All About Beer, the Research Triangle Park-based magazine that predicted the craft-beer renaissance nearly forty years ago, is “effectively defunct,” according to a report from noted beer writer Jeff Alworth’s blog Beervana. Editor Daniel Hartis told Alworth that he—one of its last employees—was no longer with the publication, and the magazine’s staff page lists only publisher Christopher Rice.
Rice has not yet responded to the INDY’s request for an interview, but he told Alworth that reports of AAB’s demise have been exaggerated:
“Nice to hear from you, and the rumor you heard is not true. We’ve had our struggles like so many print-centric publishers, as you know. I am very glad that we can learn from what others have successfully done to evolve in an ever-changing landscape. We do have a significant shift in the business currently underway. I look forward to sharing more details with you in the near future.”
Functionally, however, the venerable magazine, which debuted in 1980, appears to be finished. The “current issue” page on its website shows the January 2018 edition, though Alworth’s story indicates that two other issues were released in this, the mag’s thirty-ninth year, with Volume 39, Issue 1 being the last. AAB’s Facebook page, meanwhile, is full of posts from unhappy subscribers who say they haven’t gotten what they paid for. Some examples:
Alworth puts the blame for the mag’s failure squarely on Rice’s shoulders:
As recently as a couple years ago, the magazine was in the midst of its most impressive period of content. The magazine looked great and [former editor John] Holl had the best writers in the business working on excellent, deeply-reported stories. The design of the magazine—never its strength—was also rich and interesting. And, Holl told me, “Even as online news became the standard, when I was editor we saw print subscriptions rise.” The problem wasn’t editorial—it came from the business side.
Those business problems forced Holl to call it quits. “I left the magazine at the end of March 2017. It wasn’t an easy decision, but Rice wasn’t reliably making payroll and had bounced several paychecks. My daughter had just been born and I needed to do what was best for my family. Also, writers, photographers, and vendors, like the printer, weren’t being paid as scheduled and I wasn’t able to help that situation. I know at least 10 other people in the company who left shortly after I did for similar reasons.”
Last August, despite (or perhaps because of) AAB’s reported financial problems, the magazine announced the purchase of its largest competitor, DRAFT magazine, making AAB the “largest, best-selling, and most engaged of the beer magazines,” Rice told the INDY. DRAFT was to turn into a “digital-first” beer-lifestyle-focused website, with AAB focusing on beer itself—and continuing to publish in print. Apparently, that hasn’t gone to plan, and DRAFT has become little more than an aggregator site.
Of course, print media hasn’t had the easiest time of late, and the same holds true for beer-industry pubs. Beer Magazine folded, and BeerAdvocate went from a monthly to a quarterly format. So this report isn’t altogether shocking. But starting with its fourth issue, when it featured a story on a tiny brewer called Sierra Nevada, it became the go-to source for news about the nascent craft industry, especially in pre-internet days.
As Alworth writes:
The print beer media has had a tough run in recent years. Beer Magazine ceased publication. Draft is gone. The Celebrator Beer News ceased print publication. BeerAdvocate went from a monthly to quarterly format. Social media, blogs, and new-media ventures like Good Beer Hunting have replaced magazines and tabloids, which were born during a different media age.
But losing All About Beer hurts. As an institution spanning the entirety of the American craft beer era, it functioned as a reflection of the American beer industry. the late Michael Jackson and Fred Eckhardt, writers who helped launch beer journalism, were stalwarts in its pages. All About Beer covered every business story, new style development, personality clash, and all the trends and development in craft beer since its beginning. … It’s truly a sad way for the magazine to end.
What the magazine’s reported end means for All About Beer LLC’s World Beer Festival remains unclear. Earlier this month, AAB hosted the twenty-third annual WBF Durham at DPAB; the thirteenth annual WBF Raleigh took place in July. According to the WBF’s website, the eleventh annual WBF Columbia is scheduled for February in South Carolina.
Correction: AAB sold the World Beer Festival last year to a company called 87 Events, which means WBF Durham and WBF Raleigh will be unaffected by the developments at All About Beer. The INDY regrets the error.