Friday, July 20, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Bar review: Make it about the beer at International Beer Garten in Lutz

I was chatting beer with an old friend who now lives in the Land O'Lakes area, and he mentioned that Lutz and Land O'Lakes were somewhat devoid of good beer bars. The only place close to him is the International Beer Garten, a beer bar established in 2008. A bay area beer bar that has been open for more than eight years that I've never visited? Unthinkable!

It turns out he was right. Unless you want to hop over to Wesley Chapel, IBG is the beer bar for Lutz and Land O'Lakes. And it's a hit with area residents, as evidenced by its eight-year tenure.

It's not a bad option, either. There are 52 beers on draft, a voluminous bottle selection, four draft wines and a full liquor selection, including house cocktails. The location is great — right off the Suncoast Parkway at State Road 54 — and the space is large and attractive, decked out in brick and polished wood. There are two bars, plenty of lounge and dining space to stretch out in, and an outdoor patio overlooking the chic Northpointe Village mixed-use complex. Yet, it could be so much more.

The International part of the name is quite apt; taking a page from the World of Beer playbook, bottled beers are organized by nation or geographical region, and there are many imported options. But whatever emphasis on an authentic beer bar experience the International Beer Garten may have had in the past seems to have been traded in for mainstream appeal, perhaps to keep the wheels turning in an area not quite tuned into today's beer culture.

Take IBG's Facebook page, for example. The bar's emphasis on its attractive female bartenders is so heavy that it could easily be mistaken for a modeling page. Beer is mentioned only in passing, despite near-daily status updates. The cocktail list is populated by sugary martini-style drinks, and there's a shot menu with such treats as the "Blonde Headed Slut" and "Red Headed Slut." Two "slut" drinks?

The effect is obvious: people don't come in excited about the beer. On the night I visited, well more than half the guests were drinking domestic macro light lagers, wine or colorful cocktails. There's nothing wrong with any of this per se, but IBG has everything it needs to be a great beer bar, and the residents of Lutz and Land O'Lakes deserve one.

Simply enough: Put more emphasis on the beer. If you have 52 beers on draft and 200-plus bottles, then there's no reason that more than half of the bar isn't drinking them. There are some bottles in the cooler that I know for a fact are a couple of years old. They're very good beers, too. The bartenders should learn about these beers and encourage the customers to try something new. You can have the inventory of a serious beer bar, but unless you get your customers on board, you'll end up with a lot of old stock.

I'm not picking on IBG; in fact, I found it to be a very nice place, and I wouldn't even slightly hesitate to visit again next time I'm in the area. If it were just a generic suburban shopping center bar, I would view it differently. But IBG has the location, the facility and the following to be a fantastic option for beer fans that don't want to drive to Tampa to enjoy a large selection of great beers. The potential is high, and it wouldn't take much effort to realize it.

You know, this is actually an opportunity for Lutz and Land O'Lakes beer drinkers. If I lived in the area, I would make IBG my local spot, easily. The selection is very good, and I could drink a different beer there every day for months without ever getting bored. I would chat beer with the bartenders and other patrons. I would treat IBG like the beer bar it could easily be.

In the meantime, IBG remains a solid, full-service bar. It's a fun place to hang out in, and a nice option for Lutz and Land O'Lakes drinkers. I hope, however, that it gains more recognition for what it should be: a serious, international beer bar with a tremendous selection. After all, the beer is all there — the culture just needs to catch up with it.

[email protected]; @WordsWithJG.

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