Hello and welcome, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.
Hello! My name is Matt Curtis and I’ve been writing a beer blog called Total Ales for almost three years. I started writing the blog because I was boring my friends by talking about beer all the time as I became more and more obsessed with it. I though it would be a good way to curb my enthusiasm a little but in fact it only served to reinforce it! I try to write about my personal experience of beer rather than just straight reviews of what and where I’m drinking and there is a healthy dose of both comment and opinion in there too. Hopefully people find it entertaining, enjoyable and informative as that’s the balance I’m trying to achieve.
Is there a story behind your blog’s name?
The blog is called Total Ales because when I was visiting the town of Fort Collins in Colorado, a true beer paradise, I went to an incredibly huge liquor store called ‘Total Beverage’ which was the base for the inspiration. It’s also a small homage to the video games magazines I read in my youth such as Total Play and Total Amiga.
Why did you choose to blog about beer?
I’d started blogs on other subjects I love before but they always seem to fall by the wayside. Something about beer just keeps the fire, the desire to write, burning away inside me. There are so many stories waiting to be told, I literally can’t wait to get home from work and start writing about beer. Sometimes just a single sip can inspire me to write thousands of words!
Does blogging about drink present any particular challenges?
Trying to vary the pace of the writing and keep things fresh is always on my mind, I think this is something that all bloggers deal with regardless of their subject matter though. I think the biggest problem outside of the writing is that I blog about alcohol and this leads to a lot of drinking (what a nightmare) which is something I have to think about. It also takes up a lot of my time, especially as I get to attend a few press events but I’d rather be doing this than anything else.
Is there a particular style of beer you seek out most often?
I like hoppy American style pale ale and IPA and there are lots of good ones but I’m mostly seeking ones with clean, balanced and distinctive flavours that have a well-rounded juiciness and these are at the pinnacle of beer for me.
Which single beer could you not live without?
At the moment it’s Beavertown’s Gamma Ray pale ale. It’s my fridge staple and one of the best beers being brewed in the UK right now. Thankfully the brewery is only 10 miles from my flat!
Are there beer styles you don’t like or think are overrated?
I’ll try anything once, there can easily be good and bad examples of the same style. I mostly struggle with sweeter beers such as malt forward bocks or marzens. Another struggle is going to the pub with friends who aren’t interested in beer at all and finding something decent on the bar I want to drink. Thankfully great beer is exponentially rising in popularity so this is become less and less of a problem.
What are the current trends in the beer scene? How do you feel about them?
Right now the beer scene is more exciting than it’s ever been and I still think it’s going to get even better! Since the late 80’s craft beer has been slowly bubbling away, gaining gradual momentum. Now this has spread all over the world and the UK is perhaps one of the most interesting places to be a beer lover. We have a strong traditional beer scene and a modern craft beer scene that’s growing incredibly quickly. This is now spilling out into the mainstream with even the Wetherspoons chain completely updating their offering. The trick is, like with great beer, finding the perfect balance.
Tell us about your pet controversy in the beer world.
I think my biggest problem is with breweries trying to cash in on the hard work of those that ‘get it’. People stealing anything from branding through to falsifying their own ethos so they look like another brewery. A common thing I see is that a lot of new breweries have a ‘Brewdog Complex’ where they copy the in your face marketing tactics of the cheeky Scottish brewery. This is in fact the antithesis of what Brewdog did in creating something quite different, in the UK at least (it could be said that Brewdog simply copied the ethos of their favourite American breweries.) I think a lot of newer breweries (and some older ones) would do better to find their own path rather than walk somebody elses well trodden one.
What are your top three criteria for a great pub? Do you have a favourite pub? Why?
Great beer, good food and vibe. The first two are obvious but the third is really the trick. It’s tough to create the perfect atmosphere that ebbs and flows with the mood of your patrons, few really have it but the best example in the UK is probably North Bar in Leeds. It just has a certain magic that makes it hard for me to leave when I’m in there.
What are the biggest turn offs for you, in the pubs you don’t like?
Sticky tables, smelly toilets and bar staff that are selling craft beers but have little interest in having a conversation with me about what I’m drinking. If you don’t want to chat you could at least be wiping down the tables.
What’s the strangest / funniest thing that’s happened to you in a pub?
I once drunkenly haggled with Masterchef winner Tim Anderson when he worked behind the bar in the Euston Tap. My friend picked a bottle of imported American beer that wasn’t priced on the till so he said we had to haggle for it. I think we probably paid over the odds but we were pretty drunk and didn’t care too much!
Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?
I think my writing has improved markedly since I began this blog in particular. I always feel like I’m learning and improving but this blog has dramatically improved my writing. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned it how to edit a post properly and cut the crap that no one wants to read out! I’ve also learned that the most important thing is to blog for yourself, if you’re happy with what you’re creating then people will come and read what you’ve created and share the experience with you.
What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?
Keeping things fresh and keeping the momentum going can be challenging. As with any creative pastime sometimes you can write for days on end and sometimes you have nothing. I try and keep writing through the dry spells, which have been thankfully few and far between, just to keep the momentum constant. Blogging moves so quickly that I find you can soon fall by the wayside if you stop writing.
What inspires you to keep blogging?
Beer! Honestly the beer scene is so vibrant at the moment that there is so much to write about and I’m constantly discovering stories or tastes that I have to write about.
Blogging killed the newspaper star. What do you think bloggers bring to the arena that differentiates them from traditional journalists?
The best bloggers are a combination of a great journalist, a great editor and a wonderful storyteller. The best blogs are the newspapers of the future!
What’s the single most popular post on your blog?
I wrote a post on the price of imported American craft beer coming into the UK. This was picked up by the US beer blogging scene which is exponentially larger than the one we have here and it got a lot of attention and started a lot of conversation.
Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?
I wrote a short story based on an experience I had out in Colorado a couple of years ago when I had some absolutely incredible pulled pork at a roadside diner. No other pulled pork I’ve tasted since has come close but a lot of that was to do with the experience. It’s probably the piece of writing I’m most happy with and I still enjoy reading it. http://totalales.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/the-best-pulled-pork-i-ever-had.html
What’s the one question you wish I’d asked you but didn’t?
What’s the best beer in the world?
Please go ahead and answer it!
Russian River Pliny The Elder of course! Except its nearly impossible to get hold of outside of California. It’s exactly what I look for in a beer; clean, bright, distinctive flavours of grapefruit and pine resin and a booming aroma to match. Perfection!
Spread the love
Enjoyed this interview? Read the rest of the series, here.