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What's Your Brewpub?

I’ve noticed that there are pretty much three distinct types of brewpubs in America:

1) Nanobrewpubs – These are pubs that are rather “mom & pop” and who make brew for very local distribution and consumption (i.e. on the premises). They are very small operations with no bottling or canning facility. If their beer is “distributed” it is either via growler or the occasional keg provided for a regular. They frequently model themselves after English pubs in terms of not only their brew (always one on engine), but also their food and décor. These places do have a steady rotation of beers that take on a fairly consistent character but they do tend to experiment often (which is cool). Their beers may lack the refinement of the microbrews which some find actually very charming.

2) Microbrewpubs – These are regionally or nationally distributed breweries that besides offering their year ‘round brews (some even on cask) they also provide us an opportunity to taste a wide array of their seasonals on draft. They are also prone to intense merchandising. One “to remain unnamed” microbrewpub offered: ball caps, mugs, glasses, yard glasses, fleeces, t-shirts, polo shirts, hooded sweatshirts, tap handles, belt buckle bottle openers, golf balls, license plates, miniature trains, metal lunch kits . . . The food and atmosphere are never as interesting as their beers though. They can be described basically as a TGI Friday’s or Ruby Tuesday’s with an outrageous draft beer selection. The only plus being (as it turns out) it’s the kind of place that you can easily take your SO, kids or parents and yet still get a great beer!

3) Chainbrewpubs – Like the nanobrewpubs their beers are distributed only to the far corners of the pub itself (with no bottling or canning operation). Many do however offer growler service. The beer can be very good but often to me tastes like imitation microbrew. Often though the food (and décor) at a chainbrewpub can be the best of the three.
In my experience it isn’t wise to order a wheat, wit, or IPA at a chainbrewpub. If you are a fan of these styles you will surely be disappointed. Their pales, stouts and Vienna lagers usually are adequate though. They also always will have a light lager (for the macro crowd) along with a cloying raspberry, blueberry or strawberry wheat.

Of the three I probably frequent the nanobrewpubs the most. I appreciate the rustic quality of their beers and their aforementioned experimentation. They also tend to be places with an atmosphere where you can usually grab a seat at the bar (even on a weekend evening) and strike up a smart conversation on beer or other topics with another customer. I visit micros a little less often than nanos mainly due to the atmosphere, which again can be fairly generic. I probably like chainbrewpubs the least because of the styles that they tend to brew and their flavors which all seem to me to be carefully “market tested” (for lack of a better expression). As a result I’ve rarely had great or very interesting beer at chainbrewpub.

Which do you frequent the most? Why?

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  1. There's a local brewpub I love that I guess would fall under your 'Nano' classification. South Street Brewery in Charlottesville, Virginia. They make excellent beer, bottle nothing, and sell growlers and kegs to regular customers. And their beers have won awards. They don't really follow the English pub style, in that it is a large-ish restaurant and the food ranges from burgers and ribs to homemade bruschetta and fancy pastas. Unfortunately, their beer has become so popular that getting a seat at the copper bar on a Friday night is next to impossible.

    I'm really excited for the next step from their brewmaster. He is opening his own brewery and hop farm in the fall. It will be set up like a vineyard, complete with a tasting room and tours, only they will grow hops instead of grapes. I can't wait!

    1 Reply
    1. re: mojoeater

      Another good option in Charlottesville is Starr Hill. They're a nano-pub moving into the microbrewpub level this year. Well, they're moving much of their beermaking operation to a larger facility so that they can distribute more widely, probably nationally. The nanopub/restaurant/concert hall/reception hall space in C'ville is pretty good (the food varies a lot in terms of quality) and the beer is excellent. I'm a big fan of the Amber, especially and they also do a lovely stout. That's the beer I miss most now that I'm on the west coast.

    2. Breaking down brewpubs into strict catagories might prove just as difficult as breweries; where, once there were "National-Regional-Local" breweries, and then "Microbrewery" and "Contract Brewery" added to the list, eventually some "micros" and "contractors" grew BIGGER than local and regionals (one contract brewery BOUGHT a regional brewery) and, with new beer markets developed, many "regional" sized (and smaller) breweries ship their product all over the country, making them national in distribution but "regional" in size.

      In NJ, which came late to the microbrewery movement (which, in most states, required some changes in post-Prohibition alcohol laws that usually prohibited breweries from selling direct to the consumer and from owner bars), there are still legal distinctions between "brewpubs" and "microbreweries", so your (2) is illegal in NJ (and, IIRC, some other states). When Stoudt's first opened, there was some legal technicality that separates the restaurant (which existed before hand) from the brewery (altho', you'd never know it while there) and, IIRC, Carol Stoudt owns the brewery and her husband owns the restaurant. Whatever law that was, it doesn't seem to apply anymore, given the situation at Victory, etc.

      I think NJ also prohibits a license holder from owning more than two brewpubs- which is why Triumph has expanded across the Delaware in New Hope and Phila., since they already own one in Princeton and a planned one in Red Bank.

      A distinction you might add to your criteria, is whether a brewpub was created as such or a small brewery was added to an existing establishment. In both cases, there seem to be establishments that are "restaurants with a brewery" and true beer-oriented "brewpubs".

      NJ (which I know best as far as brewpubs) has one of the strangest cases- a brewery in a huge "fast casual" chain restaurant chain location- Pizzeria Uno- yet it's the only one in the chain, IIRC. There are numerous other "unusual" brewpubs I've read about. I always thought that a brewpub/laudromat would work well- give the patrons their change in dimes and quarters (I don't know, these days do laundromats take cash cards or debit cards?).

      1 Reply
      1. re: JessKidden

        There's a lot to digest there. But could you please further differentiate between a "restaurant with a brewery" and a "true beer oriented brewpub". My definition of a brewpub was simple; an establishment where beer is produced, sold and consumed on site.

      2. I've found that a lot of brewpubs (in many, but not all, cases, they are of the type where the restaurant existed BEFORE adding a in-house brewery) don't really stress the beer and aren't really "beer oriented" places. As such, a lot of them seem to have "dumbed down" lowest-common-denominator beers, since they're attempting to sell them to the general public, not just the "beer geek". If the color of the beers in a brewpub's sampler is the most noticable difference between the beers, I'm always a bit disappointed in the place.

        Certainly, the aforementioned Pizza Uno in NJ is such a place. Also, if you're at the bar in a brewpub and a large percentage of drinks in front of customers are wine, mixed drinks or bottles of megabrews, to me, it's not a beer oriented brewpub- and the brewery is more a "gimmick" than a reason for being. Granted, it's a hard balance to achieve- food vs. beer- and every business seems to approach it differently.

        Hey, it's not like I don't frequent both sorts of brewpubs- and happy I've got the choice- when in a "new" area looking blind for a place to eat, a brewpub is almost always my first pick. But, I've gotten a lot of "eh" beers over the years at many of them.

        1 Reply
        1. re: JessKidden

          ok, I'm just not familiar with that model I guess (i.e. pre-existing restaurant that incorporated a brewing operation). But here is a full disclosure list of which "brewpubs" I've been to (at least once) and how I catergorize each

          General Lafayette Inn (Lafayette Hill, PA)
          G.G. Brewpub (Glenside, PA)
          Nodding Head (Philadelphia, PA)

          Appalachian Brewing Company (Harrisburg, PA)
          Dock Street Brewpub (Philadelphia, PA)
          Lancaster Brewing Company (Lancaster, PA)
          Victory Brewpub (Downingtown, PA)
          Slyfox Brewpub (Phoenixville, PA)
          Dogfish Head (Rehobeth Beach, DE)
          Barley Creek Brewery (Tannersville, PA)

          Chain (or Chain-istic [i.e. having the attributes of a chain]):
          Rock Bottom Brewery (King of Prussia, PA)
          Triumph Brewery (New Hope, PA)
          Iron Hill Brewery (North Wales, and Media, PA)
          John Harvard's (Devon, PA)
          Brew Moon (Boston, MA)
          Offshore Ale (Oak Bluffs, MA)
          Boston Beer Works (Boston, MA)
          Lowell Brewing Company (Lowell, MA)
          Bethlehem Beer Works (Bethlehem, PA)
          McKenzie's (Glenn Mills, PA)
          Manayunk Brewpub (Philadelphia, PA)
          Independence Brewpub (Philadelphia, PA)

          Porterhouse (Lahaska, PA) Note: Yards Brewing Company contract brews at the restaurant.

        2. The place i frequent doesnt really fit into anyone of the categories, but rather is a sort of combination between one and two. Pizza Port Solana beach makes outstanding beer. They manage to nail whatver style they are doing which is quite a feat considering they brew every wstyle imaginable. Their Hefeweizen tastes like a Bavarian one, a feat not easily pulled off in the US, their Irish Stout is like Guines only if Guiness were full of flavour, their IPA, 2xipa, Beligans are all fabulous as well. They make good renditions of english ales, pilseners and usually have something available on cask. Everything is fresh and delicious.

          i think the only beer they bottle is the sharkbite red but you can get growlers there and they have begun bottling their belgians under a sister company the Lost Abbey. The food is decent enough as far as non NY pizza goes.

          1. Hmm...interesting. Your list is heavily Pennsylvanian- a state with a great brewing history, both pre-micro (when they had more breweries than any other state) and post micro.

            The brewpubs I'm thinking about in my description of "restaurants with breweries" are mostly in my current home state of NJ (where just an on-premise liquor license might cost 1/2 a million). Some (but, as I noted, not *all*) were in business before getting a brewing license- like Ship Inn, Pizza Uno (?- I guess, I don't remember it but, then, chain pizza isn't my thing) and the closed Mill Hill Saloon in Trenton, etc. Others that fit that description, tho', were (I think) opened as new businesses like the two Basil T's, .

            Offhand, I'd say I've been in brewpubs in most of the New England states, NY, NJ, PA, DE, VA, MI, CO, LA, CA, NV and Ontario. If I had a good enough memory, I could probably name a few more brewpubs that would fit the concept of non-beer centric .

            >Porterhouse (Lahaska, PA) Note: Yards Brewing Company contract brews at the >restaurant.

            Well, there's another catagory- the fake brewpub. I recall non-brewing restaurants that used the name "Brewing Company" or "Brewery" in many places over the years. Bub's in PA. Dutch area (it later did open a brewery, IIRC), one up the Poconos, another in the White Mts. of NH, several NYC outlets over the years and I've read that Climax Brewing Co., in NJ, "secretly" supplies draft beer for a number of brewpubs in the NY/NJ metro area (as well as being the hired brewer at the Tom's River Basil T's).

            Is the Porterhouse the brewpub that burned down a few years back? I was there when they were brewing and found it to be pretty mundane (the most memorable thing being a horrid "cherry" flavored beer that was given to me as sample- I've had lolli-pops that tasted more natural). I'm in the New Hope/Lambertville area alot flea marketing; will have to drop in when the weather turns next time I'm in the area now that you've reminded me of the deal with Yards.

            1 Reply
            1. re: JessKidden

              So being from Pennsy I have a biased view I guess. The "fake" brewpub in the Poconos that you are refering to is PBC (Pocono Brewing Company). It is a very weird brewpub for the fact that you have to inquire about their brewed beers as they play 2nd (or 3rd) fiddle to the other imports and micros (and wines) that they have on tap. Their brewed beer is really just an afterthought (and actually isn't even brewed on site). They too actually have dummy brewing equipment displayed on site (I guess for affect). Weird!
              As for Porterhouse I'm not sure if they burned down but previously Riverhorse was the contract brewer (I liked them) but about a year ago Yards took over. There standards are their on tap (IPA, ESA, Philly Pale, etc) while the stuff made locally can range from serious to "dumbed down lowest-common-denominator beers".

            2. Back to the question at hand, North Carolina is replete with pretty good #2s. Better than Bennigan's, less flair than Applebees, but not that far off the beaten path. I do believe that more brewpubs would like to experiment, but find it hard to stray too far from formula when 99% of the crowd is looking for fish and chips.

              Thankfully, the beers produced by these traditional microbrewpubs tends to stay local and is of very high quality. Foothills in Winston-Salem, Natty Greene's in Greensboro and Carolina Brewery in Chapel Hill are some of my local favorites.

              I am really ready for brewery/restaurants to take on more risks with their food.

              3 Replies
              1. re: peetoteeto

                I'm glad that you mentioned food and brewpubs. As I stated earlier in my opinion the "chain" brewpubs tend to have the best food and decor of the three mentioned. But for truly outstanding food (and atmosphere) which is oriented more toward beer I go to gastropubs or belgian bars. No (or very few) brewpubs that I've been to aspire to present food equaling that which I've had at gastros or belgians. They tend to go for more of the standard fare and "family friendly" menu at most brewpubs. But as I also stated in the OP this is a cool option to have as a beer lover if you are out trying to please folks with a less than adventurous food tastes.

                1. re: Chinon00

                  In NJ, both Triumph and J.J. Bittings had very upscale "eclectic" menus when they first opened in the mid-90's. (How upscale? Well, this blue collar, road food aficionado said, "I don't even know what half of this stuff even *is*." when first reading their menus) and both, expectedly but somewhat to my disappointment, seemed to "dumb down" their menus to typical "pub grub" later (Triumph, being in Princeton and New Hope, a little less so). Not particularly an upscale dish, but I still miss the oyster po' boy at Triumph which seems to be only available occassionally (perhaps due to the seasonal nature of the seafood).

                  Also, the two, now unrelated, Basil T brewpubs both have predominately Italian menus, the Red Bank one tending towards the "upscale" segment of the market.

                  1. re: JessKidden

                    For me food at brewpub could range from casual to very upscale. It appears to me that casual food from any cuisine works with a brewery (Italian Osteria, Mexican Taqueria, English/American Pub Grub, French Bistro/Brasserie, German Brauhaus, etc.) But as the ethnic cuisine becomes more upscale it can seem forced to me. So IMHO I think that the food at any upscale cuisine brewpub should take on its own specific character.

              2. i like the nanos as well. not a whole heckuva lot of any of the three types in central FL, unfortunately. locally (for me) i've been to spanish springs in the villages, orlando brewing partners in orlando (no food), TBBC in ybor and dunedin brewing in dunedin. used to have the mill in winter park but it closed down. shipyard's hub at OIA likewise.

                i'd like to visit hoppers over in the tampa area, and saint sebastiaan in spring hill in the near future. also i think something is opening over in tarpon called 'saint somewhere' ? (no really, that's literally the name)

                chinon00, compare your list to mine and feel my pain as you gloat.....on your way home with your next growler..... LOL

                not locally, i've been to river city - jacksonville FL, jack of the wood - asheville NC, broad ripple brewing, oaken barrel, alcatraz and rock bottom - indianapolis (last 3 were prolly more like #2 or 3s),

                1. Like MVNYC, my two favorite don't fit neatly in your categories. So call them category 1.5
                  They would be: McNeil's in Brattleboro, Vt. (bar snacks only) & The People's Pint Greenfield, Ma. (food menu) Both places brew extensively on the premises, have growlers and sell in bottle locally.

                  1. I love the Northhampton Brewery, in Mass. I guess it's a nano, as I have never seen their beers bottled anywhere. I have also never been disapointed by a meal there.

                    a BJ's opened up near me in St Pete Florida, tried it the other day thought the Porter and Stout were sickly sweet to my taste, the food was standard chain american bistro. I seriously doubt I will go back.