Monday, February 14, 2011

In Praise of Brewpubs

We are inordinately fortunate in this part of the world, as I have mentioned before, to have a wealth of brewing companies within an hours drive. Whether we are talking about the likes of Starr Hill, whose beers are available throughout the south east of the US, with the exception of Georgia, or one of the local brewpubs, we have loads of beer options here. It is great being able to go into our nearby shops and pick up six packs of locally made beer. Having said that, I have to admit that I prefer to combine my two favourite things, pubs and beer, by going to one of the brewpubs.

If you follow Fuggled with even the vaguest sense of regularity you will know that my favourite brewpub in the Charlottesville area is Devils Backbone, out in Roseland. I love the beer, the food, the atmosphere, the drive back in the depths of night can be a bit hairy at times though. Mrs Velkyal and I also enjoy popping over to Blue Mountain from time to time, again for good beer and a nice relaxing vibe. Whenever we venture away from home, we look instinctively for brewpubs to drop in to, and so we have enjoyed Blue Ridge Brewing in Greenville, Hunter Gatherer in Columbia, Southend Brewery in Charleston (yes we go to South Carolina a lot). All this got me thinking about reasons for preferring a brewpub to pretty much any other drinking experience, and I came up with a couple of reasons.

Firstly, most brewpubs are good pubs in general. If you go to South Street Brewery in the centre of Charlottesville, the building itself is beautiful, and it feels very much like a proper pub. Dark, almost brooding, plenty of bare brick and dark wood, it is very much my kind of ambience. Devils Backbone by contrast is mainly stone, wood and corrugated iron (it might be tin, so don't quote me), the high ceilings add a sense of space and light which doesn't translate to bright and gaudy. Blue Mountain kind of feels like my living room, with a very nice patio outside. Different places with different atmospheres but all identifiably pubs. They are places for enjoying beer, first and foremost.

Now this might be slightly controversial, or entirely obvious, but brewpubs succeed or fail on the basis of their beer, and that means they need to be on top of their game constantly. By this I mean that they have no place to hide when it comes to criticism. They brew their own beer, condition their own beer, serve their own beer. If there is a problem with a beer then they can't blame the distributor for not looking after it properly, or the pub for not serving it properly, the buck stops with them. Why then is this a reason for me to prefer the brewpub experience? Simply because if I am enjoying a pint of excellent beer, then I am confident that if I switch drinks, they will likewise well made and cared for, at the same time if the pint is not up to scratch and then neither is another, then it suggests a systemic problem with the brewing setup. As such, it allows me to make an informed decision as to whether or not I want to continue pouring money into their cash register.

A major benefit of the brewpub though is having had a flight of samples, you can then order a pint of the one you liked best and get tucking in to a good session - which is, after all the prime purpose of beer, if beer needs to have a purpose.

The best brewpubs combine the best of the beer world, good beer in a convivial environment.

Now, just in case you are thoroughly confused with me writing a positive post rather than ranting, here's something to restore your sense of normality. Yesterday I was in Barnes and Noble when I picked up the book The Beer Trials, turning to the page about Pilsner Urquell, I was dumbstruck by the ignorance and all round bullshit of the description of the beer. For starters "Pilsner Urquell" is GERMAN for Pilsner from the Original Source, not Czech. Yes they really said that. Twice. Ignorant tits. Secondly opening a bottle of pasteurised Pilsner Urquell thousands of miles from the Czech Republic is hardly the best way to enjoy a famously delicate beer, especially when the glass is green, and so the "traditional lightstruck/noble hop" aroma is not normal. Try drinking Pilsner Urquell from a tankove system, in the Czech Republic before waffling bollocks. Here endeth the lesson.


  1. My favourite thing about brewpubs is knowing there's beer brewing nearby. There's nothing like walking into a bar and being able to smell wort or fresh hops in the air, it gets the thirst mechanisms racing in the same way as the smell and sight of a BBQing slab of meat gets you ravishingly hungry!

    And flights of beer. Yes. Great fun. A little sip of everything to get a feeling for what they do and then back for a pint of your favourite. I wish we had brewpubs like that in the UK.

  2. I love going into BrewPubs, my wife- not so much. This is where I get jealous of my brother. Although he has found his favorite (Selin's Grove Brewing) and his local (Two Brothers in Illinois) he is on a continuing quest to try more and more. He is scheduled to hit up Three Floyds for his 100th. Here I am in the 20s. (He lived in Michigan for 2 years, was able to go to 50 there.)

    I think the atmosphere and freshness of the beer are the two most inviting aspects of a brewpub. Those that fail on those two parts, fail altogether

  3. Not many brewpubs around my neck of the world really (Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK). The closest we've got is a Leeds Brewery pub that brews its own lager above the pub. Used to have a fantastic brewpub called the fox & newt but this then became Wharfebank Brewery and is no longer brewed on site.

    That said, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to local suppliers within say 10 miles, so the best pubs all have plenty of local brews on.

    Great post, very much enjoyed reading.

  4. I have been unimpressed by some brewpubs who seem to consider themselves to be mainly a restaurant, who happen serve their own beer, rather than a pub who brew their own beer, and happen to serve food. Not that I want the food to be lacking, but if the beer and pub-feel are secondary, it just feels like a waste of time. This has me thinking about the differences in our local brewpubs. It's been too long.

  5. My experience has been the same as 'Flagon of Ale's'. My line of work has for many years included a fair bit of travel and I've managed to experience a few of truly outstanding brewpubs (plus there is at least one very fine one in my home state), but unfortunately the majority of the ones I've visited have been pretty disappointing. And sadly, some of the best ones have shuttered their doors. As a result, my expectations are actually rather low when trying a new brewpub, but that has most definitely not kept me from continuing to explore. Finding the truly good ones, few though they may be, makes the whole quest worthwhile.

  6. I love brewpubs. I especially love ones where they brew beer right out in the open space of the bar rather than hidden away in a brewing room. Even behind glass is a little too much of a barrier.

    For that reason I love the way Les 3 brasseurs (France) lay out their brewpubs, even if the beer itself is a bit boring.


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