There was an interesting discussion on Twitter recently about to what extent it is acceptable to criticise beers that you, as a blogger, have been given for free. My view was that you needed to tread carefully, but on reflection I think it’s important to draw a distinction between beers (and other products) provided purely for review, and those that represent an element of hospitality.
Over the years I have been given a large number of free pints when delivering the local CAMRA magazine, although sadly that practice has ceased in both of the pubs that used to do it. I would never ask for a top-up of a free pint and, if it happened to be in poor condition (which was very rarely the case) I would abstain from giving it a score on WhatPub. It’s rank bad manners to quibble and carp over gifts.
If you are given something purely for the purpose of providing a review, then it’s fair enough to be negative, as I was about this book. But, on the other hand, some gifts surely represent a feeling of goodwill, and it doesn’t do to react in an excessively negative way. For example, a while back, I was given five eight-packs of Wells & Young’s bottled beers, which would have had a retail price of at least £60. All were reviewed, and I was a bit lukewarm about the London Gold, but I did feel that it would be rude to spit it back in their face. As it happens, I like Wells & Young’s beers, and think that, overall, they are the best of the major producers of premium bottled ales, so I didn’t feel I had to compromise my integrity.
I was also given a free review copy of this expensive coffee-table book, which is one that I probably would have bought with my own money anyway. I saw that as a gesture of goodwill, and responded accordingly.
I’ve now been blogging for nearly seven years, and have only ever received four examples of free stuff, so don’t imagine that it’s the key to the life of Riley.
Ironically, between composing this post and putting it up, Tandleman has written about his trip to BrewDog. You can judge for yourself whether the free hospitality affected his conclusions.