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Breweryless Brewpubs

"Are those shiny metal cylinders expensive decor?"
Brewers/Industry August 12, 2004      
Written by aracauna


Gary Essex gives off the sense that he’s a man who has truly found his calling. He almost glows while showing off his brewing setup at the Buckhead Brewery in Stockbridge, Ga. He’s brewing a fresh batch of Panther Pale Ale today and he’s got the mash tun so full that if he added another pound of malt, the mash would overflow onto the floor. He beams when describing the brewing process and is quick to discuss what styles he’s looking forward to brewing in the future.

It’s a good thing that Essex loves his job this much. He’s brewing for two now.

Buckhead Brewery, along with Max Lager’s, has moved into the business of brewpubs without breweries. Essex, director of brewery operations for the Buckhead Brewery & Grill chain, now uses the excess capacity at the Stockbridge location to supply the Buckhead Brewery in Peachtree City. John Roberts, Max Lager’s master brewer, is doing the same, using the excess capacity of the brewery in downtown Atlanta to supply the Max Lager’s American Grill and Brewery in the Mall of Georgia in Buford.

After speaking with the owners, the reasons for a brewpub chain to set up these breweryless brewpubs become obvious.

Max Lager’s opened a breweryless brewpub in the Mall of Georgia in Buford in 2003. This second location joined the original downtown Max Lager’s that opened in the mid 1990s.

“We’re not brewing at capacity downtown,” said Cindy LeBlanc, co-owner of Max Lager’s. “It (the new restaurant) pays downtown for all of the equipment investment we have. It’s a win-win situation for both stores.”

Bruce Nicely, president of Buckhead Brewery & Grill Inc., agrees that building satellite locations without a brewery is a financial no-brainer.

“We’re trying to grow fast and having a brewer at each location didn’t make sense,” he said. “Just the physical brewery equipment is $250,000, $270,000.”

Essex agrees. “We have an excess capacity at each of the breweries, and it just makes sense to use that up.”

And the brewers don’t seem to mind supporting multiple locations. In fact, Max Lager’s Roberts saw the other store he now supplies as a chance to give his creativity more room to grow. The Mall of Georgia location has more taps than the downtown location giving Roberts the chance to brew styles of beer he doesn’t have room for Downtown and to ship them to Buford.

One such beer was the Max Pumpkin Dunkel Weizen.

“I’ve made a pumpkin dunkel weizen,” he said. “It was something I wanted to do, but never had the tank space for.” Roberts had brewed this beer as a homebrewer, but was not able to brew it commercially until he had to supply two Max Lager’s.

Roberts was also able to brew a dunkel lager, and an American brown ale that usually wasn’t part of the winter lineup.

“We’re just now getting into the roll of adding new seasonals,” he says. “It’s gotten to where we do the same seasonals each year because they’re so popular. Now, we will do some of the once-a-year beers more often and bring in new beers.”

Both Buckhead Brewery and Max Lager’s have had success with the new store format and intend to continue their growth with more breweryless restaurants. Max Lager’s is looking to open a third location (also without a brewery) in the near future and Buckhead plans to continue its strong expansion with several new locations.

Buckhead Brewery may outstrip the excess capacity of their established breweries in the near future with the planned openings. To supply these other stores, Buckhead is looking into contracting their beer, although the current plans don’t follow the typical contract brewing setup. The brewpub chain is already in talks with an Atlanta-area brewery to help supply the growing chain’s need for beer. Typically, contract brewers only supply the label and maybe the recipe, but Buckhead plans to bring it’s own brewers, recipes and ingredients to the brewery, in effect only renting the breweries facilities for its larger capacity.

The real question, however, is what do the patrons feel about this trend of brewpubs without breweries. To find out, I conducted a poll on the forums at Ratebeer.com. Most members had no problem with the idea. They saw it as a way for brewpubs to sell more of their beer and have a better chance for success. In an industry where longevity is hard to come buy, fans of good beer are often just happy to see a brewpub flourishing instead of struggling to stay open.

Phil Williams of Knoxville, Tenn., who goes by Suttree on Ratebeer.com, summed up the majority opinion. “I didn’t think much about it - it seems logical, and I know I can get local beers there instead of the BMC I would otherwise be limited to. So no, I don’t have a problem.”

There were some criticisms, however. A Ratebeer user, legion242, cited the example of a brewpub chain in Texas that has a similar setup. Beer is contract brewed at a local brewery, but the restaurants call themselves “Brewhouses” and have stainless steel equipment set up in the restaurants to give the appearance of a working brewery. “They make NO attempt to let the consumer know that no brewing is happening on premise and I think that’s misleading.”

Legion242’s complaint about this was basically the same sentiment as that others who expressed any misgiving about the practice. They did not mind the practice as long as the restaurant didn’t try to mislead the patrons that the beer was brewed on premise. Neither Buckhead nor Max Lager’s do this. The breweries that are highly visible in both Max Lager’s downtown location and Buckhead’s brewing locations are missing in the restaurants and the beer is being brewed by each of the brewpub chains at its brewing locations so there is no attempt to mislead the public. And it seems that beer geeks, at least, are fine with this practice of brewpubs opening restaurants without a brewery as long as the wool isn’t being pulled over their eyes about where the beer is brewed.


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start quote Both Buckhead Brewery and Max Lager’s have had success with the new store format and intend to continue their growth with more breweryless restaurants. end quote