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Drinking Beer in Brewpubs

One of the best places to taste different beers in North America is at a brewpub — a pub, usually with a restaurant, that serves its own beer made in a small brewery on the premises, kind of like a restaurant with its own bakery.

By definition, a brewpub doesn’t distribute more than 50 percent of its beer outside the pub — and most brewpubs don’t distribute any — though you can usually get it to go in small kegs and growlers. Brewpubs come in all sizes, from an innkeeper’s hobby with an annual output of a couple hundred barrels to huge commercial operations that brew thousands of barrels a year.

The best and easiest way to find a local brewpub is to use your favorite Internet search engine.

Beer lovers treasure brewpubs for a number of good reasons:

  • Fresh beer: Brewpub beer is about as fresh a product as you’re going to find anywhere.

  • Variety: Brewpubs offer beer in a variety of regular major styles, one or two seasonal specials, and a brew or two in exotic styles, normally for a limited run (keeps you coming back to see what’s new). Brewers like to test the scope of their skills as much as they like to please your palate. Imported or guest beers are often featured alongside the house brews, just for fun. Many brewpubs illustrate some of their most popular brews on their placemats so customers see them as soon as they sit down.

    [Credit: Island Hopper Tasting Mat courtesy of Kona Brewing Company]
    Credit: Island Hopper Tasting Mat courtesy of Kona Brewing Company
  • Serving know-how: Brewpubs know how to serve beer. Most serve beer at proper temperatures and in the appropriate glasses.

  • Elementary education: The curious and the inquisitive can see the brewing equipment and get the chance to watch the brewmaster at work and ask questions. With luck, you may even be able to take a tour. What’s really cool is when brewers offer a particularly intrigued customer the opportunity to spend a day working alongside them.

  • Postgraduate work: Brewpubs may sponsor weekend beer and brewing seminars or tasting clubs. The Goose Island Brewing Company in Chicago, Illinois, was among the first to do so. This company offers its Master of Beer Appreciation (MBA) program, which encourages customers to sample a curriculum of styles throughout the year and earn points toward premiums such as MBA T-shirts and free beer (you expected parchment?).

  • Camaraderie: One thing you’re sure to find at brewpubs is camaraderie — not the sporting, testosterone-laced kind, but the beer-aficionado kind, the beer-geek kind, the hophead kind, and the gourmet-beer-fan kind. Striking up conversations about the beer is pretty easy in these places.

  • Food: Oh, yes, the food. Good brewpub folks generally like to cook recipes that feature their beers, and they’re glad to suggest beer and food matches. But food is secondary to good beer (pity the rare brewpub with bad brews).

A good brewpub is defined by good beer, of course, but also by evidence of the brewer’s passion, even reverence and respect, for beer. These qualities are what make a brewer take the time to talk beer with you, to show you around the brewery, and to train the wait staff. Brewers have to have the passion to run a brewpub, or else it’s just another bar.

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