Oregon State University Libraries and Press

Jeff Alworth oral history interview, May 29, 2019

Oregon State University
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00:00:00 - Early Life; Father's Background; Growing up in Boise;

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so start with your name...

Segment Synopsis: Jeff was born in Boise, Idaho in the early 1960's. His grandparents moved from Oklahoma to Oregon as the federal government was giving out free land. His grandparents farmed for a period of time, but eventually they moved into shop keeping where they owned various stores.
He characterizes Boise at the time he grew up there, explaining that it was approximately 100,000 people that was made up of blue collared families. He moves forward to tell the story of how his father stole his older brothers birth certificate at the end of WWII to join the Marine Corps at the age of 15. He got on a boat to China as the war ended, where he served as an occupying force.
Jeff details his experience growing up in Boise until the age of 15. He describes it as a relatively unenjoyable experience, however it was very informative and beneficial which has gone on to serve him later in life.

00:15:36 - Salt Lake City; Underground Communities; Debate Club;

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Partial Transcript: Salt Lake was a really funny place. You couldn't go out for a cup of coffee, you couldn't go out for a beer, so there were ice cream stores all over the city...

Segment Synopsis: After moving to Utah, Jeff explains the strict regulations of Salt Lake City in the 70's and 80's, specifically mentioning the laws surrounding beer and coffee. Given the social nature of both coffee and beer, local residents turned to ice cream shops to meet their social needs, resulting in ice cream shops all over town.
In the 1980's, the University of Utah had the largest gay and lesbian student organization in the country. The relevance of the gay community in the area depicted the social climate of the time in Salt Lake City and the state of Utah as a whole.
Once Jeff and his mother moved to Salt Lake City, he quickly fell into the debate club. The club would go on long out of state trips, including to USC, Cal Berkely, and Lewis and Clark College in Portland.

00:27:55 - Passion for Writing; Lewis and Clark College; Religious Studies; University of Wisconsin;

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Partial Transcript: Did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Segment Synopsis: Jeff was always an avid writer, but he explains that at an early age he didn't understand the possibility of writing as a career path. He shares a story during graduate school when his mother shared a folder of all of the fiction stories he wrote as a young child, which forced him to realize how much he had always enjoyed this craft.
Nearing his high school graduation, Jeff applied to Lewis and Clark College, Bates College, and the University of Utah. He ultimately decided to attend Lewis and Clark College, where he began in the Fall of 1986. From the jump he very much enjoyed the city of Portland, which he describes at the first time he lived in an actual city. At Lewis and Clark he majored in Religious Studies, with a focal point on Buddhism. He quickly became enthralled in his work, and eventually pursued a Ph.D in Buddhist studies at the University of Wisconsin, with the intention of becoming a professor.

00:39:37 - Portland, Oregon; City Culture; Portland Breweries;

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Partial Transcript: Rewind a little bit to Portland, what are things that if I asked you to describe your first year, what are the things that come up in your mind..

Segment Synopsis: When asked about his initial impression of Portland, he describes it as wet with constant clouds. During his time in school he owned a Volkswagen van, which led to many trips to the Oregon Coast. He moves on to characterize the culture of the city, describing Portland as a rough place in the 80's and 90's, specifically in the area near Burnside. He explains that in the various apartment buildings he lived in, he never failed to hear gunshots within the building.
He moves forward to share about the breweries that existed in Portland at the time, specifically some of his most commonly attended locations. Bridgeport and Widmer were two of his favorite pubs at the time.

00:54:29 - Women and Beer; Graduate School;

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Partial Transcript: Recently the Brewers Association came out with a statistic that 51% of all beer drinkers in Portland are women..

Segment Synopsis: Jeff shares an interesting statistic from the Brewers Association asserting that 51% of beer drinkers in Portland are women. He isn't entirely sold on the exact number, however it does provide a strong indication of how involved women are in the beer community in the Portland area in comparison to other cities. He explains how the transition into craft breweries in the 1980's and 90's that were attractive to women led to a large growth in their involvement in the beer industry.
He moves forward to discuss how he came to choose the University of Wisconsin, Madison for his graduate work. He describes the culture of Madison, where there was an emphasis on binge drinking and fatty foods. He wound up leaving Madison with a Masters in South Asian studies.

01:10:42 - Return to Portland; Marriage; Research at PSU;

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Partial Transcript: and I came back to Portland...

Segment Synopsis: After his time in Madison, Jeff shifts his focus towards his wife whom he married in 1997, explaining what her path was during this period. She had received an offer from Penn for a presidential scholarship, which provides an extra sum of money to attract her attendance. They ultimately decided not to move to Philadelphia. He explains that they had found a nice Buddhist community in Portland, which largely contributed to their decision to stay. His wife was formerly a CFO, before opening her own cannabis business.
Jeff worked a few miscellaneous job before pursuing a job at Portland State University. The job began as a clerical position, but he quickly became interested in getting involved in the research aspect. After a year in the clerical position, he was promoted to a research position as a faculty member. He details some of the research projects he worked on, and explains how he felt he needed to move on from the field and pursue an occupation that he was passionate about.

01:26:15 - Writing Topics; Starting a Blog; Writing about Politics; Transitioning to Beer;

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Partial Transcript: How did you decide what to write about?

Segment Synopsis: Jeff explains that many of the topics he wrote about he came to at random, but then began to gravitate towards the beer industry. Then in January of 2003, he started his own blog. Through this newly found platform he began to write about politics, and was eventually approached by a man who was looking to start a serious political blog called Blue Oregon, and asked Jeff to co-found it with him. So from 2004-2008 he spent the majority of his writing time on politics, where he wrote for The Oregonian, Willamette Week, and a few national magazines. After years of writing about politics, he had a desire to write about a more gentle and desirable topic, which led him to write about beer.

01:41:21 - Learning Experiences; Blogs vs. Books; Beer Bible;

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Partial Transcript: I wrote a post where I was quoting from some old German source..

Segment Synopsis: Jeff explains the constant experience of learning new things and how readers are able to contribute to his knowledge of the topics he writes about. He shares a story about an individual who left a comment on his story, which ultimately led to a relationship that has lasted over the years.
He moves forward to compare and contrast the writing styles and habits throughout his career when writing books and blog posts. The first book that he wrote was the beer bible, a 230,000 word book that was starkly different from his 400 word blog posts he had previously been writing. He explains that he doesn't view books and blogs as different as some may, as he approaches each chapter of a book as if he was writing an extended blog. The main differentiator is the fact that he has to maintain continuity and a common theme throughout the entirety of a book.
He then elaborates on what he believes characterizes a writer. First and foremost a writer requires skills, but an even larger necessity is the desire to write. He says that writers are writers regardless of if they are getting paid for it.

01:55:05 - Freelance Writing; Banner Ads; Sponsorship;

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Partial Transcript: Being a freelancer is very stressful..

Segment Synopsis: Given the nature of freelance writing, money comes in waves. When writing blogs, one of the easiest ways to make money is to negotiate ad postings on blog pages in exchange for a fee. He explains how for a period he always took a hardline on no ads on his blog because he didn't want to compromise the integrity of his site by allowing ads from breweries he writes about to appear next to the story. Being in position where he needed to get paid, the idea of a sponsorship came up. You have one sponsor who funds you for an extended period of time, and Jeff would broadcast the sponsorship, being up front in the case that he writes about the sponsor. At the time of the interview, Guinness had been his sponsor for nearly 3 years.
Jeff explains a little bit about his involvement with an international writing community.

02:07:15 - Development in Writing; Women in Brewing; Societal Impact;

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Partial Transcript: Do you feel like your writing has changed over time?

Segment Synopsis: Jeff explains how his voice has changed as a writing of the span of his career. In the early stages of his career he utilized an informal and humorous tone, but as he has gotten older he has become much more formal, part of which he credits to the relationship with his sponsor, as well as his development as an individual.
He shifts his focus towards some of the thorny topics he has covered as a writer over his career, such as politics, women in beer, labor issues, and racial issues. Jeff views himself as someone who can give voice to people who don't have a voice. He shares his societal views and elaborates on how he believes people can involve themselves to make contributions in efforts that may not directly pertain to themselves.

02:24:14 - Ethnographer; Cultural Impact; Czech Republic; Memorable Beer Experiences; Conclusion

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Partial Transcript: Do you see yourself as a mentor?

Segment Synopsis: Jeff explains that he sees himself as an ethnographer. He has thrust himself into the culture and practice of the beer industry, as he sees everything in beer as culture. This belief stems from his experiences traveling to various breweries while writing the Beer Bible. He makes the comparison between beer and cuisine, noting that many places grow vary similar ingredients, yet the cultural impact results in vastly different cuisines, and the same remains true for beer.
To conclude the interview, Jeff tells stories of the various breweries he has visited throughout the world. He shares that the Czech Republic is the most memorable location he has ever visited in his travels studying beer. He also explains how he wishes to eventually transition out of writing books about beer, but has yet to make traction on that front.