Monday, May 12, 2008

American Craft Beer Week - The Brewpub

There is a certain simplicity and learning curve that i’ve experienced in drinking beer at a brewpub that’s not necessarily something you can achieve by hounding down great cases or sixpacks or bombers. It’s something that i didn’t necessarily realize until i’d brewed some beer of my own really and it’s no hard and fast rule, but it sure makes sitting down in a brewpub a lot of fun. A brewpub is alive; in some ways like a mouse on a wheel doing the same thing over and over, but in other ways like some wild adventurer damning the consequences and taking a big chance.

Even if you’re sitting down at the very best of brewpubs, you always run the risk of imperfection. It’s part of the business. I’d say that you meet it too, you’re bound to, but your reward for rolling the dice is that you run the risk of perfection as well. The factors at play when supplying your drinking population with beer made on premises have demands that fluctuate constantly. Even the best run brewpubs have to fly by the seat of their pants a bit. A big run on one beer or an unexpected bus full of nuns could run your munitions shed dry in a hurry, so then what do you do?

Brewpubs are constantly changing environments and that is one of the things that makes them so much fun to drink in. There’s more room to try something spontaneous and make do with what you’ve got. Keeping your core intact while maintaining interesting variety is a true balancing act though, you might be able to do an amazing one-off, but the demands involved with meeting the expectations of your patrons isn’t something you can just do, it’s something you have to do. And you’ve got to be quite good at it.

If anything in American beer drinking culture parallels that of the great Real Ale pub culture of England, it is our brewpubs. In the land of Real Ale, a beer drinker will walk in and taste a pint to see how the cask is pouring. If it’s not to their liking then they’re off to the next pub, simple as that. While we’re not exactly blessed with the same number of options in terms of brewpubs over here, the same rule of exclusion applies to our tap lineups. Sometimes something is tasting so great that you won’t even consider a different beer and other times a beer just isn’t doing the trick for you, so you set to work with something else.

The best brewpubs, of course, will have a strong handle on quality control, kegging schedules, and consistency, but even so sometimes a beer will just have to get moved a little early to free up room in a tank or save an empty tap. Sometimes you’re right in the midst of this and need to bounce around the tap list a bit until you find something that works.

In some cases, this jump around the list will give folks a chance to have new experiences with beer or at the very least identify beers that taste very different than what they are used to. By virtue of the business, customers inevitably expand their knowledge of beer styles and in some cases get turned onto a beer or a type of beer that they find themselves loving that may have gone completely passed them if the ‘closest thing to Miller Light’ wasn’t pouring so hot or happened to be out at the time.

SIDE NOTE: I have to commend the fine owners and employees of brewpubs across America for finding ways to appease the customer who asks for the closest thing to X Beer (most recently in my travels a swift Iron Hill bartender handling a request for ‘the closest thing to Corona…..on tap’), something i am sure they deal with a lot. Some brewpubs brew beers specifically for this set, while others don’t provide the option, but know how to describe their beer in a way that’ll eventually get a bite. The reality is that BMC has trained a ton of people and the brewpub is where they become untrained a little bit at a time.

The brewpub is extremely neighborhood centric. A whole crowd of people locked in by virtue of geography become part of the regular crowd. They adapt their tastes to what’s available and choose their favorites. Sometimes they get a little daring and try something new. Many brewpubs are family friendly too. The brewpub invokes a different spirit than a bar, it’s about something different than what a bar is about. It is centered around the talents of one mind or the collective mind of one team and it takes to the stage day in and day out.

If the beer is wrong, there’s only one place to look. When the beer is right, there’s only one place to point the applause. Fair as fair can be.

In addition to all this, even if they’re just spitting out information they’ve been made to memorize, brewpub employees will know the score on their beers. It’s nice to be told what kind of malts or hops have been used or what a brewpub has tucked away in a barrel downstairs that you’ve got to come back for. Better yet what beer goes really good with that signature salad or sandwich.

So visit your local brewpub this week, drink a beer that’s unavailable anywhere else in the world. Take a look around and see the local folks, the regulars, the staff. Realize that this has all been built on the power and knowledge of what beer can do. The hard work that goes into just having the opportunity to take the risk of opening a brewpub is immense, imagine what it takes just to keep the lights on once you’re open.

My local guys:

The Sly Fox
Iron Hill - Phoenixville
Victory Brewing Co.
McKenzie Brew House
Rockbottom Brewery

RIP Destiny Brewing Company. I am trying to break in to see if the kettle is still there. It looks like part of the bar is in a heap on the back stoop. I admit that i have been and will continue to snoop around and pull out a copy of Ale Street News for myself everytime they drop off on the front step.


vickie said...

Did you ever go to General Lafayette? It is really not that far from some of the places you mentioned. We used to go there fairly often when I lived in Ambler. The Red Velvet is good; TJ's currently has it on tap.

Dr Joel said...

I should have mentioned the GLI as i really like that place. In college we used to go almost every Wednesday night. I love the history of the place and love how they reach out to good beer drinkers. And they buy locally whenever possible.

Actually with enough searching through the internet one could find a very old review i did of The General for some magazine that never paid me.

vickie said...
Found it! (Can you tell I don't feel like working today????)