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TheStreet Open House

The Brewpub Is Craft Beer's Golden Goose

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- The brewpub is the essential core of the U.S. brewing industry. Considering it a marketing ploy or the weak spot of a "beer bubble" misses the entire point of small and "craft" brewing.

While brewpubs were once a fixture throughout the early United States, Prohibition pretty much wiped them off the map. It wasn't until Scottish brewer Bert Grant opened his Grant's Brewery Pub in Yakima, Wash. in 1982 that the burger-and-flight-of-beers brewpubs that we know today came into existence. At the end of 2013, the Brewers Association craft beer industry group noted that of the near-record 2,722 breweries in the U.S., more than 1,200 of them were brewpubs. According to the Beer Institute industry lobbying group, more than half of the 948 permits for new breweries issued in 2013 went to brewpubs. This is a great thing, especially for local businesses, local tourist economies and locals just looking for a better place to drink a beer and eat dinner.

Back in 2012, my wife and I made our way from Boston to Portland through a series of stops that had great brewpubs at each. Our trip took us past Empire Brewing in Syracuse, N.Y. (which was established during my time at Syracuse University in the mid-'90s); Fat Head's in Cleveland just outside our stop in Sandusky; Revolution Brewing in Chicago; Monks House of Ale Repute in Sioux Falls, S.D.; Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City, S.D. (nice Gorgonzola Ale soup); Laht Neppur in Walla Walla, Wash.; Maritime Pacific Brewing's Jolly Roger Taproom in Seattle; and then home to dozens of brewpubs in Portland alone. We would have stopped at one in Bozeman, Mont., but mixing your brewery and restaurant is a big no-no there.

At each spot, the brewpubs were a huge source of pride. Hotel concierges love pointing them out, the brewers themselves love showing off what their town can make and the towns seem to love having them as anchors to downtown dining and entertainment districts. The residual benefits seem to make them great and desired neighbors.

Granted, there are naysayers who remember empty tanks in vacant storefronts after the initial microbrew bust of the '90s and consider brewpubs the devil incarnate. The problem wasn't the pubs themselves, but pub owners who weren't content with flipping burgers and brewing small batches, but had no real plan for packaging, distributing and selling their beer on a broader scale. They were owned by folks who either had no idea how to run a restaurant, no idea how to brew and sell beer or some terrible combination of both.

Today's brewers have largely mitigated those first and third scenarios by hiring restaurant managers and chefs who know what they're doing and can create menus adequate enough not to detract from the beer. In talking to the folks behind new brewpubs Ecliptic Brewing in Portland and Pfriem Family Brewing in Hood River, Ore., last year, experience in other brewpubs and willingness to spend time and money on both menu and management were key components for the success of each.

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