5 Questions With Alex Kidd Of DontDrinkBeer
Author’s Note: This interview occurred before Alex announced his diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer. A GoFundMe has been set up to help Alex’s family through this tremendously difficult time, and PorchDrinking has partnered with Tom Maugeri of “It’s Always Stout Season” and Mélodie Simond, an admin of Barleywine is Life, to host a razzle fundraiser with all proceeds going to support Alex’s family. Please visit this link to learn how you can help out Alex and his family as a brewery or an individual.
The man. The myth. The malty legend. dontdrinkbeer aka Alex Kidd, aka the father of Barleywine Is Life, aka the co-host of Malt Couture, the world’s jankiest beer podcast, took time out of his busy shitposting day to speak with PorchDrinking about his beer and writing journey. We laughed, we cried and we reminisced about the good ol’ days when beer was beer and standing in line for hours for some barley water was the peak of cool. Join us on this journey through Alex’s rise to beer infamy.
PorchDrinking (PD): How did you first get into good beer, and what were some of those gateway beers?
Alex Kidd (AK): I think the biggest influence early on was I went to undergrad at Cal (UC Berkeley) – there was Triple Rock Brewing, there was Bison Brewing, and you’re kind of in the shadow of Pyramid, Trumer. All of that was going on in the mid-2000’s, and I used to go to this place called Jupiter that had Moonlight on tap. That’s also back when Stone was really making an influence, so I would buy every Stone thing. I was a big Arrogant Bastard fan and just kept trying to hit those hoppier and hoppier things. I did a little bit of homebrewing then did a couple little trades. Then I think in 2004 I did a trade for Dogfish Head 120 Minute. It was a different time!
Then basically I went to law school and didn’t have any money or time for that, so I fell off the map for half a decade. In the late 2000’s, I started doing comedy and was into beer and just started progressively getting more and more interested. I was doing homebrewing at the time and just kind of merged my interest in comedy and writing comedy with my interest in beer and just did both at the same time.
PD: That kind of perfectly segues into my next question. What made you start writing about beer and eventually start dontdrinkbeer.com?
AK: I think when you get done with law school and all you have is just being a lawyer, you kind of need an outlet. I was doing comedy, I was interested in beer and I wanted to basically write about beer in a way that was not just tasting notes because that’s horrible and boring. At the time, everyone was jumping from written format to making horrible, boring, long YouTube videos with tasting notes, so I was like, “I don’t want to do that, and I want to remain anonymous” so that I can still have a professional career.
So I just started writing narrative form and experimenting with the structure of how you can communicate these intersubjective sensory experiences. Instead of just adjectives, I was trying to contextualize an adjective or contextualize a beer relative to other beers so that it wasn’t just a numerical score or some prescriptive “you should get this sort of note.”
That was really one thing that kind of set me apart. At the end of every review, I’d do a narrative which was supposed to capture the joie de vivre of what it was like to drink that beer. Writing in that narrative format was what got me banned on BeerAdvocate for the first time. So in 2010, when I first got banned, they actually helped me because it was like, “Hey, go get your own platform.” In doing so, it kind of set me off on writing thousands of reviews on my own.
PD: What would you say are the biggest influences on your writing style, and how has your style evolved over the years?
AK: I think any core sample you take of when I’m writing, it’s directly affected by whatever I’m consuming at the time. And so if you read early stuff, it doesn’t have as much balance to it or approachability. I was really into postmodernism and these long drawn out sentences and needlessly verbose stuff. I mean, I’m probably still guilty of that, but I’d like to think that at least it’s more approachable and something that someone could kind of sink their teeth into without a crazy steep curve.
I’d say over the years, I think I’ve just gotten more comfortable with writing and less demonstrative, less of this need to show that I’m a good writer or to be perceived as somehow smart or exceptional. In letting go of that fear of this idea of not being good enough or, “Oh, they’re gonna realize that my writing is not that good,” I took all of this set dressing down, and now there are no narratives. I just write in a way that I hope resonates with people and will keep them reading and hopefully make them more curious about beer.
PD: How have you noticed the beer media landscape changing over the years?
AK: I think the commentary side of things has kind of been wiped out. I don’t think that pretty much anyone is doing criticism, or if they’re doing reviews, they’re certainly not doing criticism or doing a critical analysis. It’s never really been a great space for open and honest discourse for shortcomings or things like that, but now it really isn’t.
In the 2010’s, it had some of that, but now this shift is all influencer driven, essentially thinly veiled marketing posts or content that is so short and TikTok-y consumable that it might as well not even be about beer. Or it’s about such fringe aspects of beer that the commentary really falls on either a mean side of things or just a thinly veiled advertisement of things.
You do have a few outlets that are doing comprehensive analysis like GoodBeerHunting does it, you guys (PorchDrinking) do it. You know, you look at market trends and say, “How does this affect things?” BeerAfficianado does a fantastic job on the economic side, but the fact that we can list like the five people doing good work in such a gigantic industry is definitely telling.
I don’t think we’re as bad as the horrible pay-to-play laughable profit driven paradigm of bourbon, but just being ahead of the shittiest level of journalism is not good. That’s a low bar.
I would say the vast majority of beer media has kind of shifted to influencer based or in some way shifting away from criticism, analysis or thoughtful discussion. Pretty much in all media, but particularly in beer, it’s more like, “What can I get paid for posting this?” Or if I’m featuring this brewery, you’re going to get a lot of exposition about a sense of place and who are these people and where is this taking place. That is always kind of the softest, backpedaling default if you don’t want to have to alienate them. In a post-COVID world, why would you take the time to write a takedown piece criticizing beer when they have a 7 BBL system? They’re doing their best. If you don’t have something extremely positive to say, don’t even write about it unless it’s easy like Stone or Mikkeller or BrewDog or someone who’s clearly being a bad actor. Those are the only people you get to criticize. Everyone else is just doing their best approach to things. I think that in terms of actual criticism and analysis it is lacking, but I think maybe it’ll return. Who knows?
PD: Looking ahead, what can we expect from DDB in the future? You’ve got your website, social media, the Malt Couture podcast. Are you working on a TV show? You got a DDB documentary in the works? What’s going on?
AK: I always try to pivot to whatever makes sense for the art. If I was clinging to just negative reviews this deep in I wouldn’t be doing well. And if I abandoned things to just make Tik Toks I’d be doing even worse. It’s tough because I’m going to do whatever services my message and what I think generates the content and information that people can consume best.
Really the time priority for me right now is just like having two kids and being a lawyer. There’s just a lot of things on my plate, but I still try and do live shows. I have one tomorrow in Anaheim with Scott Windsor. That’s like a variety show. I do stand up comedy up top. We do a game. We have a live blending. We have a palate tasting-off. Then at the end, we do garbage palate – we have cards and then people pull cards and then I blend that beer right in front of them. So stuff like that.
If I have the runway and people will keep buying tickets and showing up, I’ll keep doing it. It remains fun and remains an outlet. Like you said, people will watch me play these absurd games (Author’s Note – Malt Couture Patreon exclusive content is wild). If they enjoy that sort of stuff, I’ll absolutely do it because I think it’s fun. Nobody else – certainly somebody else can make it – but at this point, nobody else is doing that sort of content, and I think it fills a very niche, weird space. That’s kind of been what I always have been. It’s like cars, Japanese RPGs, weird movies. If that’s your blend, keep doing that. In terms of expanding media and like writing a book or getting my own show and stuff, I can’t really speak too much to anything that’s in the works and may or may not happen until it’s greenlit. Just know I’m always trying to pivot and remain accessible and relevant relative to how people like to consume information.
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Stay tuned to PorchDrinking as we’ll be announcing full raffle details, along with bottles available for GoFundMe contributors for the upcoming fundraiser to support Alex Kidd’s recovery.
Featured Image courtesy of Alex Kidd