Did you just get invited to head to a brewery for an afternoon with a group of friends, but you’ve never been before? Thinking a trip to the local brewpub would be something fun and different to do over the weekend, but not quite sure what to expect?
No worries! We’ve got you covered! Read on to get a quick download on what to expect during your first brewery or brewpub experience.
HAVE AN OPEN MIND.
First and foremost, come with an open mind! That may sound like an obvious starting point, but for many bar-flys and club-goers, a brewery will likely be a very different experience. From the brews on tap to the general vibe and environment, breweries and brewpubs are a special breed.
Be prepared for there to be anywhere from 5-12 beers on tap. Most of the time, these are beers the brewpub has brewed themselves on site. However, it’s not uncommon to see “tap takeovers” at breweries where a tap or two feature another brand’s brew.
With that said, breweries do not normally carry things like Bud Light, Blue Moon, Corona or any other widely commercialized beer. But please don’t let this deter you! If you are strictly a Michelob Ultra drinker (been there!), talk with the bar tender and let them know your taste preferences. They will be able to best guide you to finding something that will please your tastebuds. They may even mix up a beer cocktail for you to get you started.
As far as the vibe goes, brewpubs in general are very casual hangout spots. Often times, they’re industrial in nature due to the actual manufacturing taking place, and they might have an outdoor patio of some kind. They have a “come as you are” mentality and (if they’re worth anything) their staff won’t judge you for not knowing the difference between an IPA and a Stout.
KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BREWPUB AND A BREWERY.
Wait…brewpubs and breweries aren’t the same thing? Whether you are visiting a brewery or a brewpub, the difference isn’t in the beer, it’s in what else they offer. Brewpubs (like Off Main Brewing) brew their own beer in the same manner as a brewery. The difference lies in the food program that they provide.
A brewpub is more like a restaurant that has a brewery in the back. Controlling the food program allows a brewpub to accentuate both the food and the beer with each other, often times in amazing harmony.
A brewery is typically a “production brewery” and you are visiting their taproom, where you can sample their packaged beer as fresh as it comes. These taprooms are where the gloves come off for brewers and they can let their imaginations run wild. You may see a kaleidoscope of flavors that their flagship beers in the grocery store might not have.
Every time you walk into a brewery taproom or a brewpub, some new, amazing brainchild of the brewer will be ready for you to sample.
ASK FOR A SAMPLE BEFORE ORDERING.
This is a MUST! First time or not, ASK FOR A TASTER of a beer before you buy! Don’t worry about taking up the bartender’s time, and don’t feel rushed if there is a line at the bar (everyone will get their turn). This is your time. Use it as an opportunity to experiment and try something new.
Furthermore, brewers want you to love the beer you’re drinking, and we genuinely want you to love your experience. There’s nothing worse than purchasing a beer without trying it, and choking it down only to be too nauseated to try anything else. Taste test until you like something. Then order a full size.
TRY A FLIGHT.
After you’ve ordered a taster or two, but want to continue to enjoy multiple beers, order a flight! Normally, a flight is served on a board or paddle, and comes with 4 6-ounce or 6 3-ounce beers, either of similar styles or composed of beers of your choosing.
Ordering a flight is an excellent way to sample and savor several of a brewery’s beers without needing to order an Uber.
Pro-tip: Craft beer flights also make for stunning Instagram-worthy photos! Snap away and make your friends wish they were there.
KNOW WHICH SIZE TO ORDER.
Biggest beer for the least amount of money…right? False. When you head to a brewery it’s best to leave this mindset at home.
You’re visiting a brewery for the experience and the experience is best when each beer is properly poured into the perfect glass. I won’t bore you with all the styles and their corresponding glassware in this post, but just know that the American “Shaker” pint is almost never the right choice.
In general, the higher the alcohol by volume, the smaller the portion will be. This is also the case with lower alcohol styles such as Kolsch or Pilsner that are meant to be served cold and fresh. The idea here is to make sure and drink them while they are cold and fresh…no nursing.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS.
Style choices: Ask what the beer compares well with from more widely-known styles, things that you find familiar. Don’t be afraid to admit to not being much of a beer geek, we only learn through asking! Many times, this is the best way to learn about new styles. And don’t be afraid to try something new!
Hop Combinations: More often than not, there a handful of different hops that achieve different results in each beer. Discuss with the bartender what hops were used as bittering hops (early in the boil) and what hops are providing the aromas for the beer (added later in the boil and even after the boil is complete, through dry hopping). How many and when these are added make all the difference in the world.
Yeast selections: Yeast is the little microbe that makes the whole thing possible. Wort is made by brewers, beer is made by yeast. Ask about the yeast strain that was used. What temperature was it fermented at (can make all the difference in the world)? Is it the same strain used in another beer from the brewery (typically it will be).
Aging: Most beers are not meant to age, but those with higher alcohol content and darker malt profiles lend themselves well to aging. Over time, the same beer with the same ingredients can taste significantly different. A vertical tasting (taste the same beer from different years), if available, can be an exciting experience, displaying how the beer has mellowed out over time. It is also popular to age beers in whiskey, sherry, or wine barrels, so ask about the barrels used and their origin. It may give you an insight in to the flavors you may not have noticed beforehand.
KNOW THE FOOD SITUATION.
Food is life. Am I right? Okay, food and beer are life. Breweries have a few different ways they approach food, and it varies from brewery to brewery. So be sure to check out their website or social media prior to visiting so you know what to expect.
A few of the ways breweries can offer food are the following:
They have a full-service food program within their establishment.
They work with local food trucks to set up shop in their parking lots.
They have just a few things to munch on while sipping brews (think bags of chips, a frozen pretzel, etc)
No food at all. But they allow you to bring in food from other places.
Pro-Tip: If they do happen to have a full-service food program, be sure to ask about special food/brew pairings to enhance your palate’s experience.
BE WILLING TO HAVE FUN.
Breweries, while they can be educational, are meant to be fun places! They’re places to try something new, learn something about yourself and make memories.
During your visit to a brewery, you may be inclined to engage in a friendly game of cornhole or be asked to come back for trivia night or a yoga session. Don’t be afraid to say yes! Everyone is there to enjoy themselves, the day and a few brews. So sip it back, relax and have fun.
TAKE A TOUR.
Breweries and brewpubs will often times conduct daily tours. However, smaller organizations may opt to host tours one or two days per week during certain hours. If a tour of a brewery is a must-do on your list (as it should be), be sure to check the brewery’s website prior to visiting to ensure you’re visit aligns with one of the tour times.
While on your tour, be sure to ask as many questions as you want and ask if there are any samples or special that you can take advantage of post-tour.
Pro-Tip: If touring a brewery, keep in mind it’s a production facility. Be mindful of proper footwear and take extra care of the little ones if they’re touring with you.
GET SOME BEER TO GO.
Once you have tasted all the beers and picked your favorite one, and presumably had a round or two of it, it’ll be time to go home (Uber FTW!). Now, while no one likes leaving a good bar, there is hope. Breweries and brewpubs offer take-home beer. There are two main ways to get that luscious liquid from the tap to your fridge.
Growlers: These are typically glass containers (32 or 62 oz) with either a screw on cap or a clamp down flip-top. Some places are starting to sell vacuum sealed stainless steel or even self-pressurizing growlers. In general, the glass containers will keep the beer fresh for about a day, maybe two, due to the introduction of oxygen to the beer (plus a loss of pressurized carbonation), so drink it soon. The other, more high-tech solutions can keep it fresh for days, maybe even a week or more, by keeping it under pressure and safe from oxygen (like a keg). Either way, make sure you take home a beer you truly enjoy and return often to fill it with the brewery’s latest and greatest experiment.
Crowlers: These are basically cans of beer poured to order while you wait. Typically 32 oz, these cans are poured from the tap, then sealed with a can sealer. These are catching on like wildfire here in North Carolina, and throughout the US craft scene. Being aluminum cans, these are light, portable, cheap and recyclable. Not only that, but the allow you to take some of the hard to find craft creations to places that don’t typically allow glass. With a crowler, you no longer have to bring your vessel to the bar with you, simply order your crowler and take it home with you.
VISIT THE SAME BREWERY OR BREWPUB MORE THAN ONCE.
One of the best things about visiting a brewery is that the things are always changing. Whether it’s an introduction of a new seasonal or experimental brew or a new dish or an event, there’s always something new to try and enjoy. So once you conquer your first brewpub experience, be prepared to return again and have an entirely new experience.
Pro-Tip: Follow your favorite breweries on social media to easily stay tuned to when they release new styles and flavors.
There you have it! A quick and dirty download of what to expect when visiting a brewpub for the first time.
Are you someone who frequents breweries and brewpubs? Share your favorite tips and insights with us in the comments below or on Instagram!