JEFFREY WARE SITS AT THE BAR OF HIS elegant Philadelphia restaurant, smiling. In his hands he cradles a glass, coaxing a slight crown of bubbles where the rich, dark liquid swirls close to the rim. He sniffs, essaying "the nose." He sips, savoring the "mouthfeel." Then a brief silence. "The spiciness," he says on emerging from his reverie, "it keeps it from being cloyingly sweet." What is this cheeky vintage he so admires? It's beer-dark, malty Dunkel, one of 40 varieties to pour each year from the shiny copper-clad brew kettle of Ware's Dock Street Brewing Company. Indeed Ware's restaurant, recently written up in Gourmet magazine, doesn't even sell wine, only beer, all served fresh from the brewhouse plainly visible over his shoulder. In beer parlance, Ware's place is a brewpub.
Years ago the American landscape was dotted with small breweries, many with their own taprooms. Now, after a half century of Prohibition-era legal opprobrium, and the recent surge in microbrewing, the brewpub is reborn, opening at the rate of one per week across the country. (Texas, the latest state to relax liquor laws in favor of small-time brewers, enacted a brewpub law late last year, an in Austin alone five brewpubs are scheduled to open by the end of 1994.) The vast majority of beer drinkers are happy to drink "light American pilsner," the six-pack style that's dominated the market since droves of German immigrants, some with names like Pabst and Busch, arrived on these shores. For those who crave hear-tier malts, though, brewpubs are pretty much heaven, or at least a place to ponder it. Brewpubs usually offer at least a handful of fresh beers on tap, from mild-mannered "session beers," best for long afternoons of sipping, to special seasonal offerings like Maibock, a rowdier lager brewed with May Day and other spring rites in mind.
But brewpubs dispense more than beer-that you can buy at a supermarket, at least in most states. Their appeal also has to do with camaraderie, and they're attracting a varied clientele of both sexes: blue-collar in Portland, Ore., collegiate in Boston and Yuppie in Manhattan. After Marc Kingsman, 37, "raised on Schlitz," converted to specialty bottled beers two years ago, he used to do his best drinking "on back roads." Two weeks ago the New Hampshire telecommunications student and a friend were pursuing their favorite hobby inside, among people who understood them. Said Kingsman, between sips of chocolatey porter at the Wyndham Brewery in Brattleboro, Vt., "I can't even drink Heineken anymore."
He may never have to. Now that his native New England has become a brewpub epicenter, there are plenty of beers to choose from. The taps at McNeill's Brewery in Brattleboro, where the Grateful Dead wafts from the stereo and at least one customer goes barefoot in May, pour slightly hazy, traditional European beers. Smoke clouds the air in this converted firehouse, and a dartboard hangs on the wall. It's not the kind of place that adds fruit flavors to soften the bitterness of hops. "If you can play the violin, you really play it," says owner Reagin McNeill, 34. "If you can't, you put a wah-wah pedal on it." Less than 60 miles away in Nashua, N.H., Martha's Exchange Restaurant and Brewing Company caters to families, many with ties to the nearby Anheuser-Busch brewery. To suit local tastes, brewmaster Dean Jones filters his lightbodied ales for maximum clarity. "To hell with tradition," he says, "it doesn't sell."
Despite their success, most notably in California, the Pacific Northwest and Colorado, brewpubs pose no threat to the major beer brands. Their combined national output equals less than 1 percent of the $45 billion annual beer market. Lines of twentysomethings may snake outside Denver's Rock Bottom Brewery on a weekend night, but brewpubbers are still a narrow niche of drinkers willing to spend a couple of extra dollars on a beer. "It's not as if people sitting in front of TV drinking a six-pack are now running to the brewpub," says beer expert Michael Jackson, author of "Beer Companion." "It's the same people who like espresso, drink interesting wines." Perhaps, but there's still no mistaking a wine bar for a brewpub. just look for the Latin words "In vino veritas, in cervisio felicitas" sometimes printed on brewpub menus. Translated by a hophead, that comes out: "There's truth in wine, but beer drinkers have more fun."
Brewpub zymurgists (brewers, that is) thrive on variety. A guide:
A sweetish, nutty beer created by West Coast brewers.
Tangy, often cloudy ale made with wheat.
Londonstyle, almost black brew with roasted flavor; mild.
The strongest type of ale, aged and usually dark.
A high-alcohol, often dark lager from Germany.
Highly hopped, bitter; has a medium color.