Freebies, engagement, and the Alehouse Project

The idea of getting free meals and free beer strictly for the purpose of review is one that I’m not a fan of. I have in the past turned down free beer because it came with the proviso of a review. I think something as subjective as taste is pretty easily swayed by good experience and I don’t want to give judgement on something under those circumstances.

It’s also a bit tacky and even more tacky when reviewers and bloggers ask for freebies. I know there are a lot of bloggers out there who disagree and some who take the whole idea of being a blogger entirely too far by demanding free stuff – check out this post from Fooderati that has some pretty shitty examples:

Unfortunately because a lot of food and beverage mongers are desperate to get publicity online, the demand-whores often get away with it.

I’m not saying I’ve never taken up someone on the offer of a free beer, or free evening, because that would be a lie. At the end of the day, free stuff is free stuff – but if it is a beer, I’ll give feedback directly if they want it but I probably won’t review it unless I really want to. And me wanting to might just be down to being a little bit bored one day, or that I really want to tell people about the beer because it is unique or great.

And to be honest, the benefit of getting a positive blog-post, particularly for a beer, is pretty minor. Restaurants are slightly different as the market is much wider and more competitive, but craft beer is still a very small audience so the amount of eyes you are getting on a review is probably not that beneficial.

Being active on twitter, and facebook – as well as using to actually engage with people already drinking your product is probably more beneficial to your brand in the long term, rather than getting a few cheap points from a blog.

I recently wrote a piece with some solid advice from a social media specialist which if you are a brewery wanting to get more involved online, you should probably read:

What got me thinking about this was recently the Alehouse Project (a place I featured here) emailed; inviting me and a friend to dine on the house to give feedback on the food.  When I mentioned to the owner that I was going to put something on my site he made sure that I was clear on the fact that he wasn’t expecting that and legitimately wanted feedback from the invitees.

However, because I like the bar so much I want to give them some acknowledgement. Not only am I impressed by them wanting genuine feedback but they also are a great example of how to do taplists right. Every time I’ve been in, I’ve found at least one or two beers that I would love to try and at one that I could happily drink all night. Often more than that.

Actually engaging with the customers is something that a lot of bars forget to do and it is something they also do well. As someone who spends a lot of time in bars – and has spent a lot of time behind a bar – I know that it  can radically change the feel of a place. When you have a product such as craft beer and a tap list that features some confronting beers at a higher price than your usual pub fare, then your staff need to know what they are doing and be willing to chat to the customers about it all.

My point here is: Don’t under-estimate engagement. Whether your a bar, brewery or restaurant, it is better to get people actually engaged with your product both on and offline, rather than whoring out freebies.

And bloggers, please stop asking or expecting stuff. It makes the rest of us look bad. Blogging has a pretty shitty image as it is. Signing up for a free account doesn’t entitle you to special treatment and you’ll probably find you’ll get more respect in the long term.

Note: I sent back legitimate feedback to the Alehouse Project prior to this. Both positives and negatives – but nothing negative enough to stop me going back for dinner on Friday, and to a tasting on Thursday. They’ve also got a Feral dinner coming up next week, which I can’t make but I do love Feral’s beers and some wild game meat, both of which are being featured. Check it here via Crafty Pint:



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5 Responses

  1. I do get free stuff sent to me because I write a weekly beer column for a newspaper, and I do use some of that stuff for my blog as well.
    But I’d feel really shonky if I just had a blog and was asking breweries to send me stuff.
    Hell, I feel awkward enough about doing it for the purposes of the newspaper column.

    • Free stuff for published journalist is different. Ethics and being impartial is implied by professionalism and qualifications.

      Whether they are always present is a separate argument but I think we have to trust that.After all, you have your professional career riding on doing a proper job.

  2. bladdamasta says:

    Very much enjoyed this post and agree with its sentiments. For a couple of blokes having a laugh, we were taken aback when contacted by an Italian beer distributor (a beer distributor from Italy) wanting to give us samples. To be fair, no obligation was placed upon us and we actually wrote up the encounter more commenting on our vast Italian readership. Thanks for the fooderati link too.

  3. Leon says:

    I sort of agree sort of don’t. I got the same invite from Alehouse Project, and haven’t taken it up as yet, although I was at the Feral Dinner (which I paid for) and it was amazing. I also got the same beers from that Back of the Ferry is talking about – will I review them? Probably. Will I mention in the review that I got them for free? Definately.

    It might be my advertising background but I have no problem with this. I won’t actively seek out freebies, but what is the point of the blog if it’s not to promote beer to the people? And if venues/breweries what to use me as a vehicle to engage with the public then I’m happy enough to be used (as long as I make it clear that’s what’s happening)

    The problem of course comes when you are given something that is terrible. I do think you are more likely to ‘go easy’ on a beer/venue if they have invited you there or given it to you for free.

    But then again I also find as I get further into the beer scene and meet brewers and bar owners I feel a affinity for them anyway (regardless of free stuff) so generally I look for the positive anyway (or alternatively don’t say anything at all online if it’s terrible).

    It’s also worth remembering that we are commenting on people’s livlihood here as well, I’m not a brewer, nor am I a chef, so what right do I really have to pass judgement on anything?

    So then of course you have to consider what is the purpose of the blog? And for me it comes back to promoting craft beer.

    • Re-reading my intro I think it’s probably poorly worded on my behalf. I’m fine with people taking freebies and reviewing them, but personally I don’t like taking freebies on the proviso that I review it.

      I’m not going to do that unless I have confidence in the product already. The more I learn about beer, the more I want to only talk about beers that I like, rather than ones I don’t or that I got for free… also I’m always a little iffy about taking free stuff from breweries when they are a small business who could in some cases use all the support they can get.

      There are varying degrees and grey areas here as well and I guess my main point is that it is probably not that effective for breweries to operate that way; whereas actively engaging the customers is probably a better method of promotion. As you say, meeting brewers and bar owners will definitely give us an affinity for their product so that is what I think they should focus on, rather than just handing over a 6 pack of beer to a blogger and hoping for the best.

      Also I think it’s a little rude of bloggers to actively canvas for freebies.

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