I’ve noticed that there are pretty much three distinct types of brewpubs in America:
1) Nanobrewpubs – These are pubs that are rather “mom & pop” and who make brew for very local distribution and consumption (i.e. on the premises). They are very small operations with no bottling or canning facility. If their beer is “distributed” it is either via growler or the occasional keg provided for a regular. They frequently model themselves after English pubs in terms of not only their brew (always one on engine), but also their food and décor. These places do have a steady rotation of beers that take on a fairly consistent character but they do tend to experiment often (which is cool). Their beers may lack the refinement of the microbrews which some find actually very charming.
2) Microbrewpubs – These are regionally or nationally distributed breweries that besides offering their year ‘round brews (some even on cask) they also provide us an opportunity to taste a wide array of their seasonals on draft. They are also prone to intense merchandising. One “to remain unnamed” microbrewpub offered: ball caps, mugs, glasses, yard glasses, fleeces, t-shirts, polo shirts, hooded sweatshirts, tap handles, belt buckle bottle openers, golf balls, license plates, miniature trains, metal lunch kits . . . The food and atmosphere are never as interesting as their beers though. They can be described basically as a TGI Friday’s or Ruby Tuesday’s with an outrageous draft beer selection. The only plus being (as it turns out) it’s the kind of place that you can easily take your SO, kids or parents and yet still get a great beer!
3) Chainbrewpubs – Like the nanobrewpubs their beers are distributed only to the far corners of the pub itself (with no bottling or canning operation). Many do however offer growler service. The beer can be very good but often to me tastes like imitation microbrew. Often though the food (and décor) at a chainbrewpub can be the best of the three.
In my experience it isn’t wise to order a wheat, wit, or IPA at a chainbrewpub. If you are a fan of these styles you will surely be disappointed. Their pales, stouts and Vienna lagers usually are adequate though. They also always will have a light lager (for the macro crowd) along with a cloying raspberry, blueberry or strawberry wheat.
Of the three I probably frequent the nanobrewpubs the most. I appreciate the rustic quality of their beers and their aforementioned experimentation. They also tend to be places with an atmosphere where you can usually grab a seat at the bar (even on a weekend evening) and strike up a smart conversation on beer or other topics with another customer. I visit micros a little less often than nanos mainly due to the atmosphere, which again can be fairly generic. I probably like chainbrewpubs the least because of the styles that they tend to brew and their flavors which all seem to me to be carefully “market tested” (for lack of a better expression). As a result I’ve rarely had great or very interesting beer at chainbrewpub.
Which do you frequent the most? Why?