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Bars, stop with the "House Beers". It's not 1998 anymore.

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by Andwoo, Feb 5, 2013.

  1. Andwoo

    Andwoo Aficionado (150) Texas Sep 21, 2010

    This topic rarely gets discussed but it's one that deserves some attention. I'm in beer sales for a craft brewer and see this all the time. I'll set the scene:

    Me - "Excuse me, what's the (insert bar name/made-up name here) Brown Ale?
    Bartender - "It's our special house beer."
    Me - "Oh cool. Do you guys brew here?"
    Bartender - "No, I think we get it from somebody or something."
    Me - *walk in the back cooler to discover it's just some brewery's regular beer, but they made a special handle for them with their silly name on it*

    This drives me crazy and it's not good for the industry. Most craft brewers put in a lot of work, money, time and support into building brands and brewing good beer. When a bar/restaurant agrees to carry your beer, they're essentially partnering with you to help grow your brand and to make some money for themself because, hopefully, those brewing efforts have reached a point where it helps the bar's rate-of-sale and brings them profit. When you see a "house beer", it's not because that's what the brewery wanted, it's because the bar's beer buyer has such a large ego, that they could care less about supporting a brewery and more about having their "fake" beer on tap. It's selfish. Some breweries cave to it because the volume is lucrative, but it does nothing for their brand. Oh, and it SUCKS FOR THE CUSTOMER! You don't know what you just paid for! Craft beer is about much more than just good tasting beer. And good craft beer has such a better story to tell than "Joe's Bar Brown".
     
    Rhettroactive, Stockfan42 and yamar68 like this.
  2. vacax

    vacax Advocate (620) California Jun 3, 2008

    I really don't understand what you're getting at here. How are they not supporting the brewery that they are contracting the beer from? If the brewer didn't want to do a contract brew they wouldn't do contract brews. There is nothing fake about a contract beer. They are real beers made by real breweries for real places. If it wasn't mutually beneficial they wouldn't do it together. Firestone Walker does some excellent contract brewing in particular.
     
  3. It's been years since I have seen this locally. I'll have to kill the establishment on a review if I see this again.
     
  4. djaeon

    djaeon Advocate (725) California Oct 2, 2006

    It doesn't sound like the OP's talking about contract brewing, but a bar just hijacking and renaming an existing beer.
     
  5. Is this just a gripe about contract brewing?
     
    yemenmocha likes this.
  6. stupac2

    stupac2 Initiate (0) California Feb 22, 2011

    I had some great house beers in Belgium.
     
  7. Lutter

    Lutter Advocate (650) Texas Jun 30, 2010

    Alamo Drafthouse does this with Drafthouse ESB, which is made by Real Ale. It's exclusively made for them however.
     
  8. A lot of times the breweries are in on this.if you have a beer with the name of restaurant in it,you sell a lot of it.even if its shitty.the average person at a bar/restaurant doesn't care what it is.they order it because its the house specialty beer.but I agree,it sucks
     
  9. jmmy3

    jmmy3 Savant (335) Massachusetts Nov 30, 2010

    Contract brewing didn't cross my mind once while reading this thead. I think OP was pretty clear, don't you people read?
     
  10. Andwoo

    Andwoo Aficionado (150) Texas Sep 21, 2010

    If a brewery decides to actually brew a special beer for an account (which has got to be really hard unless you have a little 10bbl system or something), that's a totally different thing and can be really cool. You don't see that too often because many breweries don't have a pilot system to use and probably wouldn't dedicate a full brew on their normal set-up (probably 50-100bbl system) for just one account.

    I'm talking about when I see "Joe's Brown Ale" on tap and walk in the cooler, look at the keg, and realize it's just one of the brewery's flagship beers. I see this all the time. It's usually a sales tactic (and last resort) for a brewery to get their beer on tap. Trust me, the brewery would much rather have their brand be known that it's on tap than some made-up brand. Many craft breweries absolutely refuse to sell their beer as a "house beer".
     
    Stockfan42 likes this.
  11. Andwoo

    Andwoo Aficionado (150) Texas Sep 21, 2010

    Right. And I think that's awesome if they're truly making it just for the Alamo. I just wonder how difficult it is for their brewers to brew on such a small and possibly inconsistant scale like that.
     
  12. Xul

    Xul Advocate (525) California May 18, 2008

    From the OP:
    If not contract brewing, then what is he referring to? If the breweries "cave" to it, it's clearly not just a bar selling a given craft beer under a different name (which would likely run afoul of state labeling issues).
     
  13. Happens all the time in the restaurant business.when u goto a restaurant for food they don't tell you what brand it is.it says french fries not McCain French fries
     
  14. Xul

    Xul Advocate (525) California May 18, 2008

    I'm pretty blown away that you work in the beer industry, yet seem to have very little understanding of contract brewing. Firestone Walker does quite a bit of it, as vacax said, and they're not doing it on a 10bbl scale...
     
    maltmaster420 likes this.
  15. Andwoo

    Andwoo Aficionado (150) Texas Sep 21, 2010


    Not at all. Contract brewing is a whole other can of worms. Talking about bars only agreeing to carry somebody's beer if they can call it their own name. Just think it's bad form on the bar's end. Hoping other BA's notice this and realize it's generally never the brewer's ideal way of selling at retail.
     
  16. Xul

    Xul Advocate (525) California May 18, 2008

    By your standards, where does contract brewing end and this "calling it their own name" begin?
     
  17. Andwoo

    Andwoo Aficionado (150) Texas Sep 21, 2010

    I think we've got a couple different ideas of what "contract brewing" is here. And I wasn't initially referring to contract brewing. Are you saying that Firestone Walker, for example, brews Union Jack and sells it to a bar and then gives them a tap handle that says whatever the bar wants it to say? Like "Joe's IPA"?
     
  18. There are quite a few bars that have beers contract brewed for the bar under their own recipe. Is that what this is about, or is this like some guy putting on a keg of newcastle and calling it the house beer?
     
  19. Andwoo

    Andwoo Aficionado (150) Texas Sep 21, 2010

    Yes. Exactly. Just saying, unfortunately, this happens more often to smaller craft brewers and not Newcastle. The small brewery gets sales out of the deal but nobody knows what they're drinking, therefore, not growing the brand of the brewery.
     
  20. Lutter

    Lutter Advocate (650) Texas Jun 30, 2010

    Alamo has 5 theaters alone in Austin, 3 in San Antonio, 2 in Houston, and 3 in foreign states. I'm sure they go through quite a bit.
     
  21. MasterSki

    MasterSki Site Editor (980) Ontario (Canada) Dec 25, 2006 Staff Member

    Contract brewing = One brewery renting space to another licensed brewery. The contractor creates the recipe and the contractee executes it at the production facility (occasionally giving input).
    Example = Clown Shoes contracts Mercury Brewing to produce their beers. Half Acre originally rented space in Wisconsin while they built their own facility.

    House beer = A beer made for one specific location by a pre-existing bewery. The bar/restaurant generally has no brewing expertise, but occasionally will have input. These beers are often identical to already extant beers, or will feature only a minor recipe tweak (different dry hop). They can also range from dreadful to sublime, but generally when it's the latter the brewer will brand it, while if it's the former they will not.
    Examples = Cantillon La Derniere Duvee du 89, Cable Car, Brooklyn Local 11, Yard House Amber Ale, a whole host of Harpoon beers (Bugabrew, Harvard 1636, John Durgin Ale, etc.), Clark Street Ale House Pale Ale.

    I think it's lame if the house beer is identical to a pre-existing product you can buy off the shelf. There are some pretty easy ways to create unique beers even without a pilot system - change the dry hops or add fruit/oak to one fermenter, age a portion of the beer in barrels, use unique barrels for one account, blend some beers you already make, use an unblended portion of a normally blended beer, etc.
     
  22. alexipa

    alexipa Savant (410) Colorado Oct 7, 2011

    The fact that most BAs don't understand what you are trying to say means this IS a real problem. I didn't agree originally, but I do now. I always knew this was going on and am sure to ask what the beer really is; I'm blown away that others don't realize it.
     
    beerindex, Mgm54, Stockfan42 and 2 others like this.
  23. jmmy3

    jmmy3 Savant (335) Massachusetts Nov 30, 2010

    The volume of being the 'house beer' and consequently selling more than they would maybe expect to (I think that is the reasoning though I can't say I agree with it in most cases). It does nothing for their brand because their name is not on the tap handle, or the menu.
     
  24. Andwoo

    Andwoo Aficionado (150) Texas Sep 21, 2010

    By my standards, contract brewing is taking a recipe to a brewery (usually a contract brewery), paying them to brew the beer, then selling it as it's own brand/brewery seperate from the actual brewery. For instance, Brooklyn Lager, Coney Island, Shmaltz Brewing, Clown Shoes, some Sixpoint beers, etc...are examples of contract brewing. Either they're brewed seperately from the actual brewery OR the named brewery doesn't really exist. The "Whole Foods Brewery" doesn't really exist (or whatever made-up name they put on their private label beer). It's contract brewed at North Coast. Brewmaster's Reserve Brewery doesn't really exist. It's a name Safeway came up with for it's contract beers but they're made at Genessee (I think).

    By the looks of the replies, I'm guessing Firestone contract brews at their own facility for individual bars/restaurants. Different meaning of contract brewing and I'd assume it's known somewhere on the keg/handle/package that it's brewed by Fireston Walker.
     
  25. Here4Beer

    Here4Beer Aficionado (170) Nevada Nov 2, 2006

    If Joe's bar, Bill's brewery, (and Bob's distributorship) are all on the same page in terms of awareness & permission (no deception) to re-brand to Bill's Pale Ale to Joe's Pale Ale- who cares?

    In the ideal case, craft beer is on a handle, and a patron (like yourself, & other BA's that may be ruffled by this) with the due diligence to ask a server (or read a menu) to determine what the beer's origin is, will do so. Joe's long term or craft-savvy customers obviously are aware there isn't a brewing operation going on in the back parking lot.

    Patrons will ask Joe what the scoop is on the beer, directing them toward Bill's (presumably local) brewery and sales via Bob's; IMO everyone wins. One may argue they 'shouldn't have to ask' for the beer's origin. Perhaps.
    Then again, I don't like having to ask for an un-frosted mug, but...
     
  26. SeaOfShells

    SeaOfShells Savant (350) California Feb 22, 2011

    How, exactly, are you just casually walking into the cooler of a bar?

    Edit: Ahhh, beer sales. That makes sense.
     
  27. Here4Beer

    Here4Beer Aficionado (170) Nevada Nov 2, 2006

    He sells brew, thus providing access, would be my guess.
     
  28. What the OP is referring to is also called "rebadging".
    Happens more in the UK, I think. For example, many supermarket own-brands (Aldi, M&S) are just a brewery's existing beer with a different label.

    Totally different animal from contract brewing:
    It's the difference having a house built to your blueprints vs. just buying a townhouse and then repainting it.
     
  29. Not every contract brewing arrangement involves "renting space" (aka an "alternating proprietorship" in TTB-ese) nor does every contract "brewery" marketing company supply the contractor brewery with their own recipe, or have a brewer/employee on site, etc. "Contract brewing" has evolved into a casually-used broad term, that includes even the private/store brands carried by retail chains (Trader Joe's, Costco, etc) where besides recipe approval, the label owner does very little besides writing a check. (The Oxford Companion to Beer has a thorough entry on it- "Contract Brewing").

    I agree that what the OP is talking about shouldn't be considered "contract brewing" if it's simply a re-labeled regular beer or a beer brewed by a brewery specifically to supply multiple bars. I had always thought that to sell such a beer under a different name, the bar would have to get permission from the brewer and state ABC approval. (Lots of states have laws about tap handles having the correct name of the product on it, etc).

    I know in NJ for a time Magic Hat's distributor was supplying a beer called "Single Chair" to numerous bars, rebranded as the house beer. I do feel that any bar that does that should be open and honest when asked, "So, who brews this for you?" (and maybe even required to do so) but that it not always the case. It was the couple of times I ran into to it on tap.
     
  30. Speaking of FW, the first time I ate at lazy dog I ordered a flight of their "lazy dog brews" and was blown away by the pale ale I had. Tasted super fresh, with tropical fruits climbing out of the glass!!! The other 5 beers on the flight were forgettable at best. Come to find out some months later the beer I flipped out about that night was none other than "union jack"! What's kinda sad to me now is that that was THE BEST tasting union jack ever...and all it was that night was the lazy dog house pale ale...they weren't even categorizing it right.
     
  31. socon67

    socon67 Advocate (660) New York Jun 18, 2010

    If I didn't know what the house beer was, I doubt I'm ordering it.
     
  32. ThirstyFace

    ThirstyFace Initiate (0) New York Jan 11, 2013

    get a real gripe. this is absurd. this hurts no one. especially you and likely all of us
     
  33. teal

    teal Aficionado (195) Wisconsin May 3, 2012

    Every time I've seen this it usually goes like this:

    What's Bob's Bar Pale Ale?

    It's a Pale that Dave's Brewing makes for us.

    Now I've been to Dave's Brewing and it tastes exactly the same as Dave's Pale Ale.

    If the BREWERY want to roll that way, why should I care or why should I blame the bar? It's not like the bar forced the brewery to do so and, round here at least it's illegal to simply rebadge without the agreement and yes - things like that are checked. Least they were when I was working in bars.
     
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  34. steveh

    steveh Advocate (705) Illinois Oct 8, 2003

    This clearly says contract brewing to me:
    And I have to agree with everyone who is saying that it isn't such a crime, especially if you know who is contracting the beer.
     
    albertq17 likes this.
  35. Some breweries will make a beer exclusively for your establishment. I know Chatham brewery does this for al of the NYC Dive Bar locations. If that's the case I am fine with having house beer. If you are just buying a keg of Killian's and calling it your *insert bar name here* Irish red then shame on you.
     
  36. Hanzo

    Hanzo Champion (955) Virginia Feb 27, 2012

    Our Whole Foods here gets a special brew made for them by a local brewery, which I think is pretty awesome...but taking a random beer and slapping your own tap handle and name on it and selling it as the house beer? Not cool. Have you contacted the brewery and told them they were doing this?
     
    Stockfan42 likes this.
  37. steveh

    steveh Advocate (705) Illinois Oct 8, 2003

    Huber and Dubuque Star used to do it all the time here in the Midwest back in the mid to late 80s. Laws may have changed since then, who knows?

    I would see the likes of "Butthead Beer" at Bears Star Kevin Butler's bar and know it was Huber's plain ol' lager. Or a local pizza joint that had their own label from Dubuque that tasted just like Dubuque Star. And yeah, the bar tenders always told me where it was from or the bottle always had the brewery's address on it.

    Not sure how contract brewing works today, but what about all the breweries re-labeling beer for Trader Joe's?
     
    pudgym29 likes this.
  38. While some of the TJ beers seem to be just "relabeled" beers from a brewery, some are apparently separate TJ recipes. I'd say private label "store brand" bottled beers, labeled with the correct city name even using a dba is a form of contract brewing - and actually pre-dates the faux "brewery company"/beer marketing company model made popular in the craft era by Boston Beer, Olde New York/New Amsterdam and Pete's Wicked.

    See, for example Carl Conrad's Budweiser brewed by Anhueser-Busch, or the scores of supermarket brands over the years (Safeway's Brown Derby one of the longest lived and having the most brewers over the years) or those beers that once existed as draught-only beers from a number of classic old bars - McSorley's and... I'm blanking on the others- one in Boston* and a one in Chicago (Berghoff brewed by Huber before they lost Augsburger?), too.

    OTOH, in the OP's case where he claims to have gone into a cooler and found the keg with a label that said "some brewery's regular beer" rather than "Joe's Bar Brown/Silly name" is a slightly different business deal. Did the bar truly contract with the brewery to make that beer?

    So, while it may be "contract" - is it "brewing";) - since the beer is already brewed, and often offered to numerous other on-premise retailers?

    * EDIT- Jacob Wirth!
     
  39. Firestone Walker brews the Mission St. line for Trader Joe's with separate recipes, and has won GABF medals for the Mission Pale Ale IIRC.
     
    Rau71 likes this.
  40. One of the well known Ann Arbor multitaps, Ashley's, is having a 30 tap take over by Bells today. Bells brewed a special beer for this, as it is the 30th anniversary for Ashley's, and gave it the name "Ashley's 30th Anniversary Ale".

    Terrible practice, a brewery making a special beer for a prime account.
     
    WolvAlerine, beertunes and billandsuz like this.

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