There was an article in last Sunday’s Portland Press Herald about local bar owners being unhappy with the rapid proliferation of brewery taprooms in town. They expressed some valid concerns about licensing discrepancies, but it was hard to avoid the conclusion that their main gripe is that they’re simply not jazzed about having new competition. This is perfectly rational and I don’t mean to take sides, other than to say that brewery taprooms are the single greatest invention of the past several millennia.
Even if you have the misfortune to live outside striking distance of Portland, you can probably find a brewery with an on-site taproom near your own darn home. They have them everywhere now, even New York City! This is good news for me, because I’ll be in town for a few days this week, which is why I was so late getting this article to my editor: Putting together the most efficient brewery crawl through Brooklyn and Queens took longer than I’d anticipated. On my last trip, I just zipped out to SingleCut and back, and in so doing had a great time at one of my favorite breweries, but I realize now that I wasn’t nearly ambitious enough. This time around I need to get to Other Half and Threes, at the very least, and I’ve got my eye on Transmitter and Big Alice, as well.
The best thing about visiting breweries is that there’s just so damn much beer there. Remember the fridge in the garage where your dad stockpiled Miller Lite against the threat of Reagan starting World War Three and/or switching the monetary system over to the aluminum standard? Even the smallest brewery’s got like twice that much beer on hand at any given time. But there are several other, less obvious reasons that I beg you to please head to your nearest brewery taproom as soon as you finish reading this.
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The Beer Is Hyper-Fresh
The beer is, of course, hyper-fresh, and it’s also been spared whatever degradations might have come its way during the packaging and distribution process. While some of us, particularly the one of us currently wearing my pajamas, could stand to settle down a bit when it comes to insuring every beer we drink is in its absolute infancy, the fact remains that nothing good tends to happen to draft beer on its way from the brewery tank to your face. So why risk trouble?
Everyone Benefits Economically
Taproom visits are also economically beneficial for both the brewer and the drinker. While the prices aren’t always a ton better than they would be at the bar down the street, they’re never worse. In my experience, a trip to the brewery will usually save you somewhere in the neighborhood of a buck a pint, but the more important cost saving is the house’s. Parts and labor make up a very small percentage of a beer’s final price. Packaging, marketing, and distribution cost a lot more than barley and hops do, so if we enable our local brewers to bypass those steps, we increase their odds of staying afloat.
Beers Too Funky For Wider Release
Heading straight to the source is also the best way to try interesting beers that might be too funky for wide release. Some of the best beers I’ve had lately have been weirdo, brewery-only innovations. Some of the worst, too, but what the hell. Even when it’s obvious that the special Firkin Thursday offering came about because the assistant brewer had too much peanut butter in the fridge at home, you should give it a whirl. Most often these beers seem to be a combination of inspiration and opportunity: The brewer comes across a gin barrel in need of an afterlife and figures he’s got a batch of porter and a bushel of blueberries to donate to research; in capable hands, stuff like that works out well more often than logic suggests it should.
It’s Actually All About Education
Brewery taprooms are also great places to further your formal beer education. I’m not talking about the tours: After you’ve been on a couple, they all kinda blend together, leaving you with the impression that while making beer is surely hard, it’s not necessarily complicated. No, the real learning is done at the bar, where you can often try a familiar beer tweaked in a way that reveals clues as to what the universe is really all about. For instance, my wife and I spent our most recent wedding anniversary at Jack’s Abby, where she preferred the Hoponius Union Union single-hopped with Citra, while I dug the Simcoe version. So we realized we’re hopelessly incompatible, which was a bummer, but we also learned a bit about how individual hops affect an India pale lager, which could come in handy if Tinder and Untappd ever merge.
I still love traditional bars, of course. I need to visit them often for professional purposes, and also because that’s where the whiskey is (laws vary, but most if not all of the brewery taprooms I’ve been to lack full liquor licenses). Plus regular bars have better hours, and sometimes also hamburgers and whatnot. And beer-truck drivers have bills to pay. I’m certainly not suggesting you stop going to full-service bars, or even decrease the frequency of your visits. But I do suggest anyone with the means to do so visit a couple of smallish brewery taprooms every month. You’ll learn something while drinking ultra-fresh beer and supporting a crucial, if tiny, sector of your local economy.