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

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

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  1. PangaeaBeerFood

    PangaeaBeerFood Initiate (0) Nov 30, 2008 New York

    Tell that to the 1,421 people who've given Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour a good rating.
  2. crossovert

    crossovert Initiate (0) Mar 29, 2009 Illinois

    Monk's cafe is pretty poor imo, but I would not consider it the typical example of a house beer with a new label slapped on from another beer. But it does fit what the OP is talking about.
  3. Tballz420

    Tballz420 Meyvn (1,187) Mar 4, 2003 Minnesota

    Sounds like the free market is operating as intended. If a bar and a brewery mutually agree to the practice, who does it hurt? If the brewery is more concerned about building its brand name than sales, then it is not forced to enter into such an agreement.
    teal and MinorThreat like this.
  4. MasterSki

    MasterSki Site Editor (6,626) Dec 25, 2006 Ontario (Canada)
    Premium Member Beer Trader

    The consumer deserves to know where and by whom the beer is manufactured, at the very least because it is a product that is ingested. If I get ill from tainted beer, how would I know who is liable? Less obvious might be other customer behaviors (boycotting certain brands, buying 'local'/American) or even things related to reviewing (i.e. wasting time reviewing a beer you've already had under another name). While I'm not arguing the bartender needs to explicitly disclose manufacturing info or aliases to every patron, the information should be readily available on a menu or upon verbal request.

    While this is a drastic example, would you patronize a bar that only had vague styles listed and no brewery names or supplementary info? That is in essence what is happening here; a pre-existing beer that you can investigate (for peer reviews, ABV and ingredient info, style notes, brand reputation, etc.) is being reduced to a one-word descriptor (Kolsch, Brown, Lager, etc.).
    Gosox8787 and DrAwkward82 like this.
  5. Tballz420

    Tballz420 Meyvn (1,187) Mar 4, 2003 Minnesota

    If you are suing, you would sue the bar, the distributor and the brewery. Your lawyer will be able to determine all relevant parties, so don't worry.

    As for whether you'd want to buy a house beer for personal reasons, either don't, or ask what it is, and if they don't tell you, then either make a decision to buy it anyways or not. Its not really rocket science
  6. MasterSki

    MasterSki Site Editor (6,626) Dec 25, 2006 Ontario (Canada)
    Premium Member Beer Trader

    Wouldn't it be better to know the house beer was made by Chinese children in a lead-tainted factory BEFORE you consumed it, rather than after? As much as my family might enjoy the financial compensation, my lead-poisoned self would hardly benefit.

    If others want to take a risk on mystery beer (more so that it would taste bad than make you ill) that's fine, but the free market works best if there's sufficient data available to make informed choices. I don't think there are any (successful) economic models that function on ignorance or deception.
    Providence and DrAwkward82 like this.
  7. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,043) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    No disconnect, just being redundantly clear. :wink:
  8. Tballz420

    Tballz420 Meyvn (1,187) Mar 4, 2003 Minnesota

    Find me a lead-tainted beer produced by children that was awarded a license by the FDA to be sold here, and I'll give this argument some credence. Selling poisonous beer is probably a good way for a business to go bankrupt, although I would have to consult my old business textbooks to be sure

    I personally probably wouldn't ever buy a house beer that wasn't produced by a brew pub. But if I heard word that the "Lion's Tap Red Ale" was really Surly Furious, then I would buy it. The idea of a house beer seems to be a low quality product in my mind, but if you want to try it, then who's stopping you? If you don't, then buy one of the beers that you recognize.
  9. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,043) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    Well, I guess when I would walk into Leona's Pizza and order one of their Leona's labeled beers, contract brewed at Dubuque Star Brewing, I'd probably have called it their "house brand."
  10. StArnoldFan

    StArnoldFan Defender (631) Dec 28, 2012 Texas
    Beer Trader

    BJ's Brewery has Saint Arnold make their beers for all TX locations, however I think other states they actually brew their own. I don't see a problem with it. It gives a small micro brewery some extra business and they are happy with the result or they wouldn't serve it.
  11. denver10

    denver10 Poo-Bah (2,347) Nov 17, 2010 New Mexico

    Seems like this 'house" beer, in a non-contract brewing type setting, isn't any different than many 'house' wines at restaurants. If a brewery takes issue with this, just stop selling to this restaurant or write a contract that prevents it.
  12. MasterSki

    MasterSki Site Editor (6,626) Dec 25, 2006 Ontario (Canada)
    Premium Member Beer Trader

    I was being hyperbolic, but you and I agree that someone, in your case the FDA (although I think beer isn't technically considered a food product) and in my case the customer, should know where products are coming from. I'm not fond of the overly complicated government regulations, but I don't think it's burdensome for a bar to disclose, upon request, who makes what is ostensibly their MAIN Product. I'm sure we can agree that there are select cases where pre-emptive information disclosure is imperative (things that contain allergens, carcinogens, etc.); advocating the laissez-faire "well, if the product makes people sick, the business will go bankrupt" approach is very lazy. It's like leaving a pile of money in an open window of your house and counting on the threat of jail time to dissuade people from stealing it.

    I think this is the main semantics problem. In this case, Leona's beers aren't 'contract-brewed' as Leona's isn't a brewery; they can't 'contract' brewing from anyone. They are just purchasing beers from Dubuque that Dubuque has 'coincidentally' named Leona's XXX. I believe in some states the distributor wouldn't even be obligated to give Leona's first dibs on these beers and it's more of a gentleman's agreement; I've seen 'exclusive' beers misallocated in Chicago on numerous occasions (Half Acre's Next beers at random bottle shops, Mikkeller's Aviary beer at Binny's, beers for a Lost Abbey beer dinner all over the place, etc.).
  13. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Meyvn (1,382) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    Doesn't that have something to do with TX laws?
  14. StArnoldFan

    StArnoldFan Defender (631) Dec 28, 2012 Texas
    Beer Trader

    Not sure about that. TX is pretty strict on the TABC stuff, but I don't know the laws.
  15. MasterSki

    MasterSki Site Editor (6,626) Dec 25, 2006 Ontario (Canada)
    Premium Member Beer Trader

    It's quite possible bringing in beer from out-of-state isn't viable financially or legally. BJ's has three main channels for its beers - the "Restaurant & Brewery" locations produce (some of) their own, and the "Restaurant & Brewhouse" locations get their beer from the central BJ's facility (in California I believe) or contract from a local third party (in this case Saint Arnold).
  16. brewsader

    brewsader Initiate (0) Dec 7, 2012 New York
    Beer Trader

    there's a place by me that sells rolling rock as a "house blonde," which sucks because most people i tell that to regret ordering it before they even take a sip. whether they have an agreement with the brewery or not, i think it's a little bit shady to dupe people like that.
  17. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,043) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    I don't think this is accurate -- *Leona's "contracted" the Dubuque Star Brewery to brew (or bottle, anyway) a beer for them with their name on the label -- just as Huber would "contract" brew for other bars and restaurants, such as the Berghoff, and provide them a "house beer."

    I don't think you have to be an incorporated brewery to enter into a contract with a(nother) brewery.

    *As a clarification -- the Dubuque Star Brewery is no longer in business and Leona's doesn't contract with them anymore -- and Huber is now Minhas; a brewery that brews and bottles its own beers and contract brews.
  18. tjensen3618

    tjensen3618 Initiate (0) Mar 23, 2008 California

    FW Pale 31, is a blend of DBA and Mission St. Pale Ale.
    I beleive it's something like 15% DBA - 85% Mission St. Pale Ale.
  19. rlcoffey

    rlcoffey Initiate (0) Apr 20, 2004 Kentucky

    No, he was accurate. And as MasterSki said, it is semantics. Or, more accurately, its industry jargon. Entering into a contract doesnt make it a contract brew.

    I grabbed a definition from the brewer's association website:

    Contract Brewing Company: A business that hires another brewery to produce its beer. It can also be a brewery that hires another brewery to produce additional beer. The contract brewing company handles marketing, sales, and distribution of its beer, while generally leaving the brewing and packaging to its producer-brewery (which, confusingly, is also sometimes referred to as a contract brewery).

    The contract brewing company would still be a First Tier company, like a brewery. In your example, Leona's would be Third Tier. They are "contracting" for a brand to be made, but they wouldnt be a contract brewing company.

    Damn English and its reuse of words.
    MasterSki likes this.
  20. TMoney2591

    TMoney2591 Poo-Bah (6,766) Apr 21, 2009 Illinois

    (Full disclosure, I've only read about half of the responses before typing this...)

    I've seen this a number of times over the years. The Tombs next door to Georgetown's main campus had a semi-rotating "Tombs Ale" tap; when I constantly inquired into their identities, I was usually left with an "I don't know" sort of answer, but apparently they have used Leinenkugel Red and Bud American Amber at various points. Bulldogs Alehouse 'round here in Roselle has a similar practice, with a line of "house ales", though they are simply just relabeled Berghoff kegs. In Chi-Town, Beer Bistro (both locations) use various Brooklyn and Two Bros. beers (among others, I assume) for their "house" seasonal taps (labeled as "[Beer] Bistro Oktoberfest", for instance). The Bank in Wheaton purportedly had a specially-made keg from Two Brothers, but it was later confessed to me to be another of their beers with a different handle on it (I wanna say it was Domaine DuPage, which has also showed up at Biaggi's under the name "Fortunato").

    And those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head at the moment.

    I personally dislike this practice, as they often advertise the beers as something they're not: a unique beer made specifically for the bar/restaurant. Sounds cool, gives a kind of insider mystique to the bar, and makes the brewery look cool for brewing a special beer. Unfortunately, it's just basically lying to people, giving them the idea they're having something new or different when it's just the usual crap found everywhere else. Hell, in the case of Bulldogs, it almost seems like the "house beers" are brewed by Bulldogs, especially considering the presentation of a whole miniature line of various styles. In the end, it's fine if you wanna have a house tap, a spotlight for a certain keg or something along those lines (think a "beer of the month" sort of deal, with or without price decrease), but to take a pre-existing beer and call it something else, ostensibly just to sell more of it, is just too disingenuous for my tastes. I agree with the OP on this one.
    Andwoo and CapeCodBeer like this.
  21. champ103

    champ103 Poo-Bah (4,229) Sep 3, 2007 Texas
    Premium Member Beer Trader

    No it does not. BJs just wanted Saint Arnold to brew their beers, and hired them to contract brew. It is a lot easier for the franchise when new locations are going up all over Texas. They don't have to buy and install brewing equipment, or hire a head brewer for every new location. I know Saint Arnold used to make the Louisiana locations and I think Florida locations beers as well. Though, I think when they moved to the new brewery SA scaled back their contract with BJs so they can make more SA beer. The Two Rows locations (another "brewpub" chain in TX) are also contract brewed by Franconia Brewing.

    Back to the OP, none of this is the same as bars having house beers though, which I hardly ever see in the States. If it is done, I am pretty sure it has to be approved by the brewery as well. I have seen this in a lot of places in the UK however.
  22. MasterSki

    MasterSki Site Editor (6,626) Dec 25, 2006 Ontario (Canada)
    Premium Member Beer Trader

    They entered into a contract to order a specific beer from Dubuque (or the associated distributor): one that happened to meet their specific needs (contains Leona's name, met certain style and ABV characteristics, etc.) They are not 'contract-brewing' as far as the term is defined in the US. From a customer's perspective the difference is sometimes quite subtle, but on the back end it will make a significant difference in who registers for label approval with TTB, pays various taxes, distributes the beer and such.

    Here's the difference in how it would work in IL as far as I know:
    House Beer
    1. Bar/restaurant contacts production brewery regarding 'house beer'.
    2. Brewery registers beer name and label with TTB.
    3. Brewery lists beer for order in their product lineup with distributor.
    4. Bar/restaurant orders all units available from distributor.
    5. Brewery makes beer and sells to distributor.
    6. Distributor sells beer to bar/restaurant.
    In this case, the production brewery is responsible for the TTB approval and they choose a wholesaler who handles excise taxes and distribution. In theory the distributor could screw over the bar/restaurant by taking orders for the same beer from other establishments. Self-distribution simplifies the process for sure, but the production brewery could still sell some of the beer to other parties or keep it for themselves (see Cable Car or Toronado 25th Anniversary).

    Contract Brewing
    1. Contractor acquires brewery license.
    2. Contractor registers beer name and label with TTB.
    3. Contractor orders beer from production brewery. In alternating proprietorships, they will go into the space and make the beer themselves, but otherwise the production brewery will physically brew the beer based on the specifications of the contractor (often with oversight, often without).
    4. Production brewery will invoice contractor for ingredients, labor, space rental, etc.
    5. Contractor will arrange sale of beer to a distributor of their choice (not necessarily the same distributor used by production brewery for their own beers), or pick up beer for sale at their establishment.
    In this case, the production brewery is only responsible for the brewing process and the contractor and their affiliated distributor has to deal with all the paperwork.

    EDIT: rlcoffey explained more succinctly.
    rlcoffey likes this.
  23. MasterSki

    MasterSki Site Editor (6,626) Dec 25, 2006 Ontario (Canada)
    Premium Member Beer Trader

    Ah, so it was a financial/logistical decision. Makes sense; a good local brewery had extra capacity, so it didn't make sense to set up those BJ's restaurants as functioning breweries or ship the beer from (and potentially have to expand) the California facility.
  24. rlcoffey

    rlcoffey Initiate (0) Apr 20, 2004 Kentucky

    I liked your detailed explanation.

    But yeah, between that and the BA defintion I quoted, I think we covered it.
  25. rlcoffey

    rlcoffey Initiate (0) Apr 20, 2004 Kentucky

    Just to make it more confusing, the TTB distinguishes between a "contract brewing relationship" and an "alternating brewing proprietorship" and uses the latter to describe what we and the brewers association are calling contract brewing companies.

    They are concerned with who pays the taxes, and that is the difference in their definitions.

    Edit: Reading further, the TTB is just making a further distinction that we arent making.
  26. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Meyvn (1,382) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    Thanks for that. Had some of the arcane TX laws mixed up, and was not 100% sure so it was a question, not a statement. Was just in Austin, things are somewhat different on the beer and brewing scene. :slight_smile:
  27. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,043) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    Wait -- "A business that hires another brewery to produce its beer." That doesn't single out another brewery that hires a brewery to make its beer.

    Semantics indeed.
  28. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,043) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    I still see no clarity that a brewery (or some corporation "licensed" as a brewery) has to be the "contractor."

    Dubuque Star advertised itself as a "Contract Brewer," entered into a "contract" to brew for Leona's, and made their beer -- distributor involvement or otherwise, Dubuque Star was the hired brewer, under contract, to brew Leona's beer for them.

    I completely understand the taxation and other responsibilities, but the bottom line is that Leona's contracted Dubuque Star to make beer for them.
  29. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,043) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    So maybe this all got jumbled up over the years from the first contract brewing to be sure the Government got their share, but it's not how the term and/or process originally started.

    Back in the late 80s/early 90s a Contract Brewer was someone who brewed beer for anyone who paid them to do so.
  30. rlcoffey

    rlcoffey Initiate (0) Apr 20, 2004 Kentucky

    But read the bolded part. I bolded it for a reason, to avoid you stopping at the point you stopped. And, yes, with sales in their, we have the same issue, but a distinction is being made.
  31. Longstaff

    Longstaff Initiate (0) May 23, 2002 Massachusetts

    I don't feel as harshly about it as the OP - there was a time a locally made craft alternative to the macrolagers was a welcomed sight and putting the establishments name on it only made it a "safer" choice for those who may not otherwise branch out. Still necessary at many bars - still.

    And Firestone Walker seemed pretty proud in their tweets about brewing beer for the Yardhouse chain. Personally, at the one I frequent, it just about the only thing I order. You know its going to be a solid pale ale or ipa. And the Hop Yard Anniversary IPA blew any IPA out of the water that was being served at one of Boston's top rated beer bars when I visited last week.

    I don't see why a knowledgeable beer geek would get upset over them - they aren't duping you into buying them since you aren't ignorant about their pedigree- just ignore them while you sip your small pour, overpriced bbl aged whatever from a dainty glass.
    Norica likes this.
  32. Downey_george

    Downey_george Initiate (0) Feb 5, 2013 California

    bayhawk does house beer, nothing special just release the name to you
    just like::grimacing:
    alaskan amber
    shock top ipa
    firestone hefe
    firestone blonde
    miller high life
    natural light
    Amber Boc
    and alot of other companeys as well

    i say B.S. the only house brew legally should be,
    a contract brew and nothing else. no release of name right:grinning:
  33. Longstaff

    Longstaff Initiate (0) May 23, 2002 Massachusetts

    Oh, its probably just Bell's Brown rebranded. ;-)
  34. rlcoffey

    rlcoffey Initiate (0) Apr 20, 2004 Kentucky

    It doesnt. If the contractor is a brewer, its an alternating proprietorship. If they are a beer marketing company, its a contract brewing company. According to the TTB split.

    But both of those fall under the Brewer's Association definition for contractor.

    But a house brand is something different. Its one of those fine line kind of things where there are cases that are smack in the middle and hard to split up.

    But some are clear. When the keg label doesnt match the tap handle label, their is no question about which side it is on. When it is an alternating proprietorship, ditto (for the other side of the line).

    Personally, I go with the label. If the name of the "brewery" on the label isnt the name of the people who own the equipment it was brewed on, it falls into that contract brewing category.

    I just looked to see how Clown Shoes is handled in the Brewer's Association annual data for volume...they are in the "request specific data to not be published" list.
  35. jesskidden

    jesskidden Meyvn (1,292) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    The business that owns the label and markets the beer would be the "Contractee".

    The brewery that brews the beer would be the "Contractor".

    In the case of the many contractee "breweries" - there is no law that I've ever heard of that requires them to be a licensed brewery. Many such companies are now prohibited by the TTB to call themselves "XYZ Brewing Company" thus we see more such companies (what BA itself once used to call "Beer Marketing Companies") called "XYZ Beer Co.". Their beers' COLA's are typically made out by the contractor, using the former's name as a dba on the label and application.

    The TTB's definition of "Contract Brewing Arrangement":

    Contract brewing arrangement is a business relationship in which one person (wholesale or retail dealer or brewer) pays brewing company (contract brewer) to produce beer for him or her.

    More (lots more) at - Alternating Proprietors at Brewery Premises from 2005.

    Still, I don't think all the "house" beer situations -including the one in the OP- fall under this definition of being a "Contract" brew. As I understand it, beers like the one from Magic Hat are brewed and shipped to NJ (using my example from above) as "Single Chair" and it's only an in-state arrangement that allows it to be sold as "Joe's Pale Ale". As such, it does not need a Federal TTB COLA but only a NJ brand registration. At least, I've never found any COLA for many of the smaller "House Beers" mentioned on BA forums
    steveh likes this.
  36. rlcoffey

    rlcoffey Initiate (0) Apr 20, 2004 Kentucky

    Nope, only required for Alternating Proprietors.

    The TTB even uses the term marketing companies in their description.
  37. DelMontiac

    DelMontiac Defender (699) Oct 22, 2010 Oklahoma

    Doesn't bother me at all as long it's good and cheap as the "house brew" should be.
  38. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,043) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois

    I didn't stop, the bolded part confirmed my own argument too:
    That contract "brewing company" is what I was calling Dubuque Star -- and while they probably didn't market Leona's beer, per se, they provided labels and coasters -- probably signs, for what marketing was needed.

    *And in the big picture I think we're both arguing for the same point. But one red flag you mentioned finally stood out for me:
    I realized that between the late 80s and now the Brewers Association has become this big lobbying agent for brewers and breweries, muddying up definitions; old and new, to suit their constituency the way they see fit! So if "contract brewing" now needs to be defined as something to help brewers along, so be it. Back in the day I'd walk into a bar and see a "house brand" on tap and ask where they got it and the response was always, "Oh, so-and-so contract brews that for us."

    *Yeah, reading the BA's page on "contract brewing" tells me just what I suspected, they've created their own definition of a term that grew from something else back when -- craft beer anyone? :rolling_eyes:
  39. MammaGoose

    MammaGoose Initiate (0) Jan 10, 2013 Wyoming

    This thread is interesting to me...I'll have to go through and read more when I have the time.

    I had honestly never heard of either house beers or contract brewing. That said, our local pizza joint (and the closest anything in Sheridan, WY comes to a legitimate beer selection...about 10 craft beers on tap) has a "Powder River Ale" with Powder River Pizza's logo clearly on it. I inquired about it one day, and they said it was just O'dell's 90 Shilling Ale with Powder River's logo on it. I was, in a word, annoyed. I had no idea what exactly the contract is between O'Dells and Powder River Pizza, but as a customer, I think it's stupid. If I wanted 90 Shilling Ale, I would order it. And I'd much rather have one of the very few limited craft beer taps freed up for another beer rather than two of the 10 being 90 Shilling and one just labeled differently.

    If this is the typical "house beer" arrangement, then I am also not a fan.
  40. beertunes

    beertunes Poo-Bah (5,156) Sep 24, 2007 Washington
    Beer Trader

    There are still examples of a brewery making a "house" beer for just one account. For example, here in Bellingham, WA is a gastropub called The Copper Hog. They have a house beer called Copper Hog Red, brewed by Flyers, in Oak Harbor. On their board they list brewery, then name, then style, if necessary. So it reads like this: Flyers, Copper Hog Red . We don't see the examples listed in this thread of just renaming a beer around here.

    There's a brewery near Rochester, NY called Custom Brewcrafters. Their business model is to pretty much brew house beers for existing bars/restaurants. It's a good way for a business to have beers that are exclusive to them, without having to start the second business of running a brewery.
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