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PWP2: Revenge of the Brewpub

December 17, 2009

We Chicoans are an extremely lucky bunch. Not only do we have one of the largest municipal parks in the country (see above photo), we are also lucky enough to share our town with one of the country’s most successful craft breweries, Sierra Nevada. Living in such close proximity to such an establishment allows us to share in the aromas that are produced on brew day, which remind me of the first thing that hits you, after the Evening News salesman, when you reach the top of the Waverly Steps and walk out onto Princess Street in Edinburgh. I remember some people being offended by the smell but for me it was, and still is, sweet and pleasant. My appreciation of the smells produced from breweries predates my enjoyment of beer itself, which has recently developed from subtle enjoyment and unbiased quaffery into a brand of snobbery. From sneaking my first sips of beer from cans adorned with pictures of moderately clad women taken in the back of the pipe band minibus to sampling some of California’s finest craft brews, my tastes have come a long way.

My status as beer snob was only confirmed relatively recently, having, as I did in Australia, previously drunk such urine-infused bathwater as VB, and in Scotland, the cultural stalwarts of liquid Scottishness that are Tennents and McEwans Lagers. It gradually developed through subsequent visits to Scotland and my discovery of the likes of Caley 80 and Deuchars IPA, helped of course by their most vocal champion, Inspector John Rebus. Britain has always had a fair and popular selection of “Real Ale”, which does seem to be successfully digging itself out from the stereotyped status of “drink only of the anoraked beardy wierdies” (to which I could possibly be loosely associated). This has been helped along by an increase in craft breweries and a consumer desire for more locally and sustainably produced food and drink, and are actually competing in pubs with the mass-produced commercial giants of the brewing industry.

Upon my arrival in the states and being faced with my first selection of beer (having got over the fact that I was in a petrol station), I was pretty overwhelmed by the choices available. In your regular beer fridge, of which there are usually several so scrap that. On your regular beer wall, in any given gas station, on any given Tuesday, one is faced with a huge selection of beer. The left three fridges (always the left, don’t know why but I’m sure there’s some marketing wizardry at work) are usually filled with the mass-produced beer-waters and fizzy, intelligence questioning, juice-beers. The rest of the wall fridges, thankfully, are filled with an enormous selection of craft beers, of flavors and styles more fitting to a Willy Wonka store than a Billy Beershop. The choices are so diverse it usually takes me a good fifteen minutes to choose a six pack and as a self-confessed beer snob, I love it. There’s such a fantastic availability of craft beer here in the states. The industry seems to show no signs of slowing down, and it’s with a great deal of pleasure that I eventually come back to my point (phew, thought I’d missed it) by proclaiming that I live less than a mile away from one of the most successful and widely renowned of the craft breweries.

Not only do the nice people at Sierra Nevada allow the nearby residents to enjoy their fragrant emissions, we also get to cut down on their delivery and bottling costs by going to their Taproom to drink their ales. This gives us the advantage over other beer snobs of being able to drink their regular releases on draught along with the several seasonal and one-off ales they produce for only limited bottling or do not bottle at all. As I am in the midst of attempting to make sense of the differences in pub culture, bar-flying, clubbing, bench-farting and the various other styles of communal alcohol consumption between here and there (I’m yet to receive an invite to a speakeasy), I thought it only proper to make mention of the brewpub or brewery taproom. It makes sense that there is a parallel resurgence of these establishments with the increase of craft and independent local breweries, and I’m thankful for it.

My first encounter with such a place was the Moulin Inn outside Pitlochry, which thankfully is still there and is still producing fine beers and serving great food (the Sporran O’ Plenty is well worth opening). The brewpub is a deliberate union of good food and beer produced on the premises, with a pub-like atmosphere. Of the ones I have visited here in the states, they appear to be more closely related to the “pub” concept than their regular American counterpart. This may be due to the overall beardedness of the clientele (myself included), but it may also be a deliberate shift by the owners away from the “bar” model towards a more European style of traditional pub. This isn’t to say that they are trying to compete with the phenomenon of the internationally popular “Irish Pub”, with all their Shamrocks, Guinness and Gaelic signposts (most, I suspect having never even been close to a soggy street corner in Connemara), which is an entity all to itself, but rather most are attempting to create welcoming and unique ale houses which reflect their beer, personalities, and location, while maintaining a sense of the traditional.

As with any new trend, however, there is always the risk of someone taking it too far and this has, sadly, already happened with the brew pub concept. People deciding that a place focused on the concept of good, locally produced food and beer is a good foundation for a restaurant chain, idiots! Craft beer in America is produced by people who were fed up drinking mass-produced beers and correctly thought that they, and the rest of the beer drinking community, deserved something better. Along come the producers of the aforementioned drink-at-below-freezing-temperatures-because-they-don’t-have-any-flavour-anyway-and-it’ll-detract-from-that-fact pseudo-beers and set up a chain of brew pubs. I don’t mind so much the ones that are brazenly open about the fact that they have restaurants from Albuquerque to Alabama, I just don’t frequent them, it’s the ones that you don’t realize are chains until you see the little notice at the bottom of the check that mentions their parent company, or the fact that their beers are actually made in Wisconsin by one of the international beer giants and not by some guy in a room behind the toilets, which is what one expects from such a place.

Brewpubs, tap and tasting rooms are an important part in the growth of the craft beer movement here in the states. They are a shift away from the spit-and-sawdust dive bars and swinging door saloons of the West frequented only by rough looking, pitcher-pinching characters and unfortunate blow-ins, and a move towards having more agreeable places for folks to enjoy a refreshing alcoholic beverage. They also have a role in growing community in a world which is seemingly determined to destroy it by imparting a sense of ownership and pride in their patrons and locals. Whenever you go into a brewpub there are always folks at the bar who have an enthusiasm for the place and are willing to share their wisdom of their favorites or skip ‘ems. Maybe they’re just drunks who got kicked out of the dive bar, but they usually know a lot about the brewery and its products. That is exactly why these places are worth supporting and are mostly successful. The local community is involved; they work there, drink there, know the brewer, can impart their knowledge onto tourists, and can smell whenever there’s a brew on.

Dang it, they’re brewing again. I’m off to the pub.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. natnat permalink
    December 17, 2009 3:12 pm

    nice one gill, love it. So when are you and lex going to brew your own, or has the need to been abated by the close proximity to stated brewer? Are they the one with the bike on the coaster? give my love to lexarama – happy Xmas and I hope 2010 is full of love, laughter and abundance for you (and the fourlegged friend)

    • December 17, 2009 3:50 pm

      tanks nat nat.
      you’re thinking of New Belgium brewing’s Fat Tire. We do little bit here and a little bit there. Just did a batch of a Scotch Barleywine with my bro-in-law at the weekend, should be good.
      Hope your summery Christmas is, well, summery!
      Gil

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