As many beer fans know, May 16-22 is American Craft Beer Week, seven days dedicated to the celebration of the thing we love the most: craft beer. Festivities are taking place all over the country this week, with no shortage of events right here in Tampa Bay.
One of the bigger local bashes is the Brews With Attitude: Craft Beer Fest being put on by Pepin Distributing in Tampa and sponsored by Creative Loafing. Held in the T. Pepin Hospitality Centre, the event will feature over 100 craft beers (including several "mystery" brews that are not available in Florida yet), live music and food, as well as a homebrewing demonstration. A small homebrew competition will be open to the first 30 entrants, with certified beer judges on the tasting panel.
To clarify, Pepin is the Tampa Bay distributor for Southern Tier, Blue Point, Victory, Red Hook, Kona, Magic Hat, and Gordon Biersch beers, as well as one of the largest AB-InBev distributors. (Read: They also distribute Budweiser.)
This has given some people pause and has raised the question of whether or not attending this festival is "supporting the enemy." Here's how I see it: not in the slightest. You see, without the support of distributors like Pepin, we would not have regular access to now popular beers like Victory, Donnybrook or HopDevil. We would also not be able to find Southern Tier's amazing Un*Earthly or Creme Brulee brews. Blue Point's Toasted Lager and Rastafa Rye would not even be options in your local liquor and grocery stores.
Distributors have an enormous impact on what becomes available on shelves, and laws about distribution vary from state to state. There is certainly room for debate over what is best for the consumer, the breweries and the distributors, but I can't argue that having an ample amount of quality beer around is a bad thing.
Then there's the matter of "gateway" beers that move people from the macro, light American lagers (i.e.: Bud Light) to the smaller production, craft-brewed beers. Your standard Bud Light drinker is not going to jump immediately to something like a hop-heavy Victory Hop Wallop or a dark Kona Pipeline Porter. But he may very well like a Prima Pils or a Longboard, and it is a much easier step to try Headwaters Pale Ale or Fire Rock before diving into the more flavorful brews. Very few people will go back to the "fizzy yellow beers" after being introduced — slowly — to craft beers.
This is the kind of festival that will attract beer drinkers from all walks of life, including the Bud drinkers. And if some of the newbies walk away feeling like they know even a little more than they did before about what "good" beer can be, then it's a win for everyone.
Brews with Attitude, Tuesday, May 17th, 6:30-10 p.m. Advance tickets are $20, $25 at the door. Purchase tickets here.