CRAFT BEER, BREWERIES, AND TAPHOUSES
On the rise since the 1990s, they are changing the face of dining out in America
by Rob Lauer
For generations of Americans, enjoying a cold beer on a hot summer day meant going to their refrigerator and taking out a bottle or can of whatever commercially mass-produced brand they had picked up at the grocery store.
When dining out, having a beer with one's meal typically meant ordering whichever of those same well-known brands the restaurant stocked. Most American beer-lovers chose their favorite commercial brand and stuck with it for life. In the 1990s, all of that began to change with the
emergence of craft beer.
The ever-increasingly popularity of craft beers has transformed the relationship between Americans and the beverage, while the emergence of breweries and taphouses is changing the dining-out landscape. So what is the difference between a craft beer and a mass-produced commercial brew?
At first glance, the most noticeable difference is the size of the brewing companies themselves. The most popular commercial beer brands are mass produced by multi-billion-dollar corporations.
In contrast, craft beers are generally produced by independent brewers who view beer-making as a finely-honed skill. As a result, their breweries tend to be small, producing no more than two million gallons of beer per year. Because craft brewers are intimately involved in the crafting of their beers, they tend to feel that their personal integrity is on the line with every pint they produce.
Unlike their large-scale corporate competitors, these small breweries approach beer production as an art form. (Thus, the word "craft" in their name.) They are more committed to maximizing flavor and aroma with high-quality ingredients, both unique and traditional, than maximizing profits.
Because craft brewers are intimately involved
in the crafting of their beers, they tend to feel
that their personal integrity is on the line
with every pint they produce.
Commercially mass-produced beers are typically a pale yellow color and have a lower alcohol content, anywhere from three to five percent. However, when it comes to craft beer, the alcohol percentages can be quite a bit higher.
Making craft beer is a process that is more delicate than that used in the large corporate mass production of the beverage. The brewers of craft beers focus more on flavors and nuances. The more taste the brewer adds, the more alcohol the beer can handle.
Craft beer enthusiasts point out that the mass produced beer typically consumed by most people tastes like "water" compared to craft beer.
What so many people enjoy about craft beers is the seemingly endless variety of flavors and tastes that are available. Even non-beer drinkers, who prefer wine or cocktails, will often sample a beer or two when visiting a brewery or taproom with friends. With brewers incorporating everything from chocolate to peppers to berries into their beers, most people are tempted to take a taste, if
only for curiosity's sake.
Another appeal of craft beers is a sense of personal connection that customers feel with the brewer. When looking at a craft beer bottle, the label itself will often contain a lot of information regarding the origin of that particular beer. Often the brewer will share his or her vision for that recipe. This is why beer lovers enjoy drinking craft beers: they feel that the manufacturers really care about their craft and are personally invested in their product. There is also a sense that craft brewers are more community-minded: they are often among the first businesses to donate kegs of their product
to community fundraisers.
Economics also plays a role in the popularity of craft beers. Because they are more intensely flavorful and have a higher alcohol content, people may only drink half of the amount compared to commercially mass-produced brands. In the end, that could mean a lower tab.
When it comes to a wide selection of distinctive beers and affordability, Decent People Taproom, located in the Harborview area of Suffolk, is a perfect example of why the craft beer industry has taken off. It offers guests the freedom to explore a wide variety of local craft brews in a welcoming, comfortable environment with a knowledgeable, friendly staff to guide them.
Using an innovative self-pour system, guests pay by the ounce to try regional craft brews, ciders, and wines. This makes sampling extremely affordable, and because the patron decides which beer they will pour and in what amount, they never pay for a brew that they don't like.
"We have such a great selection, and it's constantly changing," Manager Chuck Hoag says. "There's always something new to try. With the self-pour system, guests can pour as small a serving as they want, and if they like it, pour more." A menu of delicious snacks and sandwiches is also available, and patrons can sit in the large welcoming taproom or on a festive outdoor patio. A festive ambiance is an essential element in the rising popularity of breweries.
The setting is a combination of a traditional restaurant with a craft beer brewery. Food menus are usually extensive, and at least a quarter of all the beers offered are brewed by the owners - often on the premises. Unlike a traditional bar or pub, breweries are family-friendly environments in which children - and in some cases, even pets - are welcomed. It's becoming common for even non-beer-drinkers to be loyal patrons of breweries because of the delicious food they serve. Many breweries combine indoor dining spaces with extensive outdoor areas.
The goal is to offer a friendly, casual, welcoming space where patrons can leisurely gather to enjoy food, drink, friends, and fun. With brewers incorporating everything from chocolate to peppers to berries into their beers, most people are tempted to take a taste, if only for curiosity's sake.
All of these and more can be found at Back Bay Brewing Company's Farmhouse in Virginia Beach on Kempsville Road. Rooted in the soil of Virginia Beach, the Farmhouse is dedicated to using the highest quality ingredients to produce the freshest beers and ciders.
These can be enjoyed either inside of or on the grounds of a beautifully restored 1912 farmhouse. The imposing home was built by the late William E. Wood for his fiancee, Lilly. Portraits of both hang above the fireplace in the parlor, and it is said that the ghost of "Mama Lilly" still walks the hall. But the main spirit found at Back Bay Brewing Company's Farmhouse is that of fun.
The Farm is open to everyone - including families with children. Dogs on leashes are welcomed as well. Games on the lawn add to the festive atmosphere, making the Farmhouse one of the region's most unique "go-to places" for good times, good food, and, of course, outstanding craft beer.
A festive ambiance is an essential element in the rising popularity of breweries. The popularity of the Back Bay Brewing Company's Farmhouse and Decent People Taproom, as well as the growing number of similar establishments springing up across Hampton Roads, is a testament to the fact that craft beers, taphouses, and breweries are here to stay.
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