On the Line / Bar & Nightclub / What is a Brewpub?

What is a Brewpub?

A brewpub is a full-service restaurant that makes beer. With so many different styles of bars — gastropubs, microbreweries, taprooms — it can get a bit confusing.

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1. What is a brewpub?

A brewpub is a full-service restaurant that makes beer. With so many different styles of bars — gastropubs, microbreweries, taprooms — it can get a bit confusing. 

To be officially designated a brewpub in the U.S., an establishment needs to sell a minimum of 25% of its own beer on-site. Most brewpubs sell a much higher percentage of their own beer on-site, and many sell exclusively at their restaurants and bars. The beer is often dispensed straight from large industrial-looking storage tanks, which are usually visible to customers. The tanks become a focal point of the décor and add an air of authenticity. 

Extensive food menus are another signature of the brewpub experience. The cooking runs the gamut from typical pub grub fare ideal for absorbing alcohol to gourmet offerings with seasonal ingredients. No matter the cooking style, the menus always complement the beer and often boast a vast selection of appetizers and shared plates to nibble on while drinking.

2. What is the history of brewpubs?

Brewing beer is as old as time (the oldest beer recipes were written in ancient cuneiform), and the first commercial brewery in the U.S. opened nearly 150 years before our nation's founding. 

The original American beer was a heavy British-style ale, and it wasn’t until an influx of immigrants in the 1800s that beer culture evolved to include a much broader range of tastes. The brewpub as we know it today (breweries-slash-restaurants) is a recent phenomenon. 

The first two brewpubs opened in the 1980s and are considered trailblazers in the craft brewing field: Grant’s Brewery Pub in Yakima, Washington, and Buffalo Bill’s Brewery in Hayward, California.

3. What is typically on a brewpub menu?

Brewpubs offer an eclectic, rotating selection of beers primarily brewed on-site. The emphasis is often on new flavors and varied brewing techniques, and the beer is produced in smaller amounts than in large breweries. 

It’s common for brewpubs to have a full liquor license and to spotlight “guest” beers on tap. A brewpub kitchen turns out food that complements their specific style of beer. Food and beer pairing suggestions are standard. 

Some brewpubs specialize in international cuisine, like Mexican, Japanese, and Italian, while others weave in a little bit of everything, from pizza and sausages to oysters and duck confit. Seasonality and high-quality ingredients are top priorities.

4. How do you start a brewpub?

Before anything else, owners should have a passion for beer and a comprehensive understanding of running a brewery business. Breweries require specific technical knowledge and have significant equipment requirements, along with maintenance challenges. 

Since a brewpub is a combo of two businesses – a brewery and a restaurant – hiring and training staff for each will be a priority. Employees should be well-versed in both the food and beer menus and able to make pairing suggestions for customers.

5. How much does it cost to start a brewpub?

Data from FreshBooks puts the cost of opening a restaurant between $100 and $800 per square foot, with a median of $450 per square foot. The amount to open a brewpub will likely be higher than the median, thanks to the special brewing equipment needed to run the business. 

Additionally, brewpubs generally require large spaces to accommodate all areas of the operation, from the brewery to sit-down dining areas to the bar. This can translate to higher utilities, rent, and build-out costs for the space.

6. Most popular types of brewpubs

An enticing, frequently changing beer selection and a warm, lively atmosphere is a winning combo for brewpubs. Customers appreciate the technical skill required to produce a high-quality beverage. 

Popular brewpubs showcase how the beer is brewed, with visible storage tanks and information about their techniques. Depending on the laws in the area, many popular brewpubs operate to-go services with growlers or online ordering, and many distribute beer to off-site locations to build brand awareness. 

Not all customers are beer aficionados, so brewpubs must offer intriguing food options made with high-quality ingredients to draw in non-beer drinkers. 

Brewpubs are often independently owned and have gained loyal followings by being flexible. Their relatively small size allows them to pivot quickly and creatively to meet their customer's changing tastes and preferences.

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