As the world’s second largest search engine after Google, which owns it, and the third most visited site on the Internet, after Google and Facebook, YouTube attracts billions of eyeballs to a medium that creates its own celebrities. A whole generation has become enamored of YouTube stars who are making as much money as, and sometimes more than, traditional television stars.
But there’s an overlooked subset that’s beginning to gain traction on the YouTube scene, and it’s one that, perhaps, is not getting as much attention as it should: beer reviews.
Beer reviews have long existed on websites like BeerAdvocate (since 1996), RateBeer (established 2000), and Untappd (founded in 2010). Yet even in the age of crowdsourced beer reviews and ratings that may take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes to complete and read, the beer-reviewing YouTube community is growing.
“Beer is more immersive than just a 30-word review. It’s more visceral,” said Chris Steltz, founder of Beer Geek Nation, one of the original — and to date, most followed — BrewTube channels on the video-sharing site. “I always thought video would be the best way to do it.”
Steltz used his video marketing degree from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania to get his site going seven years ago. Soon enough, many followed. Beer Geek Nation currently has upwards of 40,000 subscribers, and is widely known among Internet beer geeks as the father of beer reviews on YouTube.
“I break down each review into aroma, taste, and the final verdict,” said Steltz (a familiar structure evident in most, if not all, beer reviews). While others’ channels can vary from regional focuses to reviews of “whales” and other rare or impossible-to-get beers, Beer Geek Nation encompasses craft beer’s middle class.
“I try to get [beers] people can access,” said Steltz. “I found that translates pretty well.”
Having a YouTube channel can also be a strategic business move for some, like Chris Quinn, owner and operator of the Beer Temple in Chicago, whose YouTube channel, Craft BeerTemple actually preceded his brick-and-mortar business. Establishing a beer-loving following on YouTube a year before opening, though not intentional, enabled a built-in clientele for the beer shop.
“I had a following, so people knew of what we were doing. When we tried to have a ‘soft opening’ on the first day, I took the paper down from the windows and there was a line of people waiting for me. It was kind of terrifying, but also kind of cool.”
The success was not short lived, either: Beer Temple will debut a bar in their space in June.
For The Wilky in Brooklyn, the beer bar’s eponymous YouTube channel has sparked conversations with customers on and off screen, according to owner and operations manager, Brian Fisher.
“[We started it] to connect with people in a different way,” said Fisher. “There are so many [social media] platforms, and [YouTube] is just a fun way to share and connect with a new audience and new fans.”
Putting in the time to connect with craft beer fans on YouTube will also help the Wilky stand out in New York City’s competitive craft beer marketplace, Fisher said. “There is definitely a time investment, but we feel it’s worth it.”
Some BrewTubers do it for the fame — who wouldn’t enjoy being recognized in breweries and having hard-to-get beers sent to them in the mail? — and others do it for the simple pleasure of sharing their opinions about the craft beer industry’s many interesting libations.
But a burning question remains: Are brewers watching?
At Bottle Logic Brewing in Anaheim, California (coincidentally, the same city that hosts VidCon, an annual online video convention that attracted more than 26,400 attendees in 2016), founder and branding manager Brandon Buckner says he became aware of beer review videos after being “tagged” in them online, as well as seeing them happen in his own taproom.
“I’ve seen a couple of them. There’s definitely a lot of enthusiasm. For the most part, I’ve found a lot of them to be pretty entertaining,” he said. “It’s a compliment that people would want to showcase us as a brewery, and it’s something I will pay attention to more now.”
The owners of Brooklyn-based Grimm Artisanal Ales, another of BrewTube’s most reviewed brewers — particularly the locally produced Darwin’s Beer Reviews, find the medium to be time-consuming for their busy brewers’ lifestyle. “YouTube is tough because we don’t really have time to watch people’s videos,” said co-founder Lauren Grimm.
She also finds the platform to be limiting for brewers in terms of their ability to participate in discussions, which Grimm actively pursues in other online beer communities, like BeerAdvocate. “YouTube reviews are less about a conversation, [while] BeerAdvocate is made for that — it’s about a conversation.”
The Grimms also pointed out what brewers perceive to be YouTube’s greatest flaw: subjectivity. “The danger in following a YouTuber is that it’s just one person’s opinion, which is only as valid as far as that goes. I might not always agree with what people say on Untappd, [but] that’s a lot of people registering their pleasure level,” said Joe Grimm.
Additionally, as noted by Other Half Brewing co-founder and brewmaster Sam Richardson, beer reviews create style biases that skew the public’s perception of what “good” beer is.
“The upside is that people are excited, and the downside is that beers are not reviewed [fairly by style],” said Richardson, who described the dilemma as “enthusiasm but not professionalism.” Among the styles that generally don’t get as much love, he said, are pilsners, because they’re “not review bait or trade bait. Double IPAs and imperial stouts are what’s popular now and other styles go by the wayside.”
Despite the bias and subjectivity inherent in consumer reviews, Richardson and other popularly reviewed (and revered) brewers tend to agree that YouTube’s beer reviews are, overall, a good thing.
“We’re super lucky that people are into what we do,” said Richardson. “My strong feeling is that it’s really been beneficial because people are super energetic about craft beer, and they are looking for mostly positive things to say about beer.”
“There are very few industries where your customers are giving direct feedback,” said Lauren Grimm. “I think it’s really important for us to understand how people are accepting our beer and reviewing it. It’s very cool that beer enthusiasts are so excited to put their words out there.”
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