AMA Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting

Discussion in 'TalkBeer AMA' started by Os, Jan 6, 2017.

  1. Os

    Os

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    goodbeerhunting, thanks for doing this.

    Many of us are familiar with his site goodbeerhunting.com

    Michael tells me that they are getting a decent amount of traffic from links posted here and he's agreed to answer some questions for us.

    I'll start off with some obvious questions and get them out of the way.

    1. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe you started as a blog like many others. Obviously, quality set you apart. Now you are branching into branding and things of that sort. What is your vision for GBH?

    2. Probably one of the things you've been questioned over or accused of is promoting breweries that pay for your services. How do you differentiate your sponsored work from true opinions?

    3. Do you ever find it hard to be diplomatic with breweries or industry people? Have you or would you write a critical piece?

    4. What is the "coolest" thing that GBH has allowed you to do that you might not otherwise have been able to do?

    Thanks again for doing this and kudos on all your accomplishments. I am a fan of your site, company and attention to branding.
     
  2. Sage

    Sage

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    Can you get MSardina1 to move back to SD? Tell him the weather here right now is perfect for jeans and a flannel shirt.
     
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  3. Os

    Os

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    we're not done with him out here. You've had him long enough.
     
  4. goodbeerhunting

    goodbeerhunting

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    Lol. If only. We sent him a blanket for xmas so I think he's settled into Vermont for the foreseeable future. And yeah, that means we need another insightful writer in SD pronto.
     
  5. goodbeerhunting

    goodbeerhunting

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    Jun 30, 2014
    Thanks Os. Happy to jump in.

    Will start with those questions and see where we go from there!

    1. GBH started as a pretty typical Wordpress, then Tumblr blog. They were pretty gross by today's standards. No photos really. Short, mostly inconsequential writing. It was meant to be a ticking tool for me and my friend Doug to share what we were drinking with each other (there were no smartphones back then). Never really had plans to make it a thing other people would read. But then I started taking photos on my work travels, and people started sharing the Tumblrs and it got around a little bit. I started having fun with it, designing the headers, and it quickly became a time-suck of a project but I needed the distraction from work really. But eventually my photog and writing background sort of took over the ambitions of the site and I started channeling all my pent-up creative ambitions through it. It kind of reminded me of the zines I produced in undergrad.

    These days the vision is pretty immense. The editorial site was never designed to make money (and it doesn't, it was a $70k loss last year). But I can't help but keep finding new ways to invest time and energy in it. About a dozen writers worldwide, and more coming online, all with the desire to do something cool and meaningful.

    If I can paint a single vision for the future — I think we're going to try to build a small network of similar ventures. I've seen a lot of valuable editorial platforms get bought, and then incorporated under an entity like AOL or Conde Nast, and that's great. What a homerun for those guys. But I started wondering what it'd be like if GBH became the umbrella, and we helped others like me when I was starting out build their voice and level up to something unique and important. With what I've learned over those ten years, and the team I have behind GBH now, I think we can do that even outside of beer. Natural wines, coffee, and cider are all things we're keen on exploring further.
     
  6. goodbeerhunting

    goodbeerhunting

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    Ha, no one is ever satisfied with this answer. But I'll keep plugging away.

    If you don't see the GBHype logo on something, then it isn't paid for, period. But even before we started the GBHype section of the site (currently dormant as we re-build it) people wanted to know who was paying us. And the truth was, no one. Still true.

    When I left my day job as an innovation strategist (I worked here and here) my goal wasn't to make the website a business. I was starting an agency that helped breweries start-up, with an emphasis on the brand side. The website, well, it was still there, and I was able to write for it much more, but it wasn't the business I was building.

    I had to decide if the website was something I would just keep doing as a hobby, or grow it alongside the business side. I decided I loved it too much to kill it.

    So I gradually started finding ways to grow it, and the more successful it became, the more successful the agency side became. I'd found a virtuous cycle. It was operating as a sort of lead-generator for the agency. And boy did we need it. It was showing people that we get it. Then I started the podcast, which has a huge industry following. I mostly just wanted a way to have conversations with people that no one was having. I went back and forth on format concepts for awhile and then decided I was overthinking it. Marc Moran is my benchmark personally. So I defaulted to that. No frills, just the people. And that also started operating as a virtuous cycle.

    It's important to realize, that in most cases, the clients we get come to GBH as a result of being fans of our site or podcast. But they're rarely the same people we write about or interview. But the beer industry is one big web of trust. So when people hear me talking to another brewery owner about their business, and they hear us talking about the things that they care about, that helps create trust. In that way, there is a symbiotic relationship between our content, and the agency. And we love that. It's why we got in to this business.

    Paid posts? We did a few for Orbitz travel once a couple years ago. They just asked us to write about Octoberfest in Chicago. We used the $500 to get some beers and snitzel, but otherwise didn't "make money" off it. We accept travel expenses sometimes (we're picky and we're very defensive about what the sponsor thinks that means in terms of coverage). Ab flew me to a hop farm and some barley fields, for example. But they had zero input on any content, or whether there was content at all. We disclose those kinds of expenses in the posts themselves, but again, we don't "make money" off those. We just try not to lose any. And that's it for sponsorships on GBH. Unless I'm forgetting something (let me know). But we never accept payment for editorial in our feed. We don't even run ads (although we're open to the possibility if the time comes).

    The GBHype thing isn't supposed to be sponsored content either, but rather a place where we write about the agency work we're doing, in a separate feed from our editorial. We've used that to talk about the 18th Street expansion we helped them with messaging on. And the Chinga tu Pelo campaign we helped run for 5 Rabbit. But those aren't written as GBH stories, they're in a separate feed, and branded explicitly as GBHype. In the end, we want our readers to know what they're reading and why.

    So to summarize, if you're reading an article in our editorial feed, it's not sponsored. And any expenses that were covered, or relationships we have that we feel might bias the piece are clearly stated, like we did here with Greg Hall's interview.
     
  7. goodbeerhunting

    goodbeerhunting

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    Diplomacy is a funny thing in the beer world. Most people wear their hearts on their sleeves. And I welcome that to a certain degree — lord knows I didn't go to work in the beer industry to stress over small talk and etiquette.

    I really dig the open approach most of us have to dialog. Even the more delicate debates. Like the CBC sour forum we ran with Lauren Salazar — there was some serious tension in there between traditional and kettle sour producers. But it was respectful.

    I'm in an unusual role where I'm engaging with leaders of the industry in a business scenario, but also every person with a twitter account that want's to weigh in on something we wrote or question our motives, etc. And it's tough to make a mode-switch between those contexts sometimes. I struggle to take a step back and consider the audience and the context their speaking from.

    If there's one part of my job I hate (there are a few) it's constant mode-switching. For an introvert like me, it's exhausting to the point of crisis sometimes.
     
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  8. goodbeerhunting

    goodbeerhunting

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    There have been so many holy-shit moments. Every month or so seems to have one waiting for me.

    Going to Czech and drinking Urquell in the caves with a few other writers I didn't know at the time (but have gone on to befriend and hire since) is up there.

    Getting recognized at Oliver Twist in Stockholm when a fellow beer geek walked in and going bar-hopping with them the rest of the night, ending up in Akkuratt's cellar.

    Standing in the Ozarks taking down white oak trees for the BCS doc Grit & Grain. So proud of that work.

    Closing down a restaurant in Brussels after a Lambic dinner and smoking and drinking natural wines until the sun almost came up. Having him call Yvan de Baets to personally tell him I didn't like taras boulba. "He fucking hates your beer!"

    Shooting the Saison Dupont documentary was insane. It seriously was like the best cure for a midlife crisis I could imagine.

    I dunno man. It feels like I lived 20 years in the last 4.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2017
  9. Os

    Os

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    fuck... some good shit there goodbeerhunting!

    so you mentioned the first HF post really boosted your site... the subsequent part 2 and podcast with Shaun was great.

    I personally loved the recent Suarez article...

    what have been the most popular articles this year? most fun to write?
     
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  10. MSardina1

    MSardina1

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    Have you read that MSardina1 ...?
     
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  11. goodbeerhunting

    goodbeerhunting

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    Yeah, that Hill Farm piece put us on the map for a lot of people. But more importantly, it was a personal breakthrough in the kind of storytelling I wanted to do. It changed my entire trajectory, and it brought other people out of the woodwork who wanted to do the same thing. So when you see our top 16 stories of the year, it's fucking amazing to me that so many names are on the roster that weren't even writing about beer before joining GBH. And for those that were, GBH came to represent something to them that they were looking for. Now I rely on them to chart the future.

    Our Editorial Director, Austin L. Ray out of Atlanta did a nice round-up on Twitter of our top 16 stories for the year.

    Number one was the Unrated piece I did on Heady Topper. That was a fun one for me. Not getting to the NE a lot, I sort of missed out on the Heady craze, and had to watch it from afar. This was a chance to meet John Kimmich for the first time and get the whole backstory, but also try to pinpoint Heady on a map between the past and future. Kimmich was a fantastic interview. I walked out of there with a ton of respect. The Critical Drinking interview that also came out of that visit clocked in at no. 9 for the year. Not bad for a single visit!

    The rest of that lineup is all over the place, and I was blown away by the diversity of our writers who had major editorial wins this year.

    Just 2 years ago I wrote nearly everything on the site myself. This past year, I was like a ghost compared to our overall output. MSardina1 hit big with that Sculpin piece, largely because he told it in such an unconventional way. And his Freetail profile is making a run at top 10 all time right now. And even his Alpine story got no. 15. Everything Sardina touches turns to gold.

    Bryan Roth, who was someone I became a fanboy of, totally landed a complex topic with that Own Premise analysis.

    Cory Smith is the one among us who really connects with readers looking for a way to understand these fresh start-ups out east like The Veil, which was no. 3.

    Kyle Kastranec elevated Jackie fucking O's to no. 5 status and blew Monkish up a bit at no. 8

    Austin wrote two of my favorite pieces, once on Emergency Drinking Beer (no. 7) and Suarez (14). Personally, I think that Suarez piece will be for Austin what my Hill Farm piece was for me. People will just keep discovering that story and follow him forever.

    Braeden Kearney in Belgium got St. Bernardus at 13

    Blake Tyers, a brewer at Creature Comforts, wrote his first piece this year and broke into the top 16 with it. So proud of that guy. What a great start. And between him and Braeden, that's two pro brewers we have on the team. Super unique.

    The other top posts were criticism pieces I wrote. Pay to Play, a day in the life of a distro rep, and a bit of a chastising piece about how some craft brewers are making crap cider.
     
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  12. goodbeerhunting

    goodbeerhunting

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    When are you gonna start pulling your weight again up there?
     
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  13. vav

    vav

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    goodbeerhunting Of all of your podcast interviews you've done, can you name 5 of your favorite interviews?
     
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  14. rwitter

    rwitter

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    What happen to you having me write a piece like you brought up at Fofa 15?
     
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  15. ElkSherpa

    ElkSherpa

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  16. vav

    vav

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    Yeah, what the fuck?
     
  17. Lansman

    Lansman

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    Can you talk about the difference in attitude and professionalism between your website and your Twitter feed? More specifically, why do you or the individual running your social media engage in mini Twitter battles with people/breweries from time to time?
     
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  18. rwitter

    rwitter

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    Shits fun
     
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  19. goodbeerhunting

    goodbeerhunting

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    Not evaluating on the same criteria here at all:

    Bill Covaleski for just how quickly we hit it off, and how candid he was talking about the brewery's future. Getting people to real-talk about venture capital is impossible. For him it was natural.

    Ryan Burk of Angry Orchard because so much of his journey I've witnessed, and I still came away feeling like I got to know my best friend a whole lot better in terms of his professional ambitions and inspiration.

    Lauren Salazar because I knew so little about her that morning, and by the end of the day we were talking about beer, and what it's like to make something you don't understand completely, in such a personally revealing way.

    Shaun Hill because he opened up in a way that was almost the polar opposite of what it was like to talk to him the first time I met him, which was fairly guarded. That taught me the value of forming relationships long-term and how that affects what's possible with storytelling. Everyone has to invest.

    Charles Adler (Kickstarter and Lost Arts) because the conversation went into some really unexpected places. He told me that actually led to his employees understanding his mission better. And we've talked since then about making a stronger connection between our businesses to keep that kind of conversation going. My organization needs more internal transparency and articulation as well and we think we can help each other achieve that.
     
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  20. goodbeerhunting

    goodbeerhunting

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    I remember that, sort of. Refresh my memory.
     
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