On my recent visit to Tampa, Florida I had the chance to see how things are done on both sides of the spectrum. I started at Yuengling Brewery which touts itself as the largest American owned brewery, and it’s oldest, and then followed it up with a stop at Cigar City Brewing; also located in Tampa. Let me start off by saying that I actually enjoy, and have enjoyed, Yuengling beer and this post is not about who has better beer (even though that’s obvious if you’ve ever had Jai Alai). This post is about the culture of making beer versus the culture of beer.
In going to the Yuengling Brewery I got the story of a great family run and owned company that happens to make beer. I heard jokes about bad beer from rival companies, I heard jokes about the smaller “craft breweries” trying to take over and that’s when I started to notice the difference. The difference between the culture of beer and the culture of making beer. At breweries like Yuengling the beer is the most important product, everything has to be perfect and everything comes down to where they sit in market against their competition. When I asked about why Yuengling uses green bottles when they knew that it makes skunky beer, the response was and I quote “research shows that people like drinking beer out of green bottles.” WHAT!? How is this a logical response when you are trying to supposedly make “great” beer? This is where you start to see the differences between the two ideas one of beer culture and one of strictly beer making.
When I speak of the culture of beer you find it first hand at Cigar City Brewing and any other craft brewery I have ever been to. When I walked into Cigar City brewing I witnessed the culture of beer. I was able to learn the history of Cigar City Brewing by having a seat at their tasting room bar. Underneath the bar top were the original hand written letters and pictures from the inception to its present day. I was able to purchase and enjoy a hand rolled cigar from a local cigar maker. I was able to enjoy a Cuban sandwich amongst other local fare. I was able to talk to the brewmaster about them using Buffalo Trace bourbon in their barrels aged brew and enjoy an amazing list of great beers.
The culture of making beer is easy. That is why when you see the commercials from the big name breweries you hear the same thing time after time. You get innovations to the design of the can for easier pour ability and not innovations to the actual beer. You get mountains that turn blue when it’s extra cold and premiums and lights and ultra light beer. I understand that at one time the culture of making beer was all that we had and all that we needed, but just like many things in our lives, things change. I am for the culture of beer because it’s a better place to be not just because the beer is better (it isn’t always better either). In the culture of beer, a person who never tried a beer can become as knowledgable as the person who makes their own. In the culture of beer, breweries work together to make a great product not against each other so that they can make the same product. The culture of beer allows it to be hot for a woman to know her beer not just to be pretty around guys with beer. So even if beer is not your thing I hope you take the chance to enjoy the culture of beer. Slaìnte!