Know Your Local Brewery: Bad Tom Smith Brewing

Over the past year, there have developed two 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 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.

Bad Tom Smith Brewing

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 statement 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, the 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 think.

About Bad Tom Smith Brewing:

The story of Bad Tom Smith Brewing starts back in 2012 when three 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 brewhouse 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 from a local flavor company. They use 1 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.

Bad Tom Smith Brewery
Fermentation Tanks

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.

Lunkenfest

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.

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
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?

8 thoughts on “Know Your Local Brewery: Bad Tom Smith Brewing”

  1. I went to Bad Tom Smith Brewing on the Tap Room Trolley Tour and unfortunately they were the place on our tour that my friend and I said we would least likely go back to. I had the Bad Tom brown ale, which I thought was good. However, the taproom and overall experience was the biggest letdown. Whether it is a lack of funding or experience, it just doesn’t compare to the other breweries in town. We walked in, paid for a ticket at the counter, got a beer from the taps in the corner and went outside to drink it. The most enjoyable thing about that stop was the Urban Grill Food Truck in the parking lot.

    Madtree was the only brewery to really give a structured tour. They were approachable, excited to tell their story, talked about their beers and brewing operations, and willing to answer most questions about their operation and business. Fifty West had really good beer, a memorable taproom, and we had a good server at our table. Mt. Carmel, although really small inside, also was a more enjoyable experience overall.

    You mentioned one of the two guys working a full-time job outside of the brewery and that may be the main problem. At the other breweries, the brewery is their full-time job.

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  2. A great post and one that deserves to be recognized for its forthrightness and honesty. Too often we read blogs that are clearly pandering to the masses, trying too hard to be liked by everyone. I, too, seek to write as frankly and with as much candor as possible. The fact is, there really are breweries out there that have inferior products. The other sad truth, not all of these breweries will succeed – nor should they. In the end it’s the market that decides whether a beer is good or not. It’s the beer drinker that decides who stays open and who closes their doors.

    As for Bad Tom, I’ve only had their beers at beer festivals and, in all honesty, can’t really remember them either way. Perhaps this is as telling as would be some scathing commentary I could manage, perhaps I just had way too many other beers and my brain had become addled. Whatever the case, I completely dig your writing and look forward to reading more. Cheers!

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  3. As a home brewer and having intern experience at a couple different breweries I’m truly stumped on how they didn’t grasp the importance of fermentation temperatures and do research on how its supposed to be done professionally. If you’re going to dump a ton of money into a project, do it right. And if you can’t do it right, wait till you have the resources. Secondly, the last time I came into contact with a Bad Tom rep (which at the time they were still Double Barrel) he had absolutely NO clue what he was trying to sell. “Well I think that this is an IPA” Which it wasn’t, it was a wheat beer and one that was chalked full of off flavors. Thirdly. The fact that they continue to sell the beer that they have so carelessly thrown together shows just how much pride they take in their product but also shows how much respect they have for the craft. Its terrible business and they should cease and desist brewing until they can afford jacketed fermenters or figure out a way to keep their fermentation temperature in range. I love beer and I love the craft of brewing and its insulting to think that someone that considers themselves beer lovers and brewers would push out such crap and have people pay their hard earned money for it.

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  4. Wow. You are jerk. You may have fired up the craft beer community and I am sure you’ll get lots of views. Which is like free advertising for you. Did you think of the harm that you were causing someone’s business and dream? Do you care? Do you think maybe there was a reason that no other bloggers were all out bashing them and exposing their weaknesses? You are no better than the punks on yelp who think they are doing the world some sort of justice by telling everyone how below par this or that place is. Well done, way to be honest……… on a giant platform for lots of people to read on the internet forever. Well done….. nice “expose”

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    1. I did think a lot about the potential harm I could do to Bad Tom and I do care deeply about all my local breweries. Sometimes you have to criticize someone so they become aware of their flaws. Far too few craft beer enthusiasts are willing to tell a brewer in public or private what is wrong with their beer. I told the guys at Bad Tom about all these problems when I was there. Some they were aware of, some they were not. It’s hard to fix a problem you don’t know exists. Hopefully now Bad Tom will address these issues and improve their beer.

      I don’t feel my duty is to Bad Tom or any brewery. I feel my responsibility is to the craft beer consumers in Cincinnati. They need to know if someone in town is making sub par product before giving that brewery their $5 for a pint. Now local consumers know what to expect when they see Bad Tom on a menu.

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  5. I live nearby and have been there multiple times. There is nothing out of this world but I definitely don’t think its bad. The two owners are really nice guys. Its nice to go by and just sit and chat with them. You can’t really do that with other places because they are always so busy (at least times I’ve been) (From Reddit)

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    1. I totally agree. Sean was an awesome dude who was very nice to talk to. Also it is so enjoyable to be able to get up and freely move around a brewery without squeezing through crowds and bumping into people.

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  6. I’ve tried a few of their beers at local beer festivals (Bad Tom Ale and something else, I don’t remember). I’m not going to say that their beers were bad, but I also don’t think that they were anything special either. I’ll continue to support my local breweries so that they can grow, perfect their recipes, and buy better equipment. (From Reddit)

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