Q&A: Todd Alström talks about Beer Advocate's influence and his move to Denver
Colorado attracts beer lovers the way a keg attracts red Solo cups, and last month, one of the nation's most well-known beer lovers announced that he was moving here. Todd Alström, who founded Beer Advocate magazine with his brother, Jason, in 1996, told readers that's he's moving from Boston to the Denver area for personal reasons.
Every month, more than 2.5 million people check into Beer Advocate online to rate their beers, read industry news and talk about breweries with other beer geeks in one of a couple of dozen regional and subject-specific forums. And while Internet entrepreneurs can be located anywhere, the move is sure to have an effect on Beer Advocate, which is one of the most influential online community sites for craft-beer drinkers in the country.
That's because the Alströms maintain a heavy presence on Beer Advocate (which also produces a monthly magazine with a readership of 150,000), moderating the forums, doling out opinions alongside their members and chiming in on a wide variety of topics.
We checked in with Todd Alström on the eve of his move to Colorado -- he plans to be here next week -- to find out a little more about Beer Advocate, its history and its future. Here's our Q&A:
Westword: Why are you moving to Colorado?
Todd Alström: It's time for a change. I love the Boston area and will be back frequently, but it's become very expensive to not only rent or buy, but live in the area, too. Candice (my wife) planted the seed as she used to live in Colorado, and I've enjoyed all of my visits. We're viewing our move to Colorado as a major lifestyle upgrade: You get more for your dollar, the people are friendly and the scenery is stunning.
Colorado's beer scene is an added bonus that we plan on taking full advantage of.
Will your new location change the dynamic of the website, magazine and Beer Advocate at all, or of the forums that you post in?
It's bound to. I've already started paying more attention and posting in the Mountain forum, been slated to cover Denver for Beer Destinations in Beer Advocate magazine. and I plan on adjusting who I follow and interact with on Twitter.
How would you compare the Denver area to other beer destinations around the country?
Man. I hate comparing cities. I'd rather appreciate their differences.
I know you've been to Denver a number of times. What are some of your favorite local breweries or beers?
Given my position, and the ever-changing world of beer, I've trained myself to not have favorite breweries or beers.
Are there some places you plan to hit right away when you get here?
After a four-day drive from Boston, I'll no doubt be craving a cold local beer. I can't think much past that at the moment, but I'm looking forward to being able to walk or bike to so many great breweries, bars and restaurants that carry good beer.
Are there things that the locals could do to improve the craft-beer scene in Colorado?
Ask me again once I've become a local.
Will Beer Advocate take a bigger role in local events or hold events here, or will you stick with Boston?
We haven't really talked about it too much, but we're not ruling out doing events in Denver area either. We'll see what happens after we settle in and soak in the scene.
Turn the page to read more from Todd Alström.
This screenshot shows Beer Advocate's popular rating system.
What are some of the biggest controversies that Beer Advocate has endured over the years?
Apart from some minor online trolling from people who have way too much free time on their hands, Beer Advocate hasn't endured any controversies.
What are some of your biggest successes?
Going into business with my brother.
Hiring awesome employees and learning to let go.
Running a business wherein all facets have seen a substantial growth each year: website, magazine and fests.
Living the dream -- literally.
Beer Advocate has sometimes received the ire of some beer drinkers because of forum-posting policies or for running the site with a heavy hand. How do you address people's concerns online or deal with these criticisms?
It's no secret that Beer Advocate.com is a moderated website. We view its use as a privilege, not a right. Members agree to follow the rules when they join, which are clearly posted, but it's the Internet and people think they can say whatever they want and without consequence. Depending on the severity, we'll give members ample warnings or ban them outright. In both cases they've chosen to ignore our rules, and agreed to our reaction by joining.
As far as dealing with any criticisms, we're always open to constructive comments and often make adjustments based on them, but we're also realistic in that it's impossible to please everyone.
How has Beer Advocate helped set the agenda for craft beer drinkers in the United States?
When we started back in 1996, there was only 0.9 percent (36 million people) of the world's population (5.7 billion) online. Consumers had fewer options and not much of our voice. Jason and I acted as that voice until we introduced the ability for others to join the site, post beer reviews and talk in our forums. We were social media before social media. We essentially empowered visitors to learn, share and advocate beer by using the website as a platform. Although we've since added a monthly magazine and events to what we do, this goal remains at our core.
What do you think is the most influential part of the site?
Our members. (See above answer.)
What are some of the goals you have for Beer Advocate over the next few years?
Complete redesign of the website, from the servers it runs on to its visual layer.
Continue to refine our mobile experience.
Add more content to Beer Advocate magazine, and begin archiving past content online.
Expand the fests into new markets.
Hire more people.
Travel more, and share those experiences.
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