This blog entry has generated some interesting online debate. I feel compelled to highlight a few points that are in this original post, but might get overlooked as the discussion moves from this essay to a broader online community.

  • I'm specifically addressing current North Carolina breweries. Yes, some breweries can and do suck: they can be unsanitary, inconsistent, even downright awful. Not so much here in North Carolina. Right here, right now -- in early 2011 -- I'm blown away by the quality of North Carolina beer.
  • If you think something sucks, be specific. It's the throw-away "that brewery sucks" that is so irksome and ultimately detrimental to our fledgling industry.

February 2011

If you tell me such-and-such North Carolina brewery "sucks," I'm likely to dismiss your opinion. Yes, even when the criticism includes a full-scale dismissal of our own brewery. I'm all for constructive criticism on specific beers: you may find our IPA too simple, preferring instead a West Coast style full of citrus hops and higher in alcohol. You may find our Hogwash hickory-smoked porter too smoky, but guess what: it's a smoked porter. It's supposed to taste meaty and smoky. You may be disappointed that you don't taste sweet potato in our sweet potato lager.

You may find the state's increasing number of experimental beers not to your liking; you may wish that North Carolina beer pushed the envelope more than it does.

It doesn't mean a brewery sucks. It means you didn't like a specific beer. More accurately, it means you don't care for that specific style or interpretation of that style. In some cases, it means you generally don't like the beers a specific brewery puts out. It could be because they specialize in beers from a specific region, or they have a house yeast that you don't like, or they don't push the envelope enough.

It doesn't mean the brewery sucks.

It's an increasingly competitive market here in North Carolina, and while some breweries may have a miss along with their hits, we *all* strive to make good beer. Our backs ache and our feet are sore from cleaning, hauling, mashing, and moving. It's expensive, risky work. I don't mean to speak for all North Carolina breweries here, but we toil in this industry because we love it and we fundamentally believe in our product.

As someone who has spent nearly a decade promoting craft beer in North Carolina, I wonder if the citizenry is a little too comfortable with the recent brewery boom, and they're finding it necessary to sort out supposed "winners" and "losers" among the 40+ plus in-state breweries.

Please avoid that temptation. The ripping on other breweries is needlessly pessimistic and, at times, downright hurtful.

It's beer. It's local. It's creative and generally delicious. If you don't like a beer you tried, find a North Carolina beer and brewery you do like. And be willing to give that one you didn't like another shot. If you still don't like the beer, let the brewery know. Have the balls to contact the brewery and tell them about your bad experience. We promise to treat you with respect and to listen to your criticism. Be prepared for us to defend ourselves, the beer we make, and our decision to brew it a certain way. That's part of being proud. But we will listen.

Breweries can't always control how their beer is served. A few weeks back, I witnessed a local bartender casually switch over a tap from Hogwash to our Fullsteam Southern lager without pouring as much as a pint out in between kegs. How do you think that next pint of Fullsteam tasted? I was so glad to be there to tell him, "Let me clean that line for you -- Hogwash is pretty smoky."
I'm not always there to fix problems like this. Had I not been there to thwart the potential fiasco, the next ten people ordering Fullsteam would have hated the beer, wondering what the hell it was. And they're right: the beer would have sucked. It would have been a half-Hogwash-half-Fullsteam total nightmare (some beer blends are good; that one should be avoided). And any one of those ten people could have posted on Facebook, Twitter, RateBeer, BeerAdvocate, Yelp, Citysearch, and/or Google and told their friends "Fullsteam's beer sucks." Because it did that night. Because a bartender was busy and didn't have time to clean the line.

Don't even think about posting "well, such-and-such brewery isn't all that hot," because that's totally missing the point. I'm really proud of all North Carolina beer. I'm really proud of our brewery. If you have a favorite NC brewery, that's great. Have a favorite. But that doesn't obligate you to insult other breweries you don't like. We have a great beer scene in North Carolina, from Sylva to Kill Devil Hills. A beer scene that can grow beyond its measly 1 percent market share if we take some collective pride. We as North Carolina brewers are rarely smug, arrogant or dismissive toward one another. If we are, it's a sign of insecurity in our own product, and you should immediately call us out on it.

In general, our state's breweries regularly support and encourage one other. We share ideas. We collaborate. We order grain together to save on shipping. We recommend other North Carolina breweries to restaurants if we don't service a particular region of the state. You'd be amazed at how many times I get calls from other North Carolina breweries saying, "Hey, such-and-such restaurant is switching their taps over to almost all North Carolina beer. You should give them a call." That's not something I saw happen very often in the high-tech world.

We support one another as pioneers in this new, exciting era of craft beer in North Carolina.

Will you do the same?