Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

September 21, 2009

Beer Diary:

Brewpub Etiquette

Why would someone go to a brewpub to not drink beer? And why would brewers not want to serve their own product?
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
Fair warning: this one is going to be a rant.

I’m sure we’ve all done something like this, probably even recently: you went to the butcher shop and asked if they had any eggplant. No? Hmmm. Then you’ve probably gone to Taco Bell and asked for a Big Mac. No again? Are you kidding? OK, then I know we’ve all done this: gone to a winery and when it came time for sampling, said, “No thanks, I don’t drink wine. Can I see your beer list?”

Obviously, unless you are a cultural dolt you’ve never done any of those things I just mentioned. But their equivalents happen more times than I can count virtually every time I go to a brewpub. If you don’t believe me, it’s easy to test out. Just go to your local brewpub, grab a seat at the bar, and note how many times someone comes in and either orders a mixed drink, asks for a Bud Light, or says they don’t like beer and asks what else there is to drink.

Honestly, what the fuck? Why are you walking into a brewery if you “don’t drink beer”? I’m sure the most common answer to that question is, “The person I was with wanted to try it, so I just went along.” Which isn’t a reasonable excuse in my book. If, say, a girl were to ask me to go with her to a winery, I would probably do any of the following:

  1. Go to the winery and just drink a couple sips of rotten grape juice. Hell, maybe I’d actually stumble across something I liked.
  2. Go to the winery and politely decline to drink any wine.
  3. Don’t go to the fucking winery in the first place.

But this doesn’t occur to some of these brewpub visitors. They just cannot deign to take a single sip of beer. And these are probably some of the same people that call me a beer snob.

If I owned a brewpub I’d do just like Founders does at their brewery: don’t serve anything except the beer brewed on the premises. But I wouldn’t be nice about it like they are. If somebody came in and ordered a Miller Light, I’d ask, “Why in the fuck would we serve Miller Light? Do you go to Wendy’s and ask for a Whopper, you goddamn moron?” Of course, I’d be either shot dead or driven out of business within about two weeks of opening up, but then again integrity ain’t cheap.

Frankly I think as a brewer you should be insulted that someone would rather drink crap pumped out of a factory 500 miles away than the stuff you made yourself.
The problem, of course, is that brewpub owners are all too willing to serve alternatives to their beer. And the reason they do is money: the profit margins on spirits, wine, and even outside beer are in most cases higher than the house-brewed stuff. Plus, a larger selection of items appeals to a larger group of customers, meaning, theoretically, more business. Frankly I think as a brewer you should be insulted that someone would rather drink crap pumped out of a factory 500 miles away or—blech—somebody stuck their feet in than the stuff you made yourself, but apparently wounds to the ego can be cured with money.

And since I’ve now moved across the bar to criticize brewpub owners, here’s another gripe: how hard is it to train your fucking staff? I’ve been in brewpubs where the server told me the pale ale was “hopsy” or such-and-such beer was “like a Blue Moon only not as Belgian” or, my absolute favorite, the German-style wheat beer was a “heifer wise.” You mean a smart, young cow?

At the very least, have your bartenders and servers try each of the beers, and give them enough training to intelligently talk about them. I don’t mean they have to discuss the boil times or the different malts used or what the bittering hops are, but something along of lines of “It’s a pale gold color, medium in body, and more bitter than a light lager,” when someone asks what the pale ale is like.

Obviously, not all brewpubs are like this, and—like all businesses—the ones that have well-trained workers to go along with a decent (or better) product need to be rewarded with our money. The rest can sit and watch their product rot in the tanks because their employees know less about the brewing process than a wise heifer, all the while serving imbeciles who “don’t drink beer.”

Rant out.

Well done, Eddie. As always, I enjoy your rants.

A couple points:
1) The Founders example you mention has more to do with Michigan licensing than anything else. There are three different licenses: BREWPUBS, usually more of a restaurant, have a liquor license and can sell other alcoholic beverages, but cannot distribute their products outside the brewery aside from take out sales (although some do contract their beers to achieve distribution). MICROBREWERIES, like Founders, can serve their own products and can distribute their product, but cannot serve outside alcoholic beverages. BREWERIES, like Bells? production facility in Lawton, can sell and distribute, but not on premise.

2) A brewpub?s own beer is definitely more profitable than outside products. It costs pennies in raw material to fill each pint and is one of the major reasons, along with ?marketing,? that restauranteurs get into the brewpub game. Typically, they wish to avoid ?offending? patrons who do not partake in the local nectar, as their primary goal is to put butts in seats, not necessarily sell beer. It drives me crazy too, but that?s the reality of the business that fewer geeks are ?offended? than the Brown Eyed Girls who insist on their Limon & Diet or Bud Lite Lime.

Rave on!
posted by rings | September 21, 2009, 10:00 PM
Thanks for the clarification rings, especially about the Michigan licensing rule. But it's nice to dream that Founders wouldn't serve anything but their own beer even if they could.

But I would guess an $8 Red Bull and gutter vodka might edge out a pint of house brew in the profit margin by a few pennies...
posted by EddieGlick | September 22, 2009, 8:57 AM
I agree with the sentiment, in a perfect beer world. But let's not romanticize the reality of a brewery/brewpub.

They're in it to make money (and, hopefully, damn good beer--but money first). It's a business, so of course they'll sell whatever they can. If not the business can't grow, the owners don't make enough money, employees lose their jobs, ex-employee's can't feed their children, etc.

But those non-craft-beer drinkers at brew pubs can get those other drinks anywhere. They come to the brewpub to drink because it's 'where it's at', if people even say that anymore.

"Good people drink good beer" (Hunter S. Thompson/via Flyijng Dog), and it can only be good for the beer culture in general to expose more people to it.

That said, if a brewpub is good enough, it will be able to get away with serving the house lager in a glass full of ice (or just flat out tap water) should dare to order a Butt Lite. If you're a brewpub and you can do that, you are making some great beer (or, at a minimum, overrated).

posted by Skrambled | September 22, 2009, 10:39 PM
Damn, my editor is in the drunk tank again. Shoulda been "via Flying Dog", and "(or just flat out tap water) IF ANYONE should dare to order a Butt Lite".

Enjoyed the post, by the way. Nasdrovia!
posted by skrambled | September 22, 2009, 10:43 PM

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