Friday, January 19, 2018
Bars & Spirits

In craft beer community, everyone's a critic — and that can be good

Few communities are as supportive and friendly as the craft beer community. There's much back-patting and outward positivity among both brewers and drinkers, making it hard to imagine that our local beer is anything but the best in the world.

But the idealism simply can't match the reality. With so many craft breweries opening in the bay area, each with a portfolio of several different beers, it's an inevitability that many of them will be, well, not that good. The question, then, is whether it's appropriate to criticize another's labor of love; and if so, what makes criticism constructive, rather than purposeless slamming?

I asked Khris Johnson, head brewer at St. Pete's Green Bench Brewing, for his take. When Green Bench opened last year, the public's response was unusually conflicted, with visitors widely praising the brewery itself but expressing some doubt about its beers. Online reviews and word of mouth shared a common theme: the beers were "too hoppy," "not balanced," and even "fell flat." Lately, the reviews have turned decidedly more positive, with visitors praising Johnson's more recent efforts, like his Surrealist IPA and Demens Black IPA.

"I was prepared for our first beers to not be our best," Johnson said. "There were, and there will always be, growing pains. We were very aware that it would take a month, six months or a lot longer before I was consistently brewing our beers as they were meant to be. We have beers now that people can't get enough of, for example, that I know need little changes here and there."

Johnson sees criticism as a vital part of the craft, but it's one that not everyone gets right.

"It is absolutely appropriate for consumers to criticize craft brewers," he said. "The fact is that standards must remain extremely high. People should expect the best and I think they should get it. I don't think that positive or negative criticism is a bad thing. I think that uneducated criticism is.

"A large part of my job is education. I have actually heard criticism of beers made where the consumer literally picks out all of the flavors perfectly and then complains about them, yet those flavors are what makes that style what it is or makes that specific beer unique. I'm paraphrasing, but it went something like this: 'I taste really spicy flavors and some weird oakiness, a little citrus and it's really dry (low number of stars selected, or thumbs down, or whatever indicates bad).' The description was of my Saison de Banc Vert, which is a 100-percent oak fermented farmhouse ale. Because the beer had that character (which I love and intended), the consumer implied that it was a poorly made beer because the beers they've had in the past didn't match up with that one."

Sure enough, an early Yelp review of Green Bench gets right to the point: "Why 3 stars? Because your wheat beer can't be hoppy." Not only does this come as a surprise to brewers of white IPAs and other heavily hopped wheat beers, it also doesn't offer any criticism beyond the fact that the reviewer doesn't like hoppy beers.

To Johnson, this is an opportunity for craft brewers to educate their audience, which will help keep criticism useful.

"My favorite thing about our area right now is that we have three, soon to be four, breweries very close to one another that all do something differently," he said. "We have the perfect area to quickly educate consumers on what beer is, and more importantly, what it can be. I think that's what brewers need to focus on. I would encourage them to remain proactive in educating the consumer on what they're making, how they're making it, and why is it so unique."

We can all be friendly and supportive of each other in the craft beer community, but criticism is necessary to make sure that the beer itself is up to par. As long as consumers offer honest, constructive feedback to brewers who are willing to both listen and educate, then we'll have a much stronger foundation for the continued growth of our local craft-beer scene than we would if everyone just smiled and said, "Yeah, it's pretty good."

[email protected]

Comments
Bar review: Florida spirits and brews at the newest Local Draught House in Tampa

Bar review: Florida spirits and brews at the newest Local Draught House in Tampa

I don’t consider myself "old" — though I have gotten into a bad habit of informing door people insistent on checking my ID that I’m halfway to 70. But I’m frequently made aware of how far removed my lifestyle is from that of my 20s.So when I walked i...
Published: 01/18/18
Local craft beer of the week: Electric Wizard IPA from 7venth Sun Brewery

Local craft beer of the week: Electric Wizard IPA from 7venth Sun Brewery

The past six months have been kind to Dunedin’s 7venth Sun Brewery. In August, the brewery’s long-awaited Tampa expansion finally happened, with its much larger Seminole Heights facility and tasting room opening in a town eager to try its range of ul...
Published: 01/18/18
Shake Shack, Momofuku and more: Please come to Tampa Bay

Shake Shack, Momofuku and more: Please come to Tampa Bay

Fabio is coming! Not the Fabio on your romance novel, with the billowing hair and large quantities of artificial butter. This Fabio, in all likelihood, uses real butter. And olive oil. Fabio Viviani, the charming Top Chef alum known for appearances...
Published: 01/17/18
Time to carbo load: Three new bakeries include an Australian bakery, second La Segunda

Time to carbo load: Three new bakeries include an Australian bakery, second La Segunda

LA SEGUNDAA Tampa Bay giant has stirred and is on the move. La Segunda Central Bakery, a family-owned Ybor City institution for nearly 103 years (they celebrated that birthday Jan. 15) and the largest producer of Cuban bread in the world, will open a...
Published: 01/17/18
Shake Shack inches closer to Tampa Bay with new Florida restaurant

Shake Shack inches closer to Tampa Bay with new Florida restaurant

Beloved burger restaurant Shake Shack, which once inspired hungry diners to wait in hours-long lines at New York's Madison Square Park before expanding with dozens of locations across the U.S., is inching closer to Tampa Bay. A lease agreement  with...
Published: 01/17/18
Healthful eating is just a one-pan fish dish away

Healthful eating is just a one-pan fish dish away

By Ellie KriegerI recoil at the repentant food chatter that crops up this time of year, dominated by words such as "cleanse" and "detox," which, from what I can tell, are just modern code for "extreme diet." But part of cultivating a healthy, balanc...
Published: 01/17/18
We tried eating the recommended serving of fruit and vegetables for a week, and it was harder than we thought

We tried eating the recommended serving of fruit and vegetables for a week, and it was harder than we thought

I sat at my desk eating chunked pineapple straight out of the can, reading about how much fruit and vegetables we should all be eating every day: 1 1/2 to two cups of fruit, 2 1/2 to three cups of vegetables, at a minimum, per the United States Depar...
Published: 01/17/18
Taste test: pot stickers

Taste test: pot stickers

Whenever I order meals at a Chinese or Japanese restaurant I always look for pot stickers on the menu. The tasty Asian dumplings are filled with pork or chicken and veggies and cooked with a perfect balance of steaming and frying. The reason I order ...
Published: 01/16/18
From the food editor: Recipe for warm, cozy Pita Ribollita soup

From the food editor: Recipe for warm, cozy Pita Ribollita soup

When I first made this soup, Florida was in the grips of a cold weather snap, the likes of which rarely happens in this part of the state. We’re talking a whole week of lows in the 30s. The 30s! It was everything I ever wanted and more — the rare win...
Published: 01/16/18
Restaurant review: Byblos Cafe has busted out of its mold with a broader Mediterranean menu, and that’s good

Restaurant review: Byblos Cafe has busted out of its mold with a broader Mediterranean menu, and that’s good

TAMPASeldom have I paid such close attention to a restaurant closure, remodeling and reopening. Byblos Cafe began a major renovation last year, keeping the restaurant open as long as possible during the summer with some nifty temporary walls to shiel...
Published: 01/16/18