Why Beer Week Matters
The first official event of Tampa Bay Beer Week will kick off in about 24 hours, and I have been making the rounds, talking it up and preaching the Beer Week Gospel. But why do we need to set aside a week for beer? It’s not like we don’t drink it the other 51 weeks of the year. Is it just an excuse to have parties? Gather with friends and try new offerings from our favorite breweries? Is it just a promotional event to increase sales of beer? And if so, is there really anything wrong with that? Not really…
But Beer Week is more than those things.
When Tampa Bay Beer Week was created in 2012, the idea was to raise awareness of beer culture in Tampa Bay. Not a specific brewery or beer, not a single event, but the entire community that has brought about a sea change in the way we approach and talk about beer. One of my very first articles that I ever wrote was titled “Florida: Beer Wasteland or Diamond in the Rough?”. That was 2009, and Cigar City Brewing had just opened. Tampa Bay Brewing Company had not begun packaging yet, Dunedin Brewing was undergoing changes, and even though Saint Somewhere had been around a while, few knew who Bob Sylvester was (he has since been canonized and I am pretty sure is next in line for Pope).
Fast forward to 2016. We are about to kick off the 5th Beer Week. We have around 60 breweries just in the Tampa Bay area. Where beer lovers used to have to search extensively to find a restaurant that served anything beyond the standard BMC fare, it is now rare that an establishment does not have at least a few good beers available, and local beers are becoming commonplace. There is a whole section now in the supermarket and even convenience stores for craft beer selections. But availability alone does not make a culture. The ability to buy Jai Alai and Reef Donkey at 7-11 is awesome, but it does not tell the larger story.
The beer culture than has been created here has woven itself through the community in ways few would have predicted. Breweries and restaurants and bars were just the beginning. But did you know that many of the breweries around Tampa Bay host charity events for a wide range of causes from pet rescue to conservation to supporting our veterans? Have you seen the entrepreneurs taking advantage of the opportunity to provide locally made goods for the discerning beer lover? The collaborations between brewers and local businesses, community organizations, and historical societies?
And then there is the camaraderie. Where else do you find doctors, soldiers, accountants, teachers, construction workers, and everyone else gathering together, greeting one another with smiles and hugs and high fives with no concern over their political views, religion, or anything else? What other industry do you know where one business openly advocates for and assists in the success of their direct competitor?
So why does Beer Week matter? Because it is the embodiment of all of this. It showcases the beer community of Tampa Bay. It offers businesses new customers, and generates revenue in the local community.It shines a light on the culture that we have created here. It allows for education about what beer is – and what it isn’t. It encourages experimentation and adventure in tasting. It promotes local business, celebrates quality products from around the world, and introduces people to one another who might not otherwise have met.
We may be celebrating the beer, but ultimately it is about people.