Is contract brewing always a bad thing?

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by LCB_Hostage, May 31, 2013.

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  1. LCB_Hostage

    LCB_Hostage Initiate (159) Jan 30, 2013 Pennsylvania

    I got to thinking about this the other day when I saw a post in a recent thread that dismissed a beer by saying "well, what do you expect from a contract brewer?" or something like that.

    While I can understand the thinking that contract brewers are going to bring less passion and quality control to the end product, I'm wondering if that's always the case. For instance, do the contract breweries always manage the entire process? How much can the brewer him/herself oversee or directly participate in the brewing of his/her beer?

    It seems to me that contract brewing offers brewers with limited capital the opportunity to establish a footprint in the marketplace and build up the resources they need to establish their own brewing operation. But, there seems to be a definite risk that their product could be corrupted by a contract brewer whose primary driver is going to be cost efficiency as opposed to the quality of the final product.

    Anyone know more about this topic than I do (believe me, that's a VERY low bar to clear)? Also, can anyone out there point to contract-brewed beers that are truly exceptional?
  2. cookiequiz

    cookiequiz Aspirant (249) Apr 15, 2013 California

  3. Duff27

    Duff27 Poo-Bah (2,127) Feb 10, 2010 Illinois
    Society Trader

    Three Floyds. But I don't know about "exceptional".
  4. backbaybrewer

    backbaybrewer Initiate (0) Feb 26, 2010 Massachusetts

    The short answer is simply, NO.

    A somewhat longer answer is, take a look at what Two Roads Brewery in CT is doing. They are a craft brewery first, that makes very nice beers, particular their DIPA Road 2 Ruin. But, in order to finance what is an imaculate 100 barrel brewery that could be a brewing museum, they also contract brew for non-local craft brewers that want to enter the CT market. They are fantastic brewers and they pay every bit the care and attention to the contract brews that they would their own beer. They have to in fact, because if they produced a product that was somehow less than the quality of the original, the original brewer would no longer use them.
  5. mulder1010

    mulder1010 Initiate (0) Aug 29, 2008 Australia

  6. marquis

    marquis Champion (803) Nov 20, 2005 England

    No. It's sometimes necessary.Matching the brew isn't easy but then it's quite likely you'll find it as good if slightly different.
    It may be the difference between being able to get the beer and not. Coniston Bluebird won the Champion Beer of Britain with their Bluebird Bitter , and as a consequence demand rocketed. But Coniston Brewery was a tiny setup in the back of a pub with a capacity of a few barrels a week.The stuff on the shelves is contract brewed and pretty good.
    IrishKevin and herrburgess like this.
  7. RichardMNixon

    RichardMNixon Devotee (474) Jun 24, 2012 Pennsylvania

    In a typical contract brew, how involved is the contracting brewer? Does the brewer just hand off the recipe or do they oversee the entire process?
  8. leedorham

    leedorham Initiate (0) Apr 27, 2006 Washington

    Looking at it from a different angle - craft brewers brewing another brand for extra cash.

    I look at the example of Full Sail brewing Henry Weinhard's and am not sure whether it's a good thing or not. It probably is a good source of income for Full Sail and perhaps allows them to make some purchases or leverage some buying power they couldn't do without the extra cabbage from the Henry's brand. However, I can't help feeling like Full Sail could be so much more if they were fully dedicated to their own brand.

    Same deal with Fish Brewing in Olympia. I wonder how much of their old glory they could recapture if they weren't busy filling the shelf with the Leavenworth brand.
  9. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (2,293) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey
    Society Trader

    It varies greatly - depending on the, um, contract (:wink:) and the added legal requirements of alternating proprietorships - a form of contract-brewing, tho' the AP participants will claim otherwise, and often use the ethnically-insensitive "Gypsy brewer" term to try to distance themselves from "contract brewers". The Alternating Prop. requirements are based more on who OWNS the ingredients, packaging and finished beer, rather than whose employees brew it. The so-called "Gypsies" [in the US, obviously] would have you believe otherwise.

    Here's Boston Beer Co. contract with Stroh from the late 1990's for an example of the best known and most successful former contract brewer.
  10. gpcollen1

    gpcollen1 Initiate (0) Jul 16, 2005 Connecticut

    Two Roads contract brews not just for the CT market. They brew beer for folks and ship it where they want them to...
    Mersh likes this.
  11. LCB_Hostage

    LCB_Hostage Initiate (159) Jan 30, 2013 Pennsylvania

    Good Lord, Jess! Is there anything you don't know about this industry. You need to drink more and forget some stuff so other people can have a chance to shine. :wink:
    davemont and deadliest like this.
  12. WassailWilly

    WassailWilly Initiate (0) Sep 8, 2007 New York

    Not from what I see from 3HB all of the stuff from them is great !!!
    Osyrus likes this.
  13. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (5,142) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Below is an extract from my post on the other thread that the OP referenced:

    “ …having a beer contract brewed at another brewery does not have to be inconsistent. I have had many Southampton beers that have been contract brewed at multiple contract breweries (Sly Fox Brewery, Olde Saratoga Brewery, City Brewing (the former Rolling Rock brewery in Latrobe, PA), etc.) and all of those Southampton beers have been quality (consistent) beers.”

    So, contract brewing does not have to be a “bad thing”. Unfortunately contract brewing is a “bad thing” for some breweries/contract breweries. My ‘solution’ for those breweries that are experiencing ‘issues’ is to switch to a better contract brewery (but I should caveat that I don’t have all of the facts here).

  14. TheBrewo

    TheBrewo Initiate (0) Nov 11, 2010 New York

    Beat me to it!! I've been a huge fan of Three Heads since that initial line, and I have never not felt the "passion" or whatever you want to call it in their beer. Custom Brewcrafters does an exceptional job.
    Osyrus likes this.
  15. Ranbot

    Ranbot Defender (653) Nov 27, 2006 Pennsylvania

    There's nothing wrong with contract brewing. A lot of craft brewers, more than most people realize, have contracted their brewing out, or brewed under contract for others if they have excess capacity. Contract brewing provides much needed flexibility for brewers to expand, adapt to changes in demand, and make ends meet.
  16. pghlee

    pghlee Initiate (130) Feb 24, 2006 Georgia

  17. TheMonkfish

    TheMonkfish Initiate (0) Jan 8, 2012 Chad

    If it wasn't for contract brewing I'd have never tried Imperial Biscotti Break. Contract and gypsy brewer arrangements don't bother me in the least - skin in the game or not.

    My favourite saison comes from gypsy brewers comes from the good hipsters at Pretty Things.
  18. Mersh

    Mersh Initiate (0) Mar 10, 2013 Connecticut

    Excellent point my friend. Two Roads is going to be a major player in the game in a few more years. Amazing space, excellent people and vast knowledge. There brewery definitely could be museum, it's beautiful. Love going there and enjoying great times with great people. Can't wait to see what is in store for the future.
  19. bnuno

    bnuno Initiate (0) Feb 8, 2011 California

    21st Amendment contracts brews their stuff as well. Taste fine to me! :grinning:
  20. Jacurdy60

    Jacurdy60 Initiate (0) Jan 23, 2013 Massachusetts

    No, it gives the little guy a larger market. More people are then introduced to craft which has its negs and positives however.
  21. Pahn

    Pahn Initiate (0) Dec 2, 2009 New York

    not sure what logic spurs on the "contract brewing is inherently bad" mindset.

    consider this: a larger brewery is hired to brew some smaller brewer's beer. the larger brewery is more talented and experienced than the smaller brewer.

    why in the world is the larger brewery's version going to be worse than the smaller one's? and why would it be impossible that the larger brewery make a quality product out of someone else's recipe (etc) when there's *even larger* breweries (eg sierra nevada) making better beer than both of them?

    where is the anti-contract logic?
    andrewinski1 likes this.
  22. maniac5999

    maniac5999 Initiate (0) Oct 12, 2009 New Jersey

    Contract brewing is a mixed bag. Have you ever drank a Brooklyn Brewery beer other than Monster or BCS that came out of a 12oz bottle? It was contract brewed by FX Matt (Sarinac) in Utica. Quite simply, contract brewing involves someplace other than the company's 'home base'. Sometimes it involves a tiny brewer running at capacity driving the entire brew staff to a mid-sized brewery to take it over for a while and make a big run of their most popular beer, other times it involves faxing over a list of instructions and the bottle design. One of those strategies should lead to something very close to the original, the other won't.
  23. dennis3951

    dennis3951 Initiate (0) Mar 6, 2008 New Jersey

    All Brooklyn 12 oz bottles are brewed are brewed in Utica.
  24. RyanLigeia

    RyanLigeia Initiate (0) Dec 27, 2011 North Carolina

    Definitely a mixed bag. Theres a lot of factors that come into play along the way that affect how the end beers gonna be once it comes back from the middle man. How well the communication is between the 2 parties involved, quality control in the brewery itself, how the beer was stored/shipped, etc. Also, if the recipe sent in to be brewed sucks...then its just gonna suck. I used to volunteer at a brewery that did a lot of contract brewing back when I lived in MA. Heres two examples (companies) that, at one point in time, came out of the same brewery. Ones great, the other ones sort of... the opposite of great.
  25. Bosoxfan20

    Bosoxfan20 Initiate (0) Feb 6, 2013 Missouri

    Prairie is putting out some really impressive Saisons, Sours, and Stouts and I believe they have primarily contract brewed to this point. I think they just purchased a facility to move more operations in-house, but it is still a work in progress.
    champ103 likes this.
  26. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (2,293) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey
    Society Trader

    Yeah, that's always been the case (and certainly all the vintages of those two Brooklyn beers I recall seeing in 12 oz'ers were labeled "Utica, NY" right up to the BCS "Winter 12-13" in my beer fridge right now) but I noticed the new TTB COLA for Blast! doesn't mention Utica either on the label (which is optional) or on the application under " PLANT REGISTRY/BASIC PERMIT/BREWER'S NO" (not optional that I know of). Brooklyn, like some contract breweries, has it's own TTB number for it's contractor brewery - BR-NY-BRK-2 in Utica - (rather than being registered under Matt's number) but Blast! is only listed under it's "home" BR-NY-BRK-1


    So, perhaps with Brooklyn's recent additions and expansion, they've added a 12 oz. bottling line in Brooklyn?

    Those examples might be the extremes in either direction, but are hardly the only two models of contract brewing.

    Brooklyn, like a number of notable craft brewers -Boston Beer Co. the most obvious- started out as a contract brewer (only). All their beer was brewed at F. X. Matt until they opened the facility in Brooklyn in 1996 - 8 years after their first beers hit the market in 1988.
  27. jcdgoad

    jcdgoad Initiate (0) Sep 11, 2008 Arkansas

    The most important thing is the quality of the Juice. Here is a list of breweries that are contract or have contracted out their beer to other facilities:

    21st ammendment
    Prairie Artisan Ales
    Evil Twin
    Stillwater Artisan Ales
    Sam Adams
    Pretty Things
    Clown Shoes

    If the beer is good I could care less whether it is contract brewed or not.
  28. joelwlcx

    joelwlcx Initiate (0) Apr 23, 2007 Minnesota

    I don't know about contract brewing, but I thought of this: What if Anheuser-Busch, instead of brewing mass-marketed, swill beer, they built small state-of-the-art satellite breweries, and leased them to start-up brewers? And also offered consulting services, maybe?

    I mean, they have the talent, and the technology, why not apply it to greater effect? I couldn't imagine what the revenue difference would amount to, but I could see that route leading much further than a monoculturalistic mob of drunken, football-watching, tv-yellin'-at, has-a-good-job-but-is-a-dumbass, window-licking, couch quarter-backs, style business model.
    keithmurray, MisterGrizz and Falcone like this.
  29. pitweasel

    pitweasel Initiate (0) Jun 11, 2007 New York


    We've got a brewery back in Rochester called Three Heads. Three (duh) great brewers who make all of their beer at someone else's facilities (Custom Brewcrafters). They've had several beers get pretty good ratings from the Bros, including a 90 and a 94.

    Speaking of Custom Brewcrafters...they're a shining example of why contract brewing works. Restaurants and bars all over the region have their own house beers thanks to this outfit. Most are what I'd call "good" - something you wouldn't write home about, but something you wouldn't complain about either. Some have been downright terrific. But none of those beers would have existed for those other establishments if CB hadn't been there to produce them.
  30. chimneyjim

    chimneyjim Initiate (63) Jun 23, 2004 Oregon

    This arrangement may have ended:
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  31. Mbennett

    Mbennett Initiate (0) Jun 16, 2011 New York

    Nothing wrong with contract brewing; its when the "brewery" puts claims out that the beer is "local" when in reality its brewed 3 states away that bugs me.
    olfolxholme likes this.
  32. JuicesFlowing

    JuicesFlowing Initiate (0) Jul 5, 2009 Kansas

    On a macro level, it's bad. Sapporo used to be good from Japan, from Canada it sucks. And who can forget the joke: "Fosters, Canadien for beer!" For me personally, I'm just too damn sentimental. I like beer because of where it's from. I don't want a beer from a certain cultural hotspot brewed in some other country. I know it's all about the ticking greed and almighty dollar. I think contract brewing sucks. Just my opinion. And I was only using macros as an example. I prefer craft, obviously.
  33. dougfur

    dougfur Initiate (0) Jan 24, 2011 New York

    I've never had a Brooklyn beer, but Saranac also contract brews for Lake Placid brewery and what they put out is mediocre at best and bears little resemblance to what you'd get at the pub in Lake Placid. Unfortunately, this is the only example of contract brewing I'm familiar with in my area and it has left a bad taste in my mouth. Lake Placid IPA at the brewery=very tasty, from a bottle......meh. They are two different beers.
  34. TongoRad

    TongoRad Poo-Bah (2,945) Jun 3, 2004 New Jersey
    Society Trader

    The bottled Ubu I had definitely had me shaking my head, because it seems to get talked about a lot from people I know who visit Lake Placid every year. I figured it was different on its home turf, but didn't suspect it would be that different. I'll have to give it another shot if I'm up that way.
    dougfur likes this.
  35. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (5,142) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    I enjoy the Lake Placid beers that are brewed at the Brewpub in Lake Placid. I am not too thrilled with the bottled Lake Placid beers (which are brewed at the F.X. Matt Brewery). I have never noticed any particular flaws with the bottled beers; they just don’t taste as good as the brewpub brewed beers.

  36. SnowFlowMfg

    SnowFlowMfg Initiate (0) Dec 13, 2011 California

    I'm surprised no one mentioned that Firestone contract brews for a few restaurants.
  37. theconductor

    theconductor Initiate (176) Nov 4, 2008 California

    21st Amendment does not contract brew. The are part owners of the Cold Springs brewery (building only) in Minnesota and brew their own beer with their own brewers.
  38. chaseabeer

    chaseabeer Initiate (0) Feb 4, 2009 Oklahoma

    I'm setting tanks in place next week at the new place. "Contract" is a funny word for me as im at the brewery a few days a week making "contract" barrel-aged beers. It isn't my brewery, so I can't deny the term.
    Bosoxfan20 likes this.
  39. JohnSnowNW

    JohnSnowNW Initiate (0) Feb 6, 2013 Minnesota

    Like anything, contract beer can be good or bad. It all depends on who you're paying to brew.
  40. bayareahustla

    bayareahustla Initiate (167) Jul 13, 2012 California

    whats the deal with Brash and Clow Shoes, both contract brew from Mercury or what, ive never even heard of Mercury brewing!
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