At last count there are more than 6,200 breweries in the U.S. While we love them all, we know that, statistically, they can’t all be good.
In some cases, a brewery may be run by earnestly passionate people trying their damnedest to put out delicious beer, but who are simply not very good running a business. It’s not easy!
In other instances, breweries are run from afar, launched by investors with deep pockets who thought they’d throw some money at a cash cow. (Joke’s on them! Breweries, while worthy cultural investments, rarely make bank.)
The breweries worth visiting, which we believe are a majority, were built from the ground up by people who would do anything to see their dreams succeed. True brewers live and breathe their businesses, go to great lengths to make the best beer possible, and make an effort to positively impact their communities.
It’s easy to see who’s got skin in the game once you figure out where to look. Here are 10 telltale signs that the brewery you’re in is legit.
1. There’s more beer than merch.
If you walk into a brewery that has more T-shirt options than beers on tap, it’s time for an about-face. A true brewery is committed to the craft, not the cash, meaning the focus is on the liquid. Cool merch is a great bonus, but it shouldn’t outperform what’s pouring.
2. The beer follows flavors, not trends.
These days, pretty much every brewery is making an IPA to stay afloat, even if it doesn’t want to. But a brewery that really cares will have more options than Untappd’s flavor of the week. Even if the company’s focus is IPAs, and it has 17 on its menu, a good brewery will explore other styles to show its skill (and make something they actually wants to drink).
3. The list is always changing.
Ever go to a brewery and then return a week later for that raspberry sour beer you loved, only to find it’s no longer available? Don’t be frustrated! This is usually a good sign. For one, it shows the beer moves quickly, which means whatever is pouring is fresh (and tasty). Another possibility is that the brewery is always trying new things.
If you visit a brewery five times in as many months (or years!) and nothing has changed, you might want to consider expanding your horizons — as clearly this brewery isn’t doing. Brewers are smart, passionate, creative folks. Along with making beer, they love trying new things. We’re not saying a brewery should have a #freshcans every other week, but a legit brewery is always looking to improve.
4. The bartenders are excited to serve you, even — and especially — if you know nothing about beer.
Usually a Stella drinker? Don’t like IPAs? Never had craft beer in your life? No problem. In trustworthy taprooms, servers are there because they care about beer. A lot. They may even be the ones making it. Whatever the case, they think your curiosity is cool, and they want to be inclusive, not scare you away because you don’t already know everything.
5. You can sample beers, or order a flight or small pour.
Granted, as the American craft beer market and its taprooms get more crowded, not every brewery can serve up sample after sample on a busy day. But a good brewery will let you try at least one thing before you buy. Legit brewers hire and train staff to help you find something you’ll love and come back for, not simply serve you once and send you on your way.
6. Everyone is working their asses off.
Don’t be alarmed by steamy malt aromas, buckets of bubbling liquid, snaking hoses, or sweaty, grunting brewers. In real breweries, there’s not a lot of down time, and the staff, from the brewhouse to the taproom to the delivery truck, are busting their asses pretty much all the time. Special bonus if you find rubber brewers’ boots lined up against the wall.
7. Everyone is talking about beer.
Chances are, if you’re headed to a brewery, you love or are at least interested in beer. Guess what? So’s the guy next to you, and the girl across the bar, and that group of friends playing Jenga. Beer is as much about community as it is breweries, and anyone who’s hanging out in one is probably into chatting about it, whether they’re bona-fide geeks or noobs.
8. Community is evident.
Whether it’s local artists’ work on the walls, a flier for a monthly farmers market, or a beer on tap that’s benefiting a charity, good breweries do good for their communities. Beer with no soul just isn’t as good.
9. They want you to drink their beer and their neighbors’ beer.
One of the best things about visiting great breweries is that when you’re ready to head out, they’re ready to recommend your next stop. The staff is there to sell their product, sure. But they also know a lot about the local scene and will light up when you ask for their favorites.
10. You want to come back.
As your tab comes to a close, a legit brewery will have you planning your return. Above all else, you’ll have experienced good beer, good vibes, and a warm, fuzzy feeling brushing against your leg (another good sign: dogs are allowed).