Cigar City tasting room may close (updated)
UPDATE: As reported by Cigar City Brewing and Mike Loves Beer , the December 2, 2010. meeting of the Tampa City Council, where the Cigar City tasting room wet zoning request will be voted upon, will be open to the public. Members of the public will be allowed to speak to the council, if they wish.
I will try to make it to the meeting and report on the vote as soon as possible. If you can’t make it, you should be able watch the proceedings via live Webcast on the City of Tampa website. Be warned, though, the item is next-to-last of 46 items on the meeting agenda, so you might want to start Webcast and check in every few minutes. I’ve been to a lot of these types of meetings, and they tend to be long and boring.
Some people still consider Florida to be a craft beer wasteland. Perhaps 10 or even five years ago, that may have been true. But in the past few years, the Sunshine State beer scene has grown exponentially, with new breweries and craft beer bars opening across the state. Arguably, the growing sheen on Florida’s burnished reputation can be largely attributed to Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing and its owner, Joey Redner.
Redner, who wrote about craft beer for area publications before opening the brewery a couple of years ago, and head brewer Wayne Wambles have received national accolades for their products.
Now there’s trouble in Cigar City.
Redner went before the Tampa City Council on November 4 to seek a permanent extension of a temporary wet-zoning permit for the tasting room adjacent to the brewery. A representative of the Tampa Police Department at the meeting noted that the tasting room had not a single police report filed regarding any incident there. Redner apparently followed every regulation and restriction to the letter. He expected a routine approval.
But the six council members present at the meeting deadlocked in a 3-3 tie. Those voting against the extension cited complaints from the neighborhood, though no evidence of those complaints was presented at the meeting.
Redner goes back before the council on December 2, when the whole contingent of seven council members is expected to be present. (One was absent during the initial vote). Four votes are needed to keep the tasting room open.
The craft beer community across the country has bonded together to let their feelings be known. Letters and emails have been sent to the council. At least three online petitions are circulating. A Facebook group was created.
Ordinarily, I do not dabble in local political intrigue on this site, but as a native of Tampa and a big fan of Cigar City’s products, I’m stepping over that line and asking you to throw your support behind the brewery because it has national implications. I’ve fielded a lot of questions from craft beer fans who are visiting or are planning to visit Florida regarding the availability of Cigar City beers in particular areas of the state. I’ve seen Facebook and Twitter posts from travelers proudly announcing that they have arrived at the tasting room. And when I take Cigar City beer on road trips out of Florida, people are eager to share it and talk about it.
Here are some resources where you can learn more about the situation, and find links to contact the council members:
Joey Redner’s blog post on the situation. (scroll down)
Sean Nordquist provides extensive coverage and links on his blog And Beer for the Daddy.
Following is the text of the letter that I emailed to each commissioner.
I often hear two words whispered with awe and reverence when I tell people in other states that I live in Florida. Not “Disney World,” but “Cigar City.”
My name is Gerard Walen, a Tampa native currently residing in Clermont, Florida. I am editor of the online travel magazine Road Trips for Beer.
Along with an incredible growth in the number of craft- and microbreweries across the United States, a beer tourism business is brewing. I frequently field comments and questions about Cigar City Brewing and its tasting room from the nation’s expanding legion of craft beer fans.
I know of groups of people who travel hundreds of miles to purchase limited releases that are served and sold only at the Cigar City tasting room in Tampa.
Nearly every time a craft beer fan goes to Tampa for business or pleasure, he or she will announce through Twitter, Facebook or email when they arrive at the Cigar City tasting room, considering it a sort of badge of honor.
These visitors spend their money not only at the tasting room, but at restaurants, shops and hotels in Tampa.
Joey Redner and his staff frequently travel to beer festivals in and out of state, not only to share their nationally recognized, award-winning beers, but to spread the word that Tampa is a city worth visiting. And in our current economy, you cannot discount that this small-business owner has provided jobs to residents of Tampa. Most of those jobs will disappear if Mr. Redner is forced to shutter the brewery’s tasting room.
As someone who proudly tells people that I was born in the Cigar City of Tampa – and still have family members there – I urge you to vote on Dec. 2, 2010, to allow this gem of a local business to continue operating.
I urge you to write your own letters.
For those of you who have not had a chance to visit the tasting room, and I hope you still have that chance in the future, here are some photos of the exterior and the neighborhood in which it is located.