There’s even more confusion these days around the terms Brewery, Brewpub, and Taproom than there ever has been before. It can get confusing, and honestly, it’s not getting any easier as those lines get blurrier and blurrier in today’s crowded and confusing beer world.

What’s the difference? Can a brewpub be a taproom too? If the beer is made down the street, is it still a brewery? We’ll figure all of this out together, and maybe end the day as better craft beer drinkers than we were before.

Does Any Of This Even Matter?

Simply put… if you don’t really care, then no – this doesn’t matter. You can skip this post, head to your favorite local watering hole, and be no worse for the wear. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that for a lot of us that really get in deep into this craft beer world – it matters, a lot. Knowing what you’re drinking, who made what your drinking, where it came from, and why it all exists is a big part of the fun. When you walk into a building that calls itself a brewery, you expect to see tanks, you expect fresh beer, you hope for fun things that you won’t find anywhere else, and for people who can talk to you about it all.

Today, far too often, you’ll walk into a building that says brewery above the door that has never produced a drop of beer under their roof… and I think that’s wrong – and confusing for the drinkers.

So… how does it all break down, then? What’s the difference?

What Is A Brewery?

Beer has been around since likely around 10,000 BC. People have been drinking for a very, very long time. They were nomadic, though… making beer not in a ‘Brewery’ but on the go. They didn’t have a ‘Brewery’ in the sense of the word that we’re using today. Over time… we settled down, we formed cities – we built buildings specifically for beer making.

But what is a brewery, especially in today’s world of craft beer?

This is the simple one – a brewery makes beer. If they are producing it somewhere… they are a brewery. Things get a little complicated when we start talking about companies that have multiple locations or utilize contract brewing (that’s where another brewery makes the beer for them…) – while these are still brewing companies – the buildings they are in are most certainly not breweries.

I don’t care if you’re making 10 gallons of beer or 150bbls of just seltzer… if you’re brewing it under that roof – you’re in a brewery. With that being said, breweries can operate taprooms. In fact, especially here in Cincinnati, if you’ve visited a brewery, you most likely also visited a taproom, though there are a few in the area that either operate their brewery in a different spot than their brewery – or operate breweries without their own taproom, etc.

The important thing to take note of is the big question… where’s this beer made? Is there something being made in the place that I am sitting? Then it’s a brewery.

What Is A Brewpub?

A brewpub is a little harder to define. It comes down to food, but it’s not exactly cut and dry. A taproom can definitely have a food aspect to its business and still not fall into the brewpub category in my book. To cross that line and become a brewpub means that a big portion of your business comes from food – as well as beer.

Often you’ll find table service (waiters and waitresses, though not always), and an overall restaurant-like feeling in a brewpub.

It’s hard to define because these places are still breweries… and are still taprooms… but the secret is that the food aspect is becoming more of an important role in things. Plates, silverware, and real menus, they’re all a part of what adds to that feeling.

Most brewpubs sell the majority of their beer onsite for folks who are dining there. While there’s no rule that says that can’t distribute via packaging… it’s usually very little if any.

What Is A Taproom?

This is where things can get really confusing. A taproom is a place that serves beer… and mostly beer. Like most of these categories, this gets more and more confusing as breweries keep evolving. It’s not strange these days to find taprooms that have food, a full bar, wine service, etc.

If you find yourself in a “bar” that is beer-focused – you are most likely in a taproom.

With all that being said – you’ll quickly notice that a brewery can have a taproom, a brewpub can have a taproom… and there are even standalone taprooms that sell beer made somewhere else – including a wide variety of other breweries in the same city or region.

I think taprooms are the glue that holds a beer scene together. They are where folks gather to talk about beer, drink beer, and further the culture that we all fall in love with.

The Ugly Side

Sometimes businesses aren’t 100% honest with their customers. There are plenty of times that it’s unintentional – they just don’t understand that they probably shouldn’t be calling themselves a “brewery” – but sometimes it’s a little more malicious.

There are plenty of companies out there that like to trick folks into thinking that they are one of the trendy new breweries that are popping up around. Even more, there are some larger companies that don’t want their customers to know where the beer they are drinking is produced. You might have a company that has sold off a portion (or all) of its business to one of the big guys – or you might have a brewery that has locations all across the country, pretending to be part of each of their small beer communities.

I don’t like this… it’s confusing, it’s dishonest… it’s wrong.

Where Does It Go From Here?

I mentioned earlier that craft beer has been changing and evolving a lot lately. With it, so have places that make the distinction between these categories a little blurrier. Today when you walk into a new space, you might have a massive, in-your-face food presence… that isn’t a big part of the business – it might not even be owned by the brewery at all.

You’ve got taprooms with tanks that have never brewed a drop of beer but are there for show. There are production breweries that feed a series of taprooms. Every way you can think to confuse the classification of what you’re sitting in currently exists. Folks are always looking for new ways to innovate and evolve, too.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re curious. When you sit down at the bar, ask them where they make the beer. If any of this matters to you, don’t be too shy to figure it out for yourself. The more you understand the brewery scene around you, the more enjoyable it all gets.

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