’d make up for one of the people on Gossip Girl.

  14. February 17, 2011 at 5:01 pm #

    SO what craft beers do you suggest to newbies? I find I can’t go wrong with such “gateway” beers as New Belgium or some of Goose Island’s *lighter* offerings (312, Nut Brown, Honkers Ale) to get them interested in craft beer. The marketing isn’t outlandish ::cough cough three floyds:: or objectifying women so it’s usually an easy sell to introduce them.

    • February 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

      I usually point them to something that’s well-made, gently flavored and available EVERYWHERE locally so they can’t use the “I couldn’t find it” excuse.

      Around here, that Brooklyn Brewery (although I really don’t prefer their beers), Chimay (which is excellent and ubiquitious) and maybe Stone if I think they can handle it, especially the Stone IPA, which isn’t too over the top.


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