Looking to turn the vast knowledge of your local beer scene that you have built up over years of writing about it into an actual job that will pay you actual money? Beer writer Joe Wiebe from Victoria, BC will offer some advice (and warnings) from his experiences doing just that via local guide books, ale trails, and beer events.
Local Beer Expert to Local Beer Entrepreneur
“I know more about craft beer in British Columbia than anyone else.”
I remember the moment I first realized this — and said it out loud. My brother was giving me a ride home from the ferry terminal following a trip I’d taken in support of my book, Craft Beer Revolution: The Insider’s Guide to B.C. Breweries, shortly after it was published in 2013. As we drove into Victoria, we were chatting about my recent experiences, and he commented on how busy this “whole beer thing” was becoming for me. That’s when it popped out of my mouth.
I didn’t mean it in an arrogant way; it was more a realization than a boast. But once I’d said it, I figured my brother would roll his eyes and say something to knock me off my pedestal (as brothers tend to). Instead, he just nodded and said, “Yeah, you’re definitely the go-to guy now when it comes to beer.”
The knowledge I built up over several years visiting breweries and interviewing brewers has propelled me from “Local Beer Expert to Local Beer Entrepreneur,” which is the title of my breakout session in Milwaukee. I am a regular beer columnist on CBC Radio, I host a variety of events, I co-produce Victoria Beer Week, and I helped create and run the BC Ale Trail project. Most importantly, I get paid to do all of those things.
But it wasn’t always the case, and it took me a long time to get to where I am today. I had been a freelance writer for several years before I decided to focus on craft beer. (Ironically, that decision happened on a wine-tasting trip, but to hear that story you’ll have to attend my talk…)
Back in 2008, I christened myself the Thirsty Writer and started pitching craft beer stories to editors. I can’t say that I was an instant success, but I did get more and more interest from editors and publishers who were starting to recognize that their readership was growing more interested in beer, too.
My real breakthrough came with the publication of my book in 2013. The timing was perfect. In British Columbia, the craft beer industry had started in the early 1980s (as it did in much of North America) and had grown steadily over the next 30 years until there were about 50 breweries there at the start of 2013. It seemed like a good size at the time, especially since 7 breweries had just opened in 2012 — the most ever in one year. But then 12 opened in 2013, and then a whopping 21 in 2014, and 21 again in 2015! That pace hasn’t slowed down, either; today, British Columbia has 135 craft breweries.
My book gave me credibility, a foundation to stand on. I was now the expert on craft beer in British Columbia. I updated it with a second edition in 2015. That one has only 90 breweries listed in it, so clearly it is time for me to update it again, but the fact is I am too busy to do it now.
Building on the success of my book, I have developed a couple of different ticketed beer seminars that include beer samples along with my talk. As interest in craft beer grows, so does my potential audience. To date, I’ve hosted my Craft Beer Revolution seminar at least a dozen times in a variety of places — the latest was my most successful with more than 70 people in attendance, each one paying $25.
Some event producers ask me to play the role of emcee or to host panel discussions. I hosted an event in Whistler in 2015 called Master Crafters that featured three BC brewmasters paired up with three prominent American beer leaders: Kim Jordan (New Belgium), Jamie Floyd (Ninkasi) and Dick Cantwell (previously Elysian). I was the emcee of the Canadian Brewing Awards when it was held in Vancouver in 2016. I also host a monthly beer tasting panel at a local bottle shop, and my university alumni association has hired me to host beer-tasting events for alumni groups a couple times now.
Shortly after my book came out, I worked with a group of local beer lovers to launch Victoria Beer Week in March, 2014. We’ve produced it annually ever since, growing it from a volunteer-run festival to one that pays a few people — me included — a fairly decent paycheque.
All throughout my tenure as the Thirsty Writer, I have aspired to be BC’s craft beer ambassador: my goal is to teach people about how great beer is in British Columbia. I have often wished I could reach a broader audience beyond BC’s borders, showing tourists that BC has an incredible craft beer scene, one worthy of planning a trip around. I want beer lovers from all over to add British Columbia to their craft beer bucket lists.
“Arrive thirsty. Leave inspired.”
Last October, I worked with a team of colleagues to launch the BC Ale Trail. We began with seven regions of the provinces represented. Each includes a write-up, profiles of the local breweries, and a suggested tour itinerary accompanied by beautiful photography and a gorgeous video. Over the course of 2017 we are adding another eight regions, and by 2018, we hope to blanket the entire province of British Columbia.
Join me in Milwaukee to learn more about the steps I have taken to achieve my goals, including the mistakes and the obstacles I’ve had to overcome.