A new magazine has joined the ever growing ranks of Beer publications. There is of course the great All About Beer (one that I have subscribed and can heartily recommend), Beer Advocate (the magazine version of the on-line community), DRAFT (I've heard problems about their subscription, but I've enjoyed picking it up at the news stands) and Beer (a beer magazine for the Maxim crowd). Well now there is Beer Connoisseur magazine one that is released quarterly. But how does it compare, and how does it make it self different than the others?
The first thing you notice when you see it on the newsstand is it's size. This is a large format magazine (think Wine Spectator, the old LIFE, etc) and it grabs your attention. The cursive type of Beer, the big block letting of Connoisseur, the beautiful photography on the cover it speaks to you. It was this that made me pick it up for the firs time a few months back. Now that they have released their second issue, I wanted to write my thoughts and tell my avid readers (I know there's a few out there....I hope I'm not just talking to myself) if it's worth a pick up. The first thing I did was see who was contributing to it. Its different than DRAFT or All about beer, both of which seem to share many writers and frankly many features. Some of the contributors include Stephen Beaumont, Shawn Connely (of Beer Philosopher.com), Martyn Cornell, Evan Rail, Lisa Morrison (aka the Beer Goddess). All of these have a pretty large following on the on-line beer community and many have written wonderful beer related books so seeing them contributing to this magazine gives it some credibility. The next thing I look for is the different features. One thing that they don't have is a "Whats going on in beer" feature. In AAB, DRAFT, or BA mags this the feature that goes over news in the industry, mergers, technology, etc. However, in this day and age of on line news, it seems unnecessary, so I have no issue with it not being in this mag. Its other normal features do include a Style Guideline section where Shawn Connely introduces readers to different styles each issue. These are usually informative, and includes info that you can also find on BJCP.org. The other features include a Travel piece (This month on Czech Republic), an interview (called the Innovator Series, this month with Garrett Oliver), Food and Beer, and of course Reviews. There are other things of course, this month has a very interesting piece on Green brewing and the Accidental Connoisseur discussing things outside of beer (thinks Scotch, Whiskey, etc).
Over all the features are all very well done, well laid out, very well photographed and well written for the most part. The beer and food section is probably the best of any beer magazine I've seen, with great recipe's, great photography, and really utilizes either beer (something more than Guinness or pilsner that many other beer magazines use) in the recipe or as pairings with the food.
The Beer Review section is done very well also and done a little differently than other magazines. For example they do not group beer styles or even state it within the review the style of the beer. I would like at least the latter (my personal favorite method for beer reviews is AAB). But each food pairing comes with a Food Recommendation both a complimentary and contrasting pairing which I think is a great idea. Each review pictures the beer poured into a brewery glass, the reviews are well written and in two issues I haven't found one that I strongly disagree with.
Another thing that separates this magazine from others is that it focuses much more on the south. While I feel that AAB and BA specifically tend to focus a lot of their attention on either the West Coast or north east, this magazine does have southern, and specifically south eastern influence going so far as to do a separate "Southeast Beer Review". Additionally Beer Connoisseur has a wonderful companion website that one can search for food & beer pairings, brewpubs, travel tips, etc, along with an excellent beer forum.
This review has been pretty positive so far, however there are some issues that I have. One is that there is a lot of space taken up by advertisements, honestly no more than other magazines, but its not something I'm a huge fan of (yes I understand you have to pay the bills). Secondly I do wonder if they are being too hoity-toity with the term Beer Connoisseur. Its a fine line between getting folks to respect beer and understanding that it deserves the same respect and place at the table that wine does, and trying to make beer an elitist beverage. I'm not saying that BC Magazine does this, but that they are walking a fine line, it will be interesting to see how they evolve over time. Lastly and maybe most importantly is the price for subscription. This is a quarterly magazine, so 4 issues a year and it costs $21.00, compare this to BA (12 issues/yr for $29.99) or All About Beer (6 issues/yr for $20.99). You can see that this magazine is probably way more expensive than it should be and honestly I think to really sell its going to have to lower prices.
There are a few other things I would love to see in this magazine. 1) Something that has not been done in any "national" beer magazine (but is done in other magazines), is to create a regional review section separate from the main review. So the south eastern US would keep the Southeast Beer section, but other regions would have Southern Beer, Mountain Region, Northwest, Northeast, West Coast, etc (and if they needed someone to review the Southern beer's I'd be more than happy to help!). There is precedence to this, for example Sports Illustrated does have some regional features especially for subscribers. Another thing I'd like to see is styles mentioned in the beer review section. You can see a beer reviewed and have no idea what style it is supposed to be. I think this is important when you also look at their outstanding section on Beer Styles. Lastly and I've mentioned before, they have to lower their subscription price. For only 4 issues the yearly subscription is just too high.
Now to answer the question? Is it worth picking up? Let me preface with this magazine is absolutely a wonderful addition to the line up of Beer related magazines, and along with their website a great addition to the on-line beer community. Taking into consideration it has the best photography of any beer magazine, great contributors, good reviews, good features, I will absolutely pick this magazine up on the newsstand. Will I get a subscription? Not yet, I need to see how this magazine grows, and as I've stated a couple of times already I think the price is just too high.