Rivertown, The Rumor Mill, And Why It’s All Changing

Almost simultaneously this morning my phone started freaking out from all of the messages I was getting.  My message app, my Twitter DMs, my texts and my email inbox were all filled with one topic.  Rivertown.  There were people curious, asking me if I knew anything about what was happening. There were people telling me that they had fired everyone, that they were declaring bankruptcy – there was even that one person telling me that they had sold the brewery to Miller/Coors and everyone been liquidated with the sale.

I guess this is where we should start, then – eh?

The True Story, So Far

It’s a rough time for Rivertown, but then again it always seems to be.  They have lived a lot of their life on the short end of a lot of different sticks.  Things are tight, margins are slim and they are feeling it.  They are waiting on a canning line to get delivered and installed before they can pick back up with their distribution game the way they need to. (Don’t forget that this is a brewery that was birthed into a world where there wasn’t such a thing in Cincinnati as a brewery taproom – they built a business with distribution front and center).  It’s been a long, slow climb trying to change their business model, smack in the middle of a beer community that is very different than it was last year, let alone in 2009 when they opened their doors.

Excuses are excuses, but understanding this will help you understand why they are in the position that they are.  The truth?  Yes, they had to lay people off… a lot of people.  These aren’t people that they disagreed with, or didn’t like, or weren’t doing an amazing job for Rivertown.  If you think that doesn’t hurt as an owner of a business that you spend literally every day trying to build and maintain – you’re not human.

While they are doing everything they have in their power to keep things going on the upswing that it currently is (have you been there lately?  There is more excitement in that brewery then there has been in literally YEARS), this is defiantly a rough patch, to say the least.  They have no plans of closing, they have no plans of declaring bankruptcy.  From everything, I can see, and everything that I have heard from the brewery, they definitely have no plans of giving in to the loud group of people who seem determined to wish for the failure of a brewery that helped build this cities craft beer scene.  Rivertown just recently broke free of their contract with their local distributor, leaning themselves into self distribution around Cincinnati in a move that will hopefully bring their brand back to local drinkers the way that it used to be… they are making progress.

It’s easy to take the low road, the road that it seems a few of you love to traverse, and shit on someone when they are down.  But I think it’s a sign of a bigger trend in craft beer, and one that I desperately hope we can overcome as a city.

Can I Tell You A Couple Stories, First?

When I first started this blog, Cincinnati’s growing craft beer scene was a bit different.  Things were happening fast and furious.  There were a LOT of bloggers here in town, writing about this quickly expanding world.  I sat down with one of my fellow beer writers to have a beer one afternoon and he expressed to me how great it was to see someone with the enthusiasm towards our local beer that I had.  During our conversation, he told me something that hasn’t left me in the years since.  He said, it’s great to be excited, and it’s great to think this is all fun… but there’s going to come days when you just don’t want to write about beer.  There’s going to come days where you just aren’t excited about it all.

A while after that conversation, I read a post on another one of our once thriving beer blogs about the writer’s lack of excitement towards it all.  He was getting bored with it.

Do you know where I’m going with this?  I’m not tired of this.  There has never come a day when I wasn’t excited about our beer scene, and there has never been a minute where I didn’t want to be sharing that excitement with someone.  What’s happening with the people who are?

What We’re Doing Wrong

Do you remember that first time you had a “better” beer – that pure excitement?  Tastebud confusion, maybe, if it happened to be a bit of a palate pushing style?  Do you remember how much fun taprooms were before you even realized that you could make a game of Jenga out of 2x4s?  Why are beer drinkers losing that excitement?

You can’t pretend that there is more bad beer now than there were before… there were a LOT of crappy breweries in the 80s and the 90s.  We’ve got great beer overall right now, this is the most exciting time to be a beer drinker – Ever.

So why are beer drinkers losing that excitement? I think it’s about the journey that so many drinkers thought we were on.  They’ve climbed their mountain and found out that the top is just another barren rock.

Craft beer isn’t really a mountain to climb.  It’s not a beer to seek out, a taproom concept to experience a number of unique check-ins to hit.  Craft beer is a never-ending journey of new experiences, of new people to have a conversation with.  It’s about watching the journey of your friends and neighbors… yourself.  It’s sharing a beer with someone who hasn’t had it before.  It’s about trying something that you’ve had a hundred times and finding something new in it.

If tasting a beer that you haven’t had in a while doesn’t make something click in your brain and take you immediately back to an experience that you’d long forgotten – You’re doing it wrong.

What Does This Have To Do With Rivertown, Or Cincinnati?

Maybe… it’s not Rivertown that’s going bankrupt.  Maybe the overall excitement of craft beer drinkers, the fun, the enthusiasm is where we should look for our fear of bankruptcy.

I beg that we look inside ourselves this week, inside our drinking habits, our reasons for drinking a new beer… for lining up for that latest release.  For grabbing a beer with dinner.  Keep breathing new excitement into this.  Find your journey and be on it… don’t look for the end of it.

You won’t visit every taproom, you won’t drink every beer – that’s not what I’m advocating, but maybe you should want to.  Maybe you should wish you could.

Smile – it’s craft beer, and it’s fun.

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