Why Rivertown Brewing Frustrates Me So Much

This piece is written by me and reflects my own opinions and not that of Queen City Drinks as a whole or its other authors. – J

I’m going to just go ahead and get this out. Rivertown Brewing is so frustratingly inconsistent with their offerings and it’s strange to me that there has been no pushback whatsoever from the beer community. I’m going to air some grievances and give a little of my own pushback and then explain why these issues are so darn frustrating to me outside of the issues themselves.

1. Pestilence: The bottled version of this beer should never have been released to the shelves for sale. When reviews attribute olfactory qualities such as “candied walnut, blue cheese, and vomit”, “stinky cheese and fatty yogurt”, and “funk [that] is stomach-churning”, there is something seriously, seriously wrong with the finished product. I opened one of these bottles (of the four I bought) a couple months months ago, hoping my bottle would be different, and it went down the drain. The taste isn’t bad, but I’m not of the school that I should have to plug my nose while drinking a beer. I’ve heard from many people who had this on draft that it did not exhibit these problematic features. Since they’re people whose palates I generally trust, there obviously was a bottling issue. I have no idea what I’m going to do with my other three bottles, but I’m not looking forward to drinking them.

2. Sour Cherry Porter: This beer I was very much looking forward to. Coming hot off of 2010 (stellar) and 2011 (good) Rivertown Lambics, I was ready for more of their sours. I picked up a bottle from The Party Source, where it is, to my knowledge, exclusively sold. Got it home, cracked it open and poured a completely uncarbonated beer into my glass. I tasted a sip just to confirm and though quite tasty, there was not a speck of carbonation. Danny Gold was gracious enough to swap out my bottle which I opened yesterday and, to my sadness, poured another completely uncarbonated glass of beer. I’m sure I’ll be able to swap this out for  another bottle, but at this point I’d frankly just like to stop wasting my time and get a refund on the not-insubstantial $13 I paid for a single, flat bottle of beer.

3. Uncommunicative-ness: One of my favorite things I enjoy about local businesses is being able to interact with their owners and managers. That goes double for local breweries. Mt. Carmel, Blank Slate, and Listermann/Triple Digit (not so much Moerlein) do a great job of interacting with their customers, answering questions and the like.  Rivertown seems to use social media (Twitter/Facebook is what I’m speaking of here), when they actually use it, as a one-way tool. I’m not sure who is running their accounts, but I have a much, much better success rate in getting a response when contacting Jason Roeper directly than when contacting the Rivertown accounts. Social media, for successful businesses, is not just a platform for free advertising, but a way to engage your current and potential customers.

Now, why did I even take the time to write this post? Frustration over wasting money? Yes, partially, but only very, very partially. $20 isn’t a lot to waste in the grand scheme of things. I’m writing this because Rivertown has the potential to do a lot better than this. They have made some amazing stuff (there’s a reason Beer Advocate rated their Lambic a perfect 100 score) and their normal lineup while not amazing, is solid (outside of the weird fake vanilla-tasting Roebling bottles). They have one of the most creative and talented head brewers in the Cincinnati-area and they are one of the few local breweries who are doing really, really fun, out there stuff. While their highs are high, there lows, as can be seen above, are still quite low.

Maybe this is just a new brewery thing, and it will all blow over in time. I hope so. As silly as it sounds after all my complaining, I’m going to continue buying their releases because they are a local outlet of “beer geek” (sour, barrel aged, etc.) beers. I’ll continue to reward creativity, but at some point being creative is trumped by the quality of what you are producing. The execution is every bit as important as the idea is. It’s the whole “fool me once… fool me twice” bit.

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14 Comments

Filed under Beer, Cincinnati, Opinion

14 responses to “Why Rivertown Brewing Frustrates Me So Much

  1. Tom Aguero

    I believe the reason there has been no push back is two fold. First you are talking about some relatively specialized beers that a lot of people (myself included) are going to avoid. Secondly, though MUCH more importantly is that there is rarely negative feedback of small local breweries. Blogs like our and bloggers like me (I am very guilty of this) praise the local craft/micro/whatever brewery/brewpub/gastropub/whatever to no end. This is problematic for our beer blogging industry and their brewery industry. No negative feedback provides no course corrections. I think we do this because we are fighting such a large uphill, neigh, up-mountain battle against AB-InBev and Miller Coors. It would be tragic for one bud light drinker to read this post and only this post and thereby decide to never try craft beer. But alas these things need to be said in the hopes that Rivertown realizes the error of their ways.

  2. I have had similar experiences with Rivertown. Got a flat Sour Cherry as well and was told that the Party Source had to have someone from Rivertown come back and re-cap the bottles! I complained to them via Twitter and got zero response. I know mistakes happen, and I’m willing to overlook some as long as I feel like someone is listening when the feedback rolls in.

  3. Tom, I agree. I generally try to give local breweries the benefit of the doubt because I want to see them succeed, but I think too many breweries get caught in this positive feedback loop of folks who won’t give them any criticism because they a) think it’s gauche to criticize local businesses or b) are scared that criticism will put them out of business.

    Like any other business, I think breweries should take their customers’ feedback into account so they can improve and produce better products. I didn’t write this post with the intention of piling on; I just want them to know there are issues that they need to take care of.

  4. Two words sum up their bottling issues…twist offs. They bottle using twist off bottles with non twist off caps. Not sure why they do this, but it can lead to caps not sealing properly producing flat or infected beers. I’ve haven’t personally experienced any issues with their bottled beers, but have known others who have.

  5. Huh, I didn’t know that. I guess I’ll have to go dig up all my Rivertown bottles I keep in my empties stash for homebrew to ensure that I don’t have any twist-offs in there. Thanks for the heads up.

  6. Hello Josh this is Jason, please give me a call or email me so that we can discuss these concerns? Thank you

  7. I love Rivertown Brewing and think their beer has the potential to be the best in Cincinnati. My only complaint is the lack of carbonation in their beer. I wasn’t sure if this was just a bottle problem but the beers I’ve had on draught weren’t that carbonated. I know this is a preference thing and I’m sure some of it has to do with the fact that they filter their beers but I do yearn for more bubbles!

  8. Pingback: Some (woefully tardy) Rivertown updates… | Queen City Drinks

  9. I find it somewhat ironic that one would complain about the smell of a beer called “Pestilence”. LOL But I understand completely. I myself missed out on Pestilence, and am saving War and Famine for a party on the 21st.

    Catching up on your blog, which just I discovered a few days ago. A few thoughts about the “uncommunicative-ness” of Rivertown and breweries in general.

    I have been following craft brewing developments in Cincinnati for a couple years now since I first discovered Mt. Carmel beers on one of my now only occasional trips through town. Went to UC and lived there for 10 years, around the time Barrelhouse Brewing was downtown. I have been to Rivertown twice (just last Friday picked up the “last” bottle of Death there at the pub), Three weeks ago I visited Listermann/Triple Digit and got a first taste of the not-then-yet released White Death (small pour from an unlabeled bottle – quite a treat!). Very nice experiences at both breweries. Have also been to the relatively new Dayton Beer Company twice.

    I now live in Asheville, NC having lived in SW Ohio for most of my life. Being from the so-called “Beer City USA” I am very spoiled with the riches of nearly two dozen breweries in the region and ten in Asheville alone, not to mention beer bars with dozens of offerings on tap and multiple beer stores. The community is rich and vibrant here and I believe it’s a combination of competition and camaraderie that fuels the local passion for great craft beer. (Nearly) all the breweries communicate with customers – in two directions – mostly through social media. Questions are answered if you ask on a Facebook post or if you send a message.

    Because my time to spend at Cincinnati breweries or buying their beers is limited to driving through on business, good communication about what is available, and where, is very important to me. Rivertown seems to do well at announcing draft releases at their brewery and occasional tappings at local watering holes, but the information about bottles leaves a lot to be desired. On two occasions I have sent messages asking about availability and have received no reply. Instead I had to call the larger stores I am aware of (Party Source and Jungle Jim’s) to ask. Additionally, the offerings on Party Source’s website aren’t always up to date, especially with limited release. I missed out on Pumpkin because they didn’t update the website and War/Famine are still messed up.

    Perhaps this is a problem with distributor’s more than the brewery? It seems that once the bottles leave the warehouse, they disappear into a black hole. People have to ask and usually the only answers they get are from other customers, not from the brewery. This is a shame.

    Perhaps it is a growth issue? Rivertown is doing well and growing, and if they are barely meeting the demands of the local customers who are “in the know”, why should they bother taking time out of their busy production schedule to help an out of towner?

    I would hope it’s because they want to continue to grow. Rapid growth now doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed.. and competition will only increase.

    The way I see it, if somebody is willing to go out of their way to purchase beer from a brewery from three states away, when they have a wealth of great beer to choose from in their own backyard, that’s a fan a craft brewer wants to keep on their side.

    I’m still a fan, which leads me to a question. Now that I am back in Asheville and won’t be returning to Ohio any time soon, when the heck are the bottles of Death going to be on store shelves?! One 12 oz bottle ain’t enough for the my apocalypse party. I guess I will now have to pay to have them shipped from Party Source, if they even bother to update their website.

    The Pestilence I can live without.

    Thanks for the honest and open blog. Constructive criticism is beneficial and essential.

    • Kevin, thanks for the comment and kind words. I agree with you that it’s probably not one party or another’s fault entirely when it comes to beers, but in my opinion, it’s largely the responsibility (and in the best interest) of the brewery to let consumers know when and where their beers are released.

      As for Pestilence, if you think about it the next time you’re in Cincinnati, drop me an email. I’d be happy to give you one of my Pestilences if you would like to swing by. I like to hear others’ opinions about it.

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