The Connecticut beer community is a small but passionate one. I’m not talking about the occasional drinker or brewery tour-taker. I’m talking about the geeks like me who obsessively rate local beer, thrive on news of opening breweries and new releases, and taste the beer with the attention some people devote to batting averages and brain surgery.
This community is also very chatty and web-savvy, so when a newspaper article (remember those?) comes out about a local brewery, we’re there to digest it and offer commentary on it. That was the case on Dec. 31 when the newspaper for which I write my column published “Brewer Slows Down: Wolcott Company Seeking Wider Market Out of State” by Andrew Larson. In it, Larson describes how owner Rich Visco is distributing his beer in South Carolina, and makes mention that sales in Connecticut package stores are not keeping up with supply. The brewery recently expanded to a 30-barrel system and is only operating at a quarter of its capacity, Larson writes.
What caught the brewery community’s attention was what Visco had to say in the article. Larson paraphrases Visco thusly: “It’s frustrating, [Visco] said, that more people in Connecticut don’t support their local breweries. There’s a beer for everyone at Shebeen, he said, but many consumers prefer national brands.”
Referring to frustration Visco expressed with bars not serving as many local beers as he would like, Larson quotes Visco as saying, “We’re all fighting for the same taps… If you want all of us to be here and to succeed, you’ve got to put more of our stuff on tap.”
Readers took this as Visco showing disrespect to drinkers in the state, and took the opportunity — on Reddit and BeerAdvocate.com, among other sites — to voice their primarily negative views of Shebeen’s beer.
I decided to check in with Larson and Visco a few days after the story had its chance to germinate within the community. By this time Visco had personally gone onto Reddit to address concerns, and apologized for past beers that were not to the drinkers’ liking. He said he’s brought on a new brewer and was ready for their business.
While Larson said he stood by his story and wishes Shebeen the best, Visco had a little more to say to me about the situation.
Visco said that his brewery had its strongest months in November and December, but that he was slowing down production to distribute beer in Connecticut “due to many factors some of which are our own fault.”
He said that he was trying to make the point to Larson that there were only a few dozen craft bars that “really support the CT model,” such as Eli Cannon’s in Middletown, J. Timothy’s in Plainville, and Pies & Pints (for whom he helps brew beer) in Waterbury. “The rest are hard to crack and if they do have CT beer, it’s usually only a few taps and they are usually dominated by New England [Brewing Company of Woodbridge].”
Visco said he’s seen “nastiness” in feedback for his brewery. I can attest to this; it’s a bit out of control.
“As for South Carolina,” he wrote in an email, “we saw it as an opening in a state that embraces beer. It’s 16th in the country and has a high number of transplants and vacationers.”
Visco said Shebeen is trying to “improve quality and consistency, do a better job of marketing and sales, [and] simplify our beers to distribution.”
I hope Visco continues to improve the quality of beer at Shebeen; that will go a lot further than any positive or negative press. But there’s little good that comes out of bashing a brewery online outside of the initial spark of satisfaction.
I’m all for free speech, and don’t plan on telling anyone to censor these remarks. I hope people continue to support the Connecticut breweries whose beer they enjoy.
RELATED POST: Shebeen Brewing: The Art of Confusion