The Brewpub is a modern business model for an ancient practical concept: serving and selling beer on the premises where it is brewed. One wonders what the reaction of a visitor from brewing’s past might be on visiting a modern brewpub, whether one of mistrustful wonderment or essential familiarity. From the bench outside the farmer’s brewshed to the Bavarian brewery “gasthaus” to the high-concept brewpub chain, the same processes run common.

Brewing was once, alongside baking and cheese making, the ultimate cottage industry. It was only with industrialization that brewing became disconnected from the individual beer drinker. Customers who had once perhaps known the brewer personally and taken pride in the success of the owners of their local brewery may have maintained loyalty to the expanded brewing factory on the outskirts of town, even as they regretted the loss of any intimacy with the process. As large and often multinational brewing concerns gobbled up—and often shuttered—these local and regional breweries, the connection of the customer to his or her beer became abstracted by brand and the machinations of commerce. In some countries large breweries bought smaller breweries primarily to acquire the pubs they owned. Then the bigger brewery would narrow the choices for the beer consumer.

The Standing Stone Brewing Company of Ashland, Oregon, is a brewpub that serves ales and lagers produced on site in 10-gallon batches. george rubaloff

In Britain, one vestige of the old days was cask-conditioned beer, or “real ale.” As large breweries assumed, and vied for, greater market share, ease of manufacture and maintenance trumped tradition and flavor. They replaced hand pumps and the ethereal softness of cask conditioning with overchilled, highly carbonated draught beer ill-designed for that form of dispense. The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), founded in 1971, may have taken this perceived last straw as a rallying cry to preserve British beer culture, but their message reached a worldwide audience. CAMRA fostered pub culture as well, and it was this sensibility, along with an already active homebrewing scene, that sowed the seeds for the emergence of the modern brewpub. See campaign for real ale and cask conditioning.

David Bruce was a beer enthusiast who saw business opportunity in bringing new life to some of the London pubs that were being cast off by larger brewers as unprofitable. Bruce took these pubs and turned them into the first modern brewpub chain. Known as the Firkin chain of pubs (each typically bore the name of an animal along with the word “Firkin,” referring to a type of cask, e. g., “Frog & Firkin”), they combined small, fairly primitive brewing systems with erstwhile amateur brewers making particularly flavorful beer. The patrons could see, smell, and hear the beer being made, and the brewery vessels were visible to all. Suddenly, beer was a cottage industry again. Bruce added decent pub food, comfortable interiors, and old-time entertainments such as piano sing-alongs, and people flocked to his pubs. The first of the Firkins, the Goose & Firkin, opened in 1979, and Bruce, every bit the entrepreneur, opened dozens more before selling the chain in 1988. See bruce, david.

Homebrewing was legalized in the United States in 1976; two years later the American Homebrewers Association was founded, and later its members would people the approaching American craft brewing movement. In 1982 Bert Grant, a Scottish-Canadian brewer of long professional standing and something of an iconoclast, established the Yakima Brewing and Malting Company, in Washington state, which had a pub as part of its operation. The next year Mendocino Brewing Co opened California’s first brewpub in Hopland and was soon followed by Buffalo Bill’s Brewpub in Hayward. The American East Coast answered in 1984 with the Manhattan Brewing Company in New York City, which, in addition to operating a large pub replete with peanut shells on the floor and hand-pulled British-style ales at the bar, delivered packaged beer to local accounts in lower Manhattan by horse-drawn cart.

Other parts of the English-speaking world were also affected by the growing early enthusiasm for brewpubs. Following soon after their fellows in Britain and the United States were Spinnakers in Victoria, British Columbia; The Sail and Anchor in Fremantle, Western Australia; and Shakespeare’s Tavern in Auckland, New Zealand. Other countries in Europe were perhaps not so in need of a phoenix-like rebirth from an oppressive brewing climate. Brewery gasthäuser and farm brewery taprooms in Germany and Belgium, for example, had operated unabated for centuries. They didn’t need the supposedly “new” idea of putting breweries in pubs, but before long, those countries too would see the re-invention of the brewpub in more modern forms.

The typical early brewpub combined a bar serving relatively uninvolved food and a small, 10 to 12 hl (7 to 10 US bbl) brewing system. The two were usually separated by a large window. The brewing equipment was often improvised, sometimes from used dairy equipment now employed as fermenters. Many used old UK-fabricated bulk serving tanks known as Grundies. See grundy tank. Manufactured in the decades following World War II by a few companies, these tanks usually held 7 barrels of beer, and this dictated the batch sizing of many brewpubs; many brewed either 7 or 14 barrels at a time. New fabricators of brewing equipment arose, sensing opportunity in the growing trend. One American manufacturer, JV Northwest of Wilsonville, Oregon, shifted its allocations of stainless steel to the production of brewery tanks when the demand for saw blades from the diminishing Northwest timber industry lessened. The typical brewhouse consisted of two vessels: a combination mash–lauter tun in which single- temperature infusion mashes were conducted, and a kettle, generally direct fired by a gas burner. A single full-time brewer was most often employed for all brewing and cellar operations. See direct firing and infusion mash.

Those who had started the first new brewpubs soon opened others. The Firkin chain may have been the most quickly prolific, but it was not alone in bringing further outlets to a receptive public. Buffalo Bill’s within a few years opened a second location in Berkeley (Bison Brewing, 1988). Richard Wrigley, Manhattan Brewing’s founder, soon took his franchise to Boston (Commonwealth Brewing Company, 1986) and later to Seattle and Japan. The founders of the Sail and Anchor in Fremantle went on to foster the Little Creatures and White Rabbit chains of breweries there and in other parts of Australia.

In Portland, Oregon, brothers Mike and Brian McMenamin moved from the tavern trade to brewpubs with the opening in 1985 of Oregon’s first, the Hillsdale Brewery and Public House in southwest Portland. The McMenamins had worked to change state laws to effect the legality of their enterprises, which by late 2010 numbered in the 60’s, including pubs, restaurants, cinemas, hotels, and variously otherwise resuscitated historic buildings in the Pacific Northwest. The McMenamin consortium today constitutes not only one of the most numerous brewpub chains in the United States, but also one of its largest restaurant groups altogether. In large part McMenamin’s uses a common aesthetic to decorate their pubs, a sort of hippie-ish, cross-eyed Victorianism employing details such as psychedelic flocked wallpaper, overstuffed furniture, and ornately trippy paintjobs, the latter even extending to the brewery tanks. The Rock Bottom and Gordon Biersch chains are outwardly more conservative, but they each now have dozens of brewpubs.

Brewpubs begin to franchise not only themselves as the 1980s wore on but also the information connected with starting them. Academic programs such as the one at the University of California at Davis, already known for its course in viticulture, were expanded to accommodate the legions intent on gaining the rudiments of knowledge necessary to start new breweries and especially brewpubs. Davis’s donnish chief instructor, Dr Michael Lewis, tutored many dozens of future American pub and production brewers. In 1978 Peter Austin, a multidecade veteran of large breweries in the UK, founded one of Britain’s earliest modern small breweries, the Ringwood Brewery in Hampshire. Within only a few years he was hosting a sort of camp for aspirant new brewers, many of whom later started brewpubs. In 1982 he was joined by brewing scientist Alan Pugsley, who would go on to become a Johnny Appleseed of brewpubs, extending the Peter Austin educational franchise to Kennebunkport, Maine, and carrying Peter Austin consulting services to new breweries and pubs in such outposts as China, Nigeria, and Russia and throughout the northeastern United States. Both the Davis and the Austin systems of instruction offered the option of professional consultation, extending to recipe design, equipment procurement and installation, lessons in legal compliance and site selection, and ongoing lab and analytical services.

No doubt the most amusing franchising of the brewpub cabala was started by “Buffalo” Bill Owens, founder of Buffalo Bill’s Brewpub in Hayward, California, and Bison Brewing in Berkeley, California. Although he became well known to beer enthusiasts, he is perhaps best known in the wider world as a leading photographer of suburban verité. For a fee in the neighborhood of US$1,500, subscribers would be provided a printed manual of everything needed to know about starting a brewpub. Owens also boldly attempted to trademark the word “brewpub,” but he was unsuccessful—the cat was already well out of the bag.

The legal climate for brewpubs was, in the early days, variously accepting and discouraging, depending on what country, province, or state promulgated the relevant laws. In many cases laws were on the books protecting large brewers from either foreign or interstate incursion; this hampered the development of smaller competition. Japan, for example, prohibited small breweries (below a fairly high threshold of production) from even existing. In the United States many state laws dating from the years immediately following Prohibition strictly separated sites of production from places where beer could be served. It was not uncommon for husbands and wives to own one or the other separately and then sell beer to each other. In countries such as Germany, Belgium, and the Philippines, where the ownership or contractual partnership between breweries and serving outlets tended to favor larger breweries, it was the large breweries themselves, such as Paulaner and San Miguel, who began opening brewpubs. But as the McMenamins had done in Oregon, people agitated for changes in the applicable laws. As soon as the law changed, some places exploded with activity, as Japan did in the mid 1990s. In Denmark it was a large brewer, Carlsberg, that played a prominent role in the fostering of brewpubs and a general raising of beer consciousness.

Novelty was the watchword for the earliest brewpubs wherever they arose. Beer was produced in plain sight by actual individual human beings, drawn from kegs, casks, and serving tanks filled right there on the premises, and offered in styles long neglected (or perhaps never before attempted). In many places, people had not seen such a thing for generations. The beers themselves varied in color—usually a scattershot chromatic array including “something pale,” “something amber,” and “something dark.” They also varied in quality. For all the self-proclaimed brewmasters arising by the hundreds, actual mastery of brewing was not nearly universal. In the brewpub’s early days, opportunity certainly outpaced expertise, but enthusiasm and loyalty ran high, and patience was rewarded. As further educational materials and opportunities became available (and brewers gained more experience) and as the raw materials accessible to the small producer increased in quality and variety, the brewpub proved to be the cutting edge for the development of new beer styles. Traditional styles as well, sometimes neglected in their countries of origin, found new life in the brewpub. Porter, barley wine, and India pale ale, to name a few English styles then in decline, took on new vitality in the hands of eager, idea-hungry brewers. Later would come witbier and other Belgian varieties, barrel-aged, sour ales, and others of the world’s niche beer types. This would become especially true as the craft brewing movement seasoned and consumers demanded not only their old favorites to be available at all times but also new choices to be arising at every turn. Brewpubs in particular could no longer beguile with only 3 everyday choices and a rotating seasonal beer; the pressure was on to offer a dozen. Today it is not at all unheard of for a brewpub to offer 15 to 20 different house-made beers. Unlike the packaging brewery, the brewpub need not expend time, energy, and money on designs, bottles, and tap handles for each beer. This gives the brewpub distinct advantages, including the fact that a good brewer can have full rein over the line of beers available, and commercial concerns are minimal if one or two do not find favor with customers.

There may have been an everyman’s sameness to the earliest brewpubs in Britain and America, but the decades since have seen variations on the brewpub theme commensurate with the innovation of the brewers working them. The brick-clad rusticity of a Peter Austin kettle has given way to gleaming copper showpieces such as the Sandlot Brewery at Coors Field in Denver, but left room for the dozens of beers once offered by the Tugboat in Portland, Oregon, fermented in 30-gal plastic pickle barrels and mashed in a plastic Rubbermaid horse trough. And not all have been small. The now-defunct Bardo Rodeo, in Arlington, Virginia, fit around 800 patrons indoors among the various bars, brewing tanks, and auto parts. The Tawandang Microbrewery, serving German-style beers in a giant barrel-shape room to an overwhelmingly local population filling 2,000 seats before a bizarrely eclectic variety show, is Bangkok’s largest and most successful restaurant. Brazil as well, long one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of beer, has turned its attentions to the variety and possibility of craft- and pub-brewed beer. The brewpub may still be a novelty act, but it is surely one that plays in every town. Perhaps the kettle in the window is the modern equivalent of the old British ale pole, a symbol that says “come on in—we’ve made you some delicious beer.”