She Been Fine. He? Not So Much
Shebeen Brewing Company, Wolcott
June 29, 2013
2015 Update: There is so much to say now 18 months later… none of it good. All my intuition and implications and inferences below were on point. I’ve heard so many stories since I wrote this page that it’s just ridiculous. I’ll leave it at that.
2016 Update: You people are still reading this page? Christ.
Hoo boy. I’m dipping my toe in the deep end of the mash tun here folks. This post will probably get a response from the owner and/or an investor or two. But what can I do? I can only be honest with you: the seven people who read these brewery pages. (My reviews of Shebeen beers here)
I’ll start with the positive. Because I’m a nice guy.
Shebeen Brewing is a very new (2013) brewery on the southern edge of Wolcott on the border of Waterbury. It’s a pain in the butt for anyone not living in Waterbury, Wolcott or Bristol to get to, but… darnit, I was trying to stay positive. And actually, it’s not that bad… there are worse places to get to, that’s for sure.
The tap room is very clean and very nice. We were greeted with a friendly smile and the service was excellent. On top of that, Hoang and I had both boys with us ¬ and that wasn’t an issue at all. Our experience was wonderful. Huge props go out to the lovely
Krieger who guided us through the tasting of the six beers they had on tap.
According to their website, “Shebeen or Sibin in Irish is defined as ‘An unlicensed establishment or private house selling alcoholic liquor’. In short, brewhouses. What we are is Connecticut’s best brewery.”
Whoa. Slow down there. Why would you name your brewery after something illegal? Okay, I don’t care about that and I guess it’s kind of cute.
But to call yourself straight up “Connecticut’s best brewery,” in your second month of operation is cac. That’s Irish for crap. Even if you actually believe that, in the insular world of Connecticut craft brewing, I’d advise against such bluster.
Oh wait… positive… Shebeen is rapidly expanding and the bones of the much larger tap room are already built. I was impressed with the plans.
Hoang and I each opted for a tasting of all 6 beers on tap. For five bucks, this was a more than fair deal. The pours were hearty and like I said, the staff was attentive to our needs. Because they have the right licensing, you can treat Shebeen like a bar and just go and enjoy a couple pints. Or, you can plop down $18 and drink all you want all day long. They even have a TV here – Two Roads doesn’t even have a TV!
And that’s nuts.
Speaking of nuts, Shebeen had out a couple bowls/per table of high quality nut mixtures. Like, cashews! Again, I was impressed.
We didn’t take a tour because at this point, why would I? I’ve toured enough small breweries to suit me for the rest of my life, but if you’re a newbie or just like to tour small breweries over and over, they do offer one here.
We were very much enjoying ourselves, even if the gimmicky beers were silly to me (Hoang liked them). I appreciate brewers who push the envelope and fortunately the Bacon Kona Stout and Pineapple Wheat didn’t overwhelm (at all) with bacon or pineapple. (Had they, I’d have returned some full glasses to the bar. Note: my glasses were all emptied the proper way.)
But then it all went to cac.
Some guy showed up with a six-pack of the just-released-that-day brewery only cans of New England Brewing’s new Weiss Trash Culture. As everyone knows, NEBCO is the Connecticut brewery who actually CAN put “Connecticut’s best brewery” on their website, but never would do that because Rob and Matt are the most humble guys in the world.
Anyway, cans were passed around to a few guys for sampling. “Cool,” I thought, “local brewers supporting fellow local brewers.” I sort of ignored them, other than wishing I knew the benefactor and that he would give me a can.
The next thing I knew, I heard caterwauling and exaggerated gags and whelps of disgust. “Hm. Okay. I’m sure that beer isn’t for everyone.”
But then they continued and upped it to a new level. (I later learned that it was) Rich Visco, the owner, who charged across the taproom floor, tongue wagging, body in distress, begging the server for some of his own Black IPA, “stat!” (The black IPA is pretty good.)
Now I was paying attention. Rich, another guy, the guy who brought the beer and some other guy gathered to compare notes. They universally agreed that this was one of the worst beers they’ve ever had in their lives.
This, from a brewery that serves a cannoli beer which is some beer served with a bunch of chocolate shavings in a glass heavily rimmed with powdered sugar. But I digress.
The group of guys went on for a bit about NEBCO. Full disclosure: I’m a bit of a NEBCO fanboy, but whatever. Everyone should be. My favorite part of the discussion was when someone brought up NEBCO’s phenomenal Gandhi Bot DIPA and Rich, brewmaster and owner of Shebeen said, “I hate it.” The guy who brought the six pack claimed that he held a blind taste test of various beers and the Bot was universally reviled. Another guy said he’d only merely heard of it.
Come ON. Shebeen is staying away from heavy hops and that’s fine, but again… COME ON.
While it’s absolutely true that a lot of beer geeks buy into reputation and therefore think more highly of certain beers… I totally get that. I do my best not to do that. But this conversation was insane. Who hates NEBCO?
So that was that. I found it highly unprofessional and unbecoming. Craft brewing in Connecticut is still a new and fraternal thing. I’ve never heard any other owner or head brewer bash a Connecticut brewery before. And know that I’ve spent a lot of time with a lot of them. As much as almost anyone in the state. It was also just stupid to put on that show in front of a few customers, no matter who they were.
I went home and this whole episode stuck in my craw. It would have annoyed me if it was ANY brewery talking about ANY OTHER brewery. Part of me thought, this is bound to happen with a rapid and large increase in competition in this space and Shebeen has a clear business plan this is just the natural order of things.
Then I poked around the Internet.
For some reason, Mr. Visco voted against local little-guy-doing-huge-things Relic Brewing in a CNBC facebook contest for beer label art (Relic’s labels are among the best in the world). I’d bet no other local brewery did that.
Mr. Visco’s UNTAPPD account is interesting as he loves his own beer over and over and ignores and actively dislikes other locals.
He’s a maverick to be sure: Cannoli beer, Concord Grape Saison, IPA with instant potatoes in the mash… But being a maverick doesn’t give one license to also be unprofessional.
This stuff will get back to him if it hasn’t already. Heck, read this page on Beer Advocate where you’ll see half way down, “the scene” is aware of his ways and are not happy about it. I can only hope Rich will re-evaluate his attitude at some point.
It’s already filtering around among the state’s breweries. This is from the New England Brewing Twitter feed:
Reason #25,235 why NEBCO rules. Rob (I assume) from NEBCO Retweets Shebeen’s tweet about disliking the new NEBCO beer. Then follows up with a tweet commending the excellent WilliBrew – ostensibly a competitor in the small Connecticut craft beer world. Subtle, smart, funny.
I hated writing this page. I don’t want to disparage any small business owner, let alone one in an industry I care about a good deal. (And Yelp! loves Shebeen.) I’m not a gossip, and as you can see, this thing isn’t just about what I overheard one random day at the brewery. Rich lives in Marlborough and has to drive to the Wolcott/Waterbury line everyday… I can’t imagine how cranky that would make me.
Listen, I’m hardly an angel. I can be a real jerk and I know this. But I don’t own a business and my “independence” is sort of what makes CTMQ CTMQ.
Shebeen has a plan, a great space and clearly some brewing skills. I’d like to only concentrate on those things going forward, should I be allowed into the brewery again.