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Do You Give Brewpubs a Pass On Their Food?

Do you give brewpubs a pass on their food? I don’t. And often when I’ve complained to friends about the quality of brewpub food many will respond to me “well, what do you expect, it’s a brewpub”.
So are your expectations of the food at brewpubs low? Are they lower than what they would be for say your favorite, go-to, neighborhood pizza place for instance? For me most don’t come close to that; and is that too much to ask? If so, why?

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  1. It is a kind of a crap shoot at these places. Actually though, as a lover of quality beer, my problem with brewpubs is not so much the food, but rather the beer they make, which is sometimes passable (and often not), but rarely noteworthy. There are a few exceptions I've encountered in my travels, but by and large brewpubs seem to be a gimmick concept that has little to do with good beer. It is no wonder that they come and go with such frequency. There are a handful however that are definitely the exception and actually take the time to skillfully brew and properly age their beer. There are many more, however, that are only interested turning out quickly made product by brewers with questionable experience, training, and skill. But again...there are exceptions.

    1 Reply
    1. re: The Professor

      I live in Ann Arbor and we have three (!) brewpubs within a couple blocks of each other. Arbor Brewing Co., very good beer and good food...the owners try to use as much organic and locally sourced stuff as possible; Grizzly Peak has pretty decent beer and and I think very good (and higher priced) food. I love their mussels in tomato-beer broth with andouille sausage and whole cloves of roasted garlic; and recently opened Blue Tractor BBQ which has OK beer and a large BBQ-oriented menu. But I don't consider them as much of a brewpub as a restaurant that serves their own beer. There used to be a place called Leopold Brothers which had not so great beer and more "bar food" type chow, but they distilled some killer vodka and gin (they've since moved to Colorado). I don't think any of these places crank the beer out. Arbor Brewing has been around a long time and hosts fun monthly beer tastings.

    2. I agree. My expectations are that I will get decent pub fare (burgers, wraps, sandwiches etc...) so when I come across a brewpub where the chef and the brewmaster are in sync I am very happy. My two surprises in the past year have been Allentown Brew Works in Allentown, PA and Smuttynose in Portsmouth, NH. Both paid as much attention to the food as the brew and since both have won beer awards that says a lot. Trained waitstaff that can talk food and beer and pairings goes a long way with me.

      1. NEVER! I search for great brew and great grub. I rarely find both in the same place.

        1. We have 2 in downtown Des Moines. Court Ave, and Raccoon River. Both have decent beers, and good food. Raccoon River in particular has very good food. The Bandit IPA is a very passable version.
          Granite City has decent food, but I'm not impressed with the beer.
          Overall, in my experience I find most have better food than beer.

          1. I absolutely give breweries a pass on their food if the beer is good. As long as there is something decent on the menu, like pizza or good appetizers, I don't even look at the entrees, etc. I have found that a lot of breweries have some sort of wood-fired or brick-oven pizza that is very passable and certainly tasty after many samples of their handiwork. That is fine with me. If you want a five star meal, go to a five star place.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Mr Siegal

              Yes but I'm not equating "giving them a pass" with giving them a pass if it's not a 5 star meal. I tried to be clear in my OP that compared to your favorite corner pizza or sandwich shop how do they stand up. That for me is a reasonable standard and one that often elludes many brewpubs. And to my surprise many of my friends agree that the quality of burgers, wings, pizza etc, at many brewpubs is poor but they don't seem to mind if the beer is good.

              1. re: Chinon00

                yeah I didn't mean that a brewpub had to be five star, I just meant that whatever there aim is, they should still do it well. If a brewpub that goes as far as to have a restaurant along with taking pride in their beer, should have food as good as your neighborhood pizza joint. Its not hard to pair some wood-fired pizzas with toppings that go well with a variety of craft brews.

            2. No. One of our local brewpubs - Town Hall (Minneapolis) - used to have fab food to go with their tasty beer. Sadly, they have devolved to frat bar cuisine, and not very good at that. So, I don't eat there anymore. Maybe a beer at happy hour, and the growler to go, but I'll eat somewhere else.

              1. No free passes!

                I enjoy good food at twoof my favorite places (both of which unfortunately are far from my home in Florida)...

                * Gritty McDuff's in Freeport, Maine (home of LL Bean) (also in Portland). Excellent chili, just for starters.

                * Dogfish Head in Falls Church, Virginia. Cajun Jambalaya pasta can't be beat. It's become my required Saturday night pre-race meal when I'm running the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday's in October.

                13 Replies
                1. re: CFByrne

                  OK, but DFH Falls Church is not a brewpub.

                  1. re: Jim Dorsch

                    Ok, first a disclaimer, I am a brewpub brewer at Vintage 50 in Leesburg and am in the middle of a capital raise to open my own brewpub in Northern Virginia.

                    My opinion: There should be no free passes on beer or food at a brewpub. I get frustrated when I go to a place and find the beer to be a poor representation of what we do for a living especially when I know many great brewers out of the industry because they could not get work, etc.

                    The food should also be of good quality no matter what the concept, pizza, Belgian (think mussels and frites) etc. We work in an industry where you can no longer just open the doors with a brewery attached to a restaurant and expect the throngs to come as was the case in the mid 90's.

                    You should do what you do with the idea that it will be the best it can possibly be and this applies to anything.

                    1. re: maddbrewer

                      I have eaten at Vintage 50 and I would say that it is a good example of a brewpub with both quality beer and excellent food. It's much more upscale than the typical brewpub, however.

                      1. re: maddbrewer

                        Well said.
                        In the 90's, many restaurant owners/groups went with the brewpub concept strictly as a gimmick, to cash in on a growing trend, not really caring about quality beer...and it showed. They mercifully closed. Unfortunately a couple of really good ones didn't make it either...it's a tough business, and a tough sell to a culture that by and large still prefers Bud Lite. In my travels around the US and Canada I've visited quite a few brewpubs, and sad to say, it seems that there are still more bad ones than good ones, and a big problem being the unwillingness of the owners to adequately pay an experienced and trained brewmaster. Many of these places also seem to have a tendency to dish out beer that has been made and served too quickly. One place I went to actually bragged about how they could ferment a beer in a day and a half, filter it out, and be serving it on the fourth day after brewing. One taste of it, and it was obvious that they weren't kidding. Drinkable, yes. Quality beer, not by a long shot.

                      2. re: Jim Dorsch

                        Well that depends, doesn't it, Jim? Is a brewpub an establishment that brews on site, or is it an establishment that serves primarily or only the beer it brews? I've heard of both types of establishments refered to as brewpubs, but have never seen an actual definition.

                        1. re: FlaHopper

                          The Brewers Association (the trade group for the small brewers) defines "brewpub" as "A restaurant-brewery that sells 25% or more of its beer on site. The beer is brewed primarily for sale in the restaurant and bar. The beer is often dispensed directly from the brewery's storage tanks." http://www.beertown.org/craftbrewing/...

                          I think anything else, like the Dogfish Head restaurant referred to, should be termed a "tied house" or simply a brewery-owned restaurant. If there's no brewery on site, it's not a brewpub.

                          1. re: JessKidden

                            That definition is exactly right. No one in the industry considers a brewpub to be anything but a restaurant that brews beer on the premises. (Curiously, some brewpub chains have taken to operating one large brewery that feeds several restaurants, in which case they're no longer brewpubs. I don't know how forthcoming they are to the public about these arrangements.)

                            In the case of DFH, I suppose technically it's neither a tied house nor a brewery-owned restaurant. It's an independently-operated restaurant that features DFH beer. A tied house would of course be illegal in most cases.

                            1. re: JessKidden

                              It seems that definition could be read to include the Dogfish Head Alehouses. They do sell 25% or more of the Dogfish Head beers. Although the beer is not brewed onsite -- except for a few things at the Rehobath location -- the definition says the beer is "often" dispensed directly from the brewery's storage tanks. Often is not always. And while the definition says the beer is brewed primarily for sale in the restuarant and bar, it's not clear that if the majority of the beer was brewed primarily for retail, but a significant amount was brewed for the affiliated restaurant and bar, that those restuarants and bars wouldn't qualify as a brewpub.

                              It seems like the BA left a good bit of wiggle room in its definition. Certainly enough for the Dogfish Head Alehouses to qualify.

                              1. re: FlaHopper

                                I don't read any "wiggle room" with the phrase "A restaurant-brewery"- if the beer is brewed off site, it's not a "brewery". The "dispensed directly from the storage tanks" to me implies only "rather than kegged". I also doubt that 25% of the DogfishHead total sales of close to 30,000 bbl (and that's 2005 figures) are through those two (or is it 3?) restaurants. That's a LOT of beer.

                                As for "tied house" - I agree that a more "modern" definition is probably needed for those sorts of arrangements, seeing that the true "tied house" in the US was outlawed in most cases in the US after Repeal.

                                Otherwise, how do these "brewery owned restaurants" or the bars (often in airports) that only seems to sell one brand of beer exist? (Isn't there an A-B and a Brooklyn owned or otherwise affliated bar in the Newark Airport, as well as similar businesses elsewhere around the country that sell only one local brand of beer?) Aren't they more or less modern day versions of a "tied house"?

                                1. re: FlaHopper

                                  Not only do the DFH alehouses serve beer brewed elsewhere, these establishments are owned and operated by companies that are completely independent of DFH. Hence they are not brewpubs by any stretch of the imagination. For starters, a brewpub must necessarily be a licensed brewery, and the alehouses are not.

                                  1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                    Originally from Virginia, now living in Colorado, I have wondered how in the world the Dogfish Head arrangement as I understand it, could be anything other than a "tied house"....It would certainly be illegal here, are "tied houses" somehow not prohibited by the Virginia laws? Or are they defined in such a way that a licensed establishment can CHOOSE to only serve the beer brewed by one brewer, as long as that choice is voluntary and not in any way contractual or for valuable consideration?

                                    1. re: southdenverhoo

                                      I don't know the details, but if the brewery doesn't provide any consideration to the establishment, then they're entirely independent, and would not be considered to be tied h houses. I expect this would be legal in many states.

                          2. re: CFByrne

                            Gritty's? Huh... To me, their food is as uninspired as their beer. I appreciate the need for some decently brewed beer, as well as a properly made fish and chips, but neither their beer or their food are drawing me to Portland and I'll only pop in out of desperation. Standard beer that never strays or takes a chance... double that for their food.

                            Maybe a good litmus test: If a brewpub is "must-go-to" spot for both their beer and their food, you've found gold.

                          3. If you operate a restaurant, you should make an effort to put out the best food possible. Just because an establishment as a brewery connect, or a brewery on site, doesn't mean that the kitchen should get some sort of pass on bad food. If a brewpub doesn't want to do food, it shouldn't.

                            1. My expectations of brewpubs food-wise are generally pretty low, primarily because I've never had a reason to raise them. There's one exception I've been to, which is Stone Brewing's Bistro. It's not a brewpub per se, but it is the restaurant attached to Stone's brewery, and the food is generally very good. Good enough that I'd go there without it being attached to a brewery.

                              Typically, though, brewpubs suffer from the same thing as most restaurants do. They use cheap, low-quality ingredients sold by giant conglomerates like Sysco, commodity meat and produce, and churn out boring, predictable "pub grub" that you can get anywhere. Is there really a difference between Friday's, Applebee's, Chili's, and the average brewpub offering? Burgers, fried appetizers, pizzas, etc.

                              Part of the problem here, too, is that the average pub patron tends to want and/or expect this type of food, so to offer something outside the box runs you the risk of alienating customers.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Josh

                                Indeed, Stone World Bistro kicks ass most of the time. Another fantastic one I went to last month was Little Creatures in Freemantle, Western Australia. One of the best brewpub menus I've had with good beers and a fantastic space.

                                1. re: DougOLis

                                  Stone World Bistro is rather fantastic. I have to say their menu is kind of hit-or-miss, I really enjoyed 2 out of 4 meals I tasted there. But every beer is great, so that helps.

                                2. re: Josh

                                  The one time I went to the Stone World Bistro, everything was fantastic. The food, beer, service, everything. I am eagerly looking forward to going there the next time I'm in San Diego.

                                  I would also recommend the Five Seasons Brewing Company in Atlanta as a brewpub with excellent food.

                                3. Stone Brewing Co in Escondido, CA makes great beer and fantastic food. The (3) beers they matched with my dinner were really well done. And the meals of my dining companions were also top notch.

                                  I would generally agree with your thesis, but there is at least one exception.

                                  1. Absolutely not. Where I am (Hoboken) there are too many 'brewpubs' to bother with one that doesn't serve great 'brewpub' food. The successful ones do. Different from a 'fine dining' experience, but some of the best food around.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: bnemes3343

                                      Huh? There are no brewpubs in Hoboken, NJ that I'm aware of. There was a short-lived craft brewery known as "Mile Square", but that was quite a while ago.

                                      Something tells me you're not using the accepted (by some) definition of "brewpub" (see above sub-thread w/me Jim Dorsch & Flahopper ) <g>.

                                      1. re: JessKidden

                                        I concur, wholeheartedly; there are no "brewpubs" where they are brewing and serving their own beer on site along with food in Hoboken that I know of.

                                        The Mile Square is most definitely still there and I don't think it ever brewed on site. Today it's more of a conventional bar/eatery with a fairly decent bottle and tap selection. Not a beer bar by any standard.

                                    2. Nice, this looks awfully familiar???

                                      -marcpal from BA

                                      1. Oh god yes, if they have real beer they get an instant pass from me! But then, as a Parisian who spent a few years in Germany, I'm used to good food in brasseries, but beer ... I have frustrated dreams filled with the memories of the Erdinger Biergarten.

                                        (La vie ... good thing I'm more a wino than a ... what do you beer folks call yourselves in English? Biertrinker/innen ?)

                                        1. I mentioned this in the beer snob thread, but this and that one make me realize the glory of a GREAT BYOB.

                                          1. Holy crap!!! Forgetting about the cookie-cutter brewpubs, I've been to a painfully few number of notable brewpubs with a food menu that even comes CLOSE to the creativity and/or attention to detail that their beers contain. Portsmouth Brewing kinda comes close. Deschutes? Kinda sorta. I've heard rumors about Stone being pretty amazing.

                                            I hate to hate on Cambridge Brew Company since their beers are some of the best, but their food is... well... pretty sad. You've got a guy brewing top notch wheat and barley wines, gruits, wilds, berliner weiss, not to mention your now-standard big American hoppy brews of all shades and varieties, and all the kitchen can muster is some overpriced, uninspired, mediocre-at-best food? I should stop now. Where's my heart meds?

                                            The long and short of it is: BBQ, burgers and pizza ain't gonna cut it. I'm just shocked that the brewers put up with it.

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: mrgrotto

                                              <<I'm just shocked that the brewers put up with it.>>

                                              Well, from my conversations with guys that man the kettles at various brewpubs, it seems unlikely that the brewers would have anything to say about it. There are certainly exceptions, but the brewers at these places in many cases seem not to be paid particularly well and are employed by owners who let them do their thing at the kettle as long as the bottom line is on the plus side. Most are just hired guns, and in fact not even really master brewers in the traditional sense in terms of real training and experience. Some have gone through the Seibel or other short courses, while a surprising number are homebrewers given a shot at bigger tanks without even any other real training (the resulting beers often reflect that fact). A lot of brewpubs are owned by restaurant people or companies that are cashing in on what looks like a hot trend, without a genuine regard for the beer. That makes it even sadder that the food is so substandard at some of these places. Fortunately, there are _some_ good ones out there.

                                              1. re: The Professor

                                                Good point. If not a sad point. I hold brewers like Will Meyers in such high regard that I'd hope the chefs they work next to would be a bit more inspired.

                                                That being said, BARLEY WINE TONIGHT AT CBC!!! Where I'll be hopefully be on such a beer high that any food flaws will be given a pass.

                                                1. re: mrgrotto

                                                  I almost went safe and got a burger... but I didn't and was hugely surprised.

                                                  Duck cassoulet was excellent (despite not being very "cassoulet"-esque), and the charcuterie plate was quite tasty as well. Not sure how much was made in-house, though. I can't imagine the saucisson was, but the two patés and the terrine (pork belly I think the menu said) might have been? It was all pretty good (although the terrine was a bit under-salted and over-dessert-spiced). Happy day!

                                                  Of course the beers were all ridiculously awesome, too.

                                                  1. re: mrgrotto

                                                    Funny, I feel the same way about CBC - best beer in town, but I usually play it safe with a sandwich. I had that cassoulet, and thought it was pretty good - actually thought it was a bit too salty (or, if you prefer, under-beaned). The barleywine was outstanding.

                                                    1. re: nfo

                                                      It was definitely a bit under-beaned... which is actually a pretty awesome insult. Message boards beware! My new insult will destroy!