Hitting Rock Bottom (can be good)

by: Todd on 12-01-2001
What happens to a brewpub chain when they claim bankruptcy? They hit Rock Bottom. Sounds tragic, but it is not. In fact, it is perhaps one of the best things to hit the east coast beer community for sometime.

In the loom of brewpubs closing their doors, breweries contracting beer production, consolidations and imports taking over the shelves, Rock Bottom Restaurants, Inc. brings the financial clout of a $200+ million per year company to the east coast brewing scene. Their portfolio includes: 34 brewery concepts (Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, Walnut Brewery and ChopHouse & Brewery), 50+ Old Chicago restaurants (pizza joints) and 3 Sing Song entertainment venues that feature dueling piano bars in a club setting.

Included in the RBR, Inc. portfolio of 34 breweries are the Brew Moon bistro and brewery chain of brewpubs. Back in early November of 2000, Brew Moon Enterprises, Inc. claimed Chapter 11 and was quickly acquired by RBR, Inc. (except for the Honolulu location). A December 2000 press release stated “Rock Bottom will continue to operate them under the Brew Moon name and may build additional stores using that brand.”, however things have changed.

All the acquired Brew Moon locations will be converted into Rock Bottom Breweries – 100% in concept, atmosphere, methodology, etc. – and things are already underway. The King of Prussia, PA location opened on 10/29 as a Rock Bottom, while Braintree has a soft opening on 11/17 (public on 11/19). Cambridge closed down on 11/4 – its opening is TBD, but is slated to break its cocoon around mid to late January. The Boston location is still operating as a Brew Moon (in name) and will close down in January and is currently scheduled to reopen sometime in February.

A Focus on Beer
Unlike Brew Moon, who primarily focused its interests on the restaurant aspect of the business, RB will be very proactive about their beer, with better audio/visual packages and through publicizing tappings and organizing different events to correspond with specific tappings. There will still be a strong emphasis on the food, but expect a brand new Rock Bottom-style menu, with a few choice cross-over items from the old Brew Moon menu (like those addictive beer crackers).

Beer geeks can look forward to a mug club, in which patrons will be enrolled right away by getting issued a credit card that will be scanned during every visit. Different club levels, and their corresponding steins, will distinguish the couple of hundred or so mug club members. And, once a member drinks a specific quantity of beer (like a keg), they’ll get their name on a specially displayed mug club keg.

On the brewing ops front, it should be seamless to the customer. Brew Moon’s core beers will be kept, albeit some renamed, and the new RB locations will have full brewing autonomy. RBR, Inc. is also exploring the possibility of distributing RB beers to local keg accounts, and perhaps introducing a couple of RB beers to the new locations. Including the additions, the total barrels per year are estimated to be at around 30,000bbls across all of the RB breweries with an expected increase in production at the new locations.

Now it is sad to see the Brew Moon brand go away, however it is obvious that the RB conversion is the one thing that is saving it, its beer and its brewing & management staff. Personally, I welcome the change and the reintroduction of a chain of brewpubs that focus on beer versus focusing on cashing in on trends, or trying to be a brewpub while at the same time not.

The only thing sad about all of this is that on the day of my talk with Senior Brewmaster Scott Hutchinson, he was moments away from calling the ATF to get permission to “destroy product”. This is the PC way of saying “dump beer down the drain”. Now I’m not sure who was about to cry more – the beer or me – but I was smiling when I saved the life of a 2liter growler of Munich Gold and Double Barrel IPA and a bottle of lambic. But, not to worry … the beer will be back.

For more information on Rock Bottom Restaurants, Inc., go to: http://www.rockbottom.com or contact a location near you.
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