Brewpub owners around the country agree that having an original, fun, or funky space where guests feel comfortable is key to ensuring repeat business. A knowledgeable and friendly staff capable of making recommendations to craft beer novices as well as connoisseurs enhances the experience.
From coast to coast, however, founders say the secret ingredient to brewing up a popular pub is the willingness to take a chance on daring new concoctions. Raspberries, chocolate, and Peruvian purple maize are some of the ingredients mixed into craft beers.
Click ahead to see what’s brewing at some of the country’s best brewpubs.
By Elizabeth Alterman, Special to CNBC.com
Posted 21 November 2011
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Notable Brew: St. Festivus
Volker Stewart, founding partner of The Brewer’s Art,says what makes his Baltimore-based brewpub really stand out is its unusual setting — a Mt. Vernon townhouse.
“It’s a pretty unique space,” Stewart says. “The guy who built this was a big shot investment banker around the turn of the last century. It’s pretty ornate.”
The happy hour specials don’t hurt either, he said. With six beers on tap at any given time, the North Charles Street pub changes its offerings seasonally. At holiday time, ask for "St. Festivus." This brown winter ale is brewed with five types of malt, noble hops, and then, for an added kick: Curaçao, along with orange peel and ginger.
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Notable Brew: We Heavy, Yo!
Located in the gentrified Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia, Earth-Bread+Brewery“was built — and is operated — as sustainably as possible,” says Tom Baker, co-owner of the pub. “Breweries are becoming much greener and ecologically concerned businesses.”
And whimsical. Take, for instance, some of the 115 brews the pub has introduced over the past three years: "We Heavy, Yo!," a strong scotch ale also known as a wee heavy; "Rose," "Dorothy," "Blanche," and "Sophia" were named for the brewpub’s "Golden Girls" beer series and "Antibody," a hoppy ale, was brewed to raise funds for a friend suffering from an autoimmune disorder.
“We brew small batches and after three years we've yet to repeat a recipe,” says Baker. "We brew beers outside the parameters of most styles, such as Gruit or Herbal Ales and beers brewed with our house bread yeast.”
Location: New Hope, Pennsylvania
Notable Brew: Bengal Gold IPA
Dan Weintraub, sales manager for Triumph Brewing Co.in New Hope, Pa., says what has made the brewery so successful is top of the line beer with food to match.
Servers and bartenders refine their skills at a Beer 101 class, which teaches them general pairing techniques, Weintraub says.
“Our brewpub offers traditional style lager beers which aren't often found in smaller brewpubs, especially ones that do not distribute their beer,” says Weintraub.
The most sought-after, he says, is "Rauchbier," a smoked German lager. “People that like smoked beers really look forward to our small, yearly batch,” he said.
The most popular beer they serve, however, is "Bengal Gold IPA," in honor of the Princeton Tigers, the mascot of the university near where Triumph has an outpost.
Location: Austin, Texas
Notable Brew: Malt Ball
The Draught Housein Austin, Texas, has been a steady presence in this college town since it was built in 1968. Josh Wilson, the current brewer, says the history of the place is just one of the things that make it special. “The furniture was custom built for it over 40 years ago,” he says. “People who carved their initials in our tables when they were in college in the 70s come back and see them still there.”
Wilson says “keeping it fresh” is the secret to running a successful brewpub.
“I follow my muse with brewing and may brew a different beer for months before repeating a recipe," he says. "We always have something fun on tap. We also have 70 guest beers on tap and emphasize local, seasonal, limited-release beers. We flip faucets a lot to keep things exciting.”
Wilson says some of his crazier concoctions that have been a hit with beer drinkers include "Smoked Saison," a sour "Pumpkin Ale," and "Malt Ball," a beer that tastes like Whoppers.
Location: San Francisco, California
Notable Brew: Hell of High Watermelon
San Francisco’s 21st Amendmentfounder and brewer Shaun O’Sullivan says the brewpub’s successful 11-year run has been the product of his and his partner Nico Freccia’s love for what they do.
“Both of us are beer geeks; I think an attitude of fun really runs through the whole 21st Amendment staff,” Sullivan says.
The annual Dec. 5 celebration — honoring the day in 1933 that the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, ending 13 years of Prohibition — is treated like a national holiday.
“We brew a special beer for the event,” O’Sullivan says. “It's called 'Repeal Day IPA.' It’s around 6.8 percent ABV [alcohol by volume] with a big citrus, floral hop nose, golden colored, mild bitterness with medium body. We set up a speakeasy style room in the upstairs mezzanine, where we have special cocktails for the event, games of blackjack and poker. You need a special password to get upstairs.”
O’Sullivan is always up for a celebration. When the San Francisco Giants are in town, a pop-up beer garden is erected and canned craft beer is served.
“We are part of a growing contingent of craft brewers that are putting their beer in cans,” O’ Sullivan explains. “ 'Hell of High Watermelon' is the definition of summer, and we use real watermelon juice. It's light and refreshing, not sweet as you would expect, with just a kiss of watermelon.”
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Notable Brew: Youenjoymystout
In its 22 years in business, Cambridge Brewing Co.in Cambridge, Mass., has showcased its special ales by creating special beer and food-themed events throughout the year.
“Our Pumpkin Ale Festival drew 1,300 people this year,” says Phil Bannatyne, owner of Cambridge Brewing. “It features eight of our own pumpkin brews and another 30 guest pumpkin beers from other breweries, as well as a pumpkin-focused food menu and Halloween-related shenanigans.”
Speaking of shenanigans, earlier this year, the company released a beer-sake hybrid; and in 2006 it partnered with Boston favorite Toscanini’s to create beer-flavored ice cream.
Bannatyne also touts his wooden-barrel aging program, which produces such popular brews as "Youenjoymystout," a 10 percent Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels; "Arquebus" and "Blunderbus" barley wines; and "Cerise Cassee," a Belgian blonde ale aged in oak with cherries and wild yeasts and other micro flora.
Location: Portland, Oregon
Notable Brew: Ruby
Originally built as an elementary school in 1915 in Portland, Ore., the Kennedy School has been transformed into a unique hotel and brewery. The former little girls’ room of the school is now home to the Concordia Brewery,named for the North Portland neighborhood in which it’s located. In the pink-tiled powder room, brewers Ben Nehrling and Kevin Lee crank out company standards, as well as seasonal offerings.
Visitors can enjoy a pint in a classroom, a cigar in the Detention Bar, or some whiskey-barrel-conditioned brews to the sounds of classical and operatic music at the Honors Bar.
One of the favorites since the hotel opened in 1986 is "Ruby," which gets its name from the Oregon-grown raspberries that are brewed into every batch.
Location: Rehoboth, Delaware
Notable Brew: Chicha
“We are constantly looking for that next great combination of flavors to delight the senses and satisfy our curiosity as brewers,” says Jason Weissberg, general manager of Delaware-based Dogfish Head Brewery.
Among its most popular flavors: "Chicha," released in 2010. Based upon Peruvian brewing traditions, and using indigenous ingredients, the beer combines organic pink Peruvian peppercorns, yellow maize, and organic Peruvian purple maize, as well as locally sourced strawberries to make the most authentic interpretation possible. What makes it truly authentic, however, is the way the purple maize is prepared — it’s chewed by brewers, then formed into small cakes that are left to dry. You can read more about it on the brewery’s website,where they assure customers that the process is all quite safe and sanitary.
When they’re not chewing on grains, the brewers are chewing on ideas for new beers. Like this one: In honor of the birth of Weissberg’s daughter, Dogfish just introduced "Count Chocula" — a milk stout, of course.
Location: Eureka, California
Notable Brew: Tangerine Wheat
Lost Coast Brewery and Cafébegan as a dream for Barbara Groom, a pharmacist, and Wendy Pound, a family counselor. Following years of experimental home brewing and many visits to scores of pubs in England and Wales, the two purchased a 100-year-old castle in Eureka, Calif., and the rest is “her”story, according to Groom and Pound.
Lost Coast’s "Tangerine Wheat," which combines its "Harvest Wheat" ale with tangerine, has been recognized as a standout among its many award-winning offerings. Its Winterbraun combines roasted chocolate and caramel malts to create a rich, brown ale, while its "Raspberry Brown" infuses raspberry in a dark brown ale.
Location: Bellaire, Michigan
Notable Brew: Huma-Lupa-Licious
Short’s Brewpubin Bellaire, Mich., serves up a meeting place for an eclectic mix of customers along with its famous brews.
“We have a local church group, Spirituality Untapped, that meets here," says Short’s Brewpub general manager Bryan Banfield. "We also have a knitting group that comes in, a home-brewers guild and a dance class that meets on Tuesdays."
They gather to imbibe "Huma-Lupa-Licious," Short's best-selling "India Pale Ale," and "Bellaire Brown," a full-flavored ale, both of which have received high praise from beer lovers and industry experts. In the summertime, they can enjoy "Nicie Spicie," infused with citirus and peppercorns, and "Hangin’ Frank," named for a “ghost” that haunts a restaurant that serves Short’s brew.
Local farmers come in, too: They barter ingredients such as maple syrup, honey, and berries for the brewers to use in exchange for spent grains to give to their livestock. Which means Bellaire cows have their own happy hour.