A while ago, Slog would have people guest-blog for a week while attending every (?) cultural event in Seattle. I remember one guest-blogger wrote about an art exhibit, and Jen Graves jumped in to say something like, "You're doing it right! You're telling us how the art makes you feel, and that's how you should write about art."
I feel the same about this column. I think people will be more interested in the columnist's actual thoughts on/reactions to beer than stories about which brewery is doing what. I don't mean that it should be just a beer review column - there could be plenty of context and narrative also. But I would like to see some opinionated writing on the beer itself.
That said, there are plenty of interesting angles to pursue without tasting any beer. The first Trappist brewery in the U.S. was just certified in western Massachusetts. Separately, there was a splash in the homebrewing community when Obama released his homebrew recipes during the 2012 elections, and the politics/culture of homebrewing are pretty interesting, as @12 pointed out. (I brewed one of Obama's recipes and then drank it on election night, while re-watching Bill Clinton's convention speech. Great night.) You can get a flavor of the homebrewing culture on internet forums. Or check out the Mad Fermentationist blog, written by Mike Tonsmeire, a homebrewer who is about to release a book on brewing sour beer. By the way, one story that has been told, but that probably still has room to be re-examined, is the "homebrew origins" story of American craft beer. When Jimmy Carter legalized homebrewing in the 1970s, he (allegedly) unleashed a wave of brewers, some of whom went pro and started brewing the interesting beers that constituted the first wave of American craft beer. Certainly as an anecdotal matter, a lot of professional brewers seem to get their start in the homebrew community.
There is also controversy within the craft beer community over "crafty" breweries - that is, breweries that are not actually as craft-oriented as they try to appear. It's a legitimate debate, since breweries like Goose Island (owned by Budweiser) still make excellent (but fucking expensive!) beer. But it sheds light on where beer culture is these days. (Struggling with issues of authenticity, snobbishness, commercialization, etc.)
Another fascinating window into beer culture is the Twitter feed @brouwervanklomp. Pretty sure it's fake, but it captures the lore of Belgian brewing in a really amusing way. Speaking of which, the geography and geology of beer are pretty fascinating. (Here's a classic NY Times story
on the subject.) As for geography, I would be very curious to know why some areas (Colorado, Oregon) have become meccas of great beer, while others have not. (Why Portland and not Seattle?)
Oh, and Ron Pattinson
is doing some great writing on the history and culture of beer. For instance, here is a pretty interesting post
on how adventurous American beer drinkers are driving innovation around the world. (Another persistent theme of his: if you want to understand why beer is the way it is, look at the tax regime. There is even an academic paper about how efficient Dutch taxation of beer helped them defeat the Spanish in their war for independence.) By the way, Americans take the credit (rightly or wrongly) for rehabilitating all kinds of traditional styles that had been drowned in a wave of light lager (porter, Berliner weisse beer, gose, even IPA). It's a funny variant of the "Americans save the world" narrative, and it might even be true in this case.
In terms of a Washington angle on things, I believe Washington is one of the biggest hop producers in the U.S. Every year there is drama as people go out looking for the trendiest variety (lately I've been seeing lots of Mosaic, as well as Nelson Sauvin from New Zealand), and there are perennial shortages of the favorite varieties. But I have no idea what hop farming is actually like - would love to read about it.
Speaking for myself, the trend toward sour/funky beers is gratifying. A lot of new breweries are either focusing heavily on funky beer (Crooked Stave) or have a solid sour program (Westbrook, Modern Times, Trinity, Cisco). These beers are much more interesting, in my view, than the hop-bombs that American breweries were churning out 5-10 years ago.
So anyway you asked for our thoughts on the column, and those are my thoughts on the column.