Over the past year there have developed 2 magic words to say to a Cincinnati beer enthusiast to get them up in a huff and talking shit. Those words are Bad Tom. I only know of a few people who like Bad Tom beers while everyone else is quick to deride them. For myself I can say that I’ve only had their beers a few times, many months ago, and in the mix of multiple other beers. Each of those times left me unimpressed, but not disgusted.
I recently wrote a post about poor quality craft beer and fears that it’ll hurt other breweries. In that post I said there is “1 brewery [in Cincinnati] that is producing barely drinkable swill.” This caused quite a storm but was hyperbole. I wrote that to cause controversy and succeeded at that beyond my expectations. I will now emphatically state that I do not think anyone in Cincinnati, or anywhere, is making “barely drinkable swill.” Bad beer sure, beer I don’t like totally, barely drinkable swill no. The majority of folks assumed I meant Bad Tom with the second runner-up being MadTree.
With all the hatred streaming towards Bad Tom, including that which I riled up myself, I set out to learn more about them and their beers. Most importantly I wanted to sit down and try their beers with a clean palate and let you all know what I really think.
About Bad Tom Smith Brewing:
The story of Bad Tom Smith Brewing starts back in 2012 when 3 friends decided to take 1 of their hobbies and go pro. Charles Boucher is the homebrewer of the group who has become the head brewer at Bad Tom. Sean Smith is the business man and great-great-nephew of the company’s namesake. Another friend launched the brewery with them but has since backed out. Throughout 2012 they remodeled their building at 4720 Eastern Avenue, bought their brew house and fermentation tanks, and got their Ohio state license to brew beer. The first batch went into the mash tun on January 3rd, 2013.
They built the brewery out of 4 43 barrel tanks that were bought used from a local flavor company. 1 is used as a boil kettle, 1 for a mash tun, and the other 2 for fermentation tanks. In their first expansion since opening they’ve just added a brand new 20 barrel bright tank.
What’s in name? Double Barrel, Bad Tom, now Bad Tom Smith.
The original name of the brewery was Double Barrel Brewing which was a name that the 3 original founders came up with. Unfortunately Double Barrel is also the name of a beer from Firestone Walker Brewing Co. out in California. Firestone Walker sent Double Barrel a cease and desist letter to stop these guys from using that name. The founders of Double Barrel then came up with, in my opinion a much better name, Bad Tom Brewing. Why I do I think this name is better? Because it’s got a story behind it, not just something they came up with.
Tom Smith was a gun for hire in late 1800s down in Hazard, KY. After killing several people he earned the name Bad Tom. Bad Tom Smith is also the great-great-uncle of Bad Tom Smith Brewing owner Sean Smith! So they went from Double Barrel to Bad Tom and that stayed for a while. Recently they changed from Bad Tom to Bad Tom Smith. Many folks around town I talked to speculated that it was another cease and desist. Sadly the true story is not nearly as exciting. They just decided to change the name themselves. Sean explained this decision was both to establish a better connection with his great-great-uncle but also to avoid any potential future legal entanglements.
Now for the beers…
I promise that I am delivering these thoughts with no hyperbole of hatred or passing pleasantries. I’m not reviewing each and every one of their beers in turn but did have them all. First off I’ll say my favorites were the Black Kettle stout and the new Fink’s red rye. All of their beers share a problem, to get into that we’ll have a quick talk about brewing beer.
When you brew a beer you soak the grains in water to make sweet wort. You boil the sweet wort and add hops making bitter wort. The bitter wort (not beer yet) is still boiling hot. We cool it down as fast as possible to below 80 degrees. Now we pitch the yeast. The only thing a brewer makes is food for yeast, yeast makes beer. The bitter wort has loads of sugar in it from the grains and the yeast eats this sugar-making alcohol and CO². To keep the yeast happy we have to keep it kinda cold. For ales this is around 70º, lagers around 55º.
Now we reach the meat of the problem with Bad Tom Smith. Like their Twitter description says “We’re just 3 guys who built a brewery with our bare hands”. Well, now they’re 2 guys because 1 left. But they’re still 2 guys who built a brewery with their bare hands. Truthfully they did this in an old school craft brewer fashion, like the original craft brewers were doing in the 70s and 80s were doing. Scraping together equipment from wherever they could be it former dairy tanks or former flavor tanks like Bad Tom Smith has.
Here’s the kicker on those flavor tanks. They have no glycol jacking like modern stainless steel fermenters, nothing to keep the yeast cool while it eats the wort. They are effectively fermenting at air-conditioned room temperature. At least at the edge of the 40 barrel tank, it could be 1oº to 15º degrees more inside!
Bad Tom Smith has one other problem and that’s with recipe formulation, however this only effects 1 beer that I noticed. For their Brother Clement they add clementines to the boil, whole clementines… skin and all. Most breweries prefer to go with purees or juices. This may reek of big corporate greed but in truth it’s the stark reality of the situation. It’s more costly and more troublesome to deal with whole fruit.
All of these problems come on top of, or perhaps due to, the fact that the head brewer still has a full-time 40 hour a week job… somewhere other than the brewery.
After all this I took some time to talk to the guys of Bad Tom Smith about the upcoming beer festival they’re putting on.
Sean has a buddy who works at the Cincinnati Recreation Commission (CRC) and approached him about partnering up with the CRC to put on a beer festival. The proceeds of the event will go to the Cincinnati Recreation Foundation to help build playgrounds and help at risk kids. Lunkenfest will be taking place on June 28th which happens to be the anniversary of Bad Tom Smith’s hanging. It wasn’t planned on that date it just happened that way. Here’s the Facebook Event page for Lunkenfest.
The last thing that I have to say for now on Bad Tom Smith Brewing is that no matter what you think of them or their beer they have the best phone number in town (513) 871-HOPS (4677). Also, the absolute worst thing about Bad Tom Smith Brewing that is far worse than any other brewery in town is their total lack of off-street parking.
Every spot surrounding their building is reserved for Terry’s Turf Club employees
With all that said what are your thoughts on Bad Tom Smith Brewing?