Monday, November 29, 2010

More from the Angry Rabble: Cigar City Brewing Close to Losing its Tasting Room

I know I'm supposed to be finishing off my teacher's college applications, but this was too important to pass up.

Remember that cool brewery I visited last summer?  You know, the one I drove 80 miles outside of town in a tropical depression (read: Category 5 SUPER Hurricane) specifically to get to?  The one who had a brilliant tasting room filled with food, fun and fantastic brews celebrating Tampa Bay's Cuban heritage?

Well the "Well, I never!" Association is up in arms over Cigar City Brewing's operations, specifically the aforementioned tasting room.   The problem, they claim, is that the tasting room violates zoning laws regarding the proximity of wet bars near residential neighborhoods.   In other words, they hate fun and small-business success stories that promote the local area and stimulate its economy.  Naturally, I'm horribly biassed, but frankly, I'm not still getting it.  Yes, the brewery is fairly close to a residential neighborhood, but so are a lot of other undesirable things, like a factory district, a massive shopping center (there's a huge Home Depot just down the road) and the Interstate.  This isn't in the middle of Upper Crust McMansion Estates - it's in a factory/industrial district of town.  Also, CCB isn't the only liquor establishment in violation of the proximity bylaw; as brewery owner Joey Redner argues, there is "literally no wet zoning in Tampa that meets the 1,000-foot requirement."

Residents also claim that the adjacent brewery is bringing increased crime to the area - public urination, vandalism, fun - yet Tampa Police maintain they have not been called to the scene any more so than before, and Redner maintains that if he or his staff witness crime in the area, they report it every time.  Local folks and one particularly bitter councilwoman are using the specious reasoning that 'the crimes are just not being reported because residents don't trust that the police will come,' noting that there was a homicide on someone's front lawn in the area, and the police didn't get involved for a few days because they weren't called.  That's right, in this neighborhood, casual homicide is okay - small craft breweries equals Satan + Anti-Christ + the Liberal Agenda.   Sadly, this story also has racial overtones to it as well; most of the neighborhood and the dissenting councillors are black, while the brewery staff and the majority of its clientele is white.  I'd really hate for this to be the reason - great beer is something everyone can and should be able to enjoy. 

Despite the grim news, I'm actually fairly excited about my involvement in this story.  A Tampa Bay blogger/columnist contacted me two weeks ago because he had read my blog post about my visit to CCB last summer.  We set up a quick phone interview in which he brought this sad story to my attention and asked me a few questions about why I visited CCB, what I thought about it, etc.  

I'm genuinely honoured and thrilled that my blog is garnering attention, but I really wish it weren't for this reason.  Stuff like this can really hurt craft breweries, especially breweries such as CCB who are new, exciting, and demand to be visited by beer-aficionados and tourists alike.   Because of a few noise complaints, a much-hyped new Tampa tourist attraction might be forced to shut its tasting room down, reducing the number of folks who might want to try CCB's wares.  Think of all the tasting rooms that you may have visited (Brick, Wellington, Mill Street, Steam Whistle) and how much fun they can be.  Live music, beer launching events, beer-and-food pairings, company party nights - the list goes on.  Moreover, for many of these places, their tasting rooms are literally the only places to show off brews that haven't garnered enough attention to make it into liquor stores.  Despite having a tasting lineup of at least a dozen brews, I only saw their flagship Jai Alai IPA in any of the city liquor stores, including the one across the street. 

Shutting down the tasting room - or forcing owner Joey Redner to initiate an expensive move to a less-offending area - could wreak havoc on the CCB team's ability to continue developing quality craft brews that celebrate the heritage of the Tampa Bay area, and that makes me a very sad panda.

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