Should your bar become a brewpub?

Adrian Tierney-Jones

Adrian Tierney-Jones

24 September 2019

Could it be time to take the leap to brewing in your venue? Adrian Tierney-Jones makes a case for a bit of beer DIY

There’s a space in your bar or pub, let’s call it a dead area, a place where customers rarely go. It could be to the side of the bar-top, or maybe it’s an extra room that you haven’t really worked out what to do with yet. However, help could be at hand — if you’re the kind of bar or pub in which beer takes centre-stage, you might want to intensify your offer by installing a brewery. 

The current UK craft beer scene is seemingly riding a wave of tap-rooms and brewpubs. A brief stroll around Hackney Wick, for instance, will reveal Howling Hops, which is around the corner from Crate Brewery, while Tap East plies its trade across the Olympic Park in Westfield Stratford. And let’s not forget Bermondsey’s beer mile, while Stirchley in Birmingham is also going the same way.

However, there is a slight difference between a taproom and a brewpub. The first is usually an outlet for a production brewery, whose beer is also sold in the on-trade (and often packaged). On the other hand, a brewpub is a pub or bar that squirrels away a small brew-kit of stainless steel in the corner (that aforementioned dead space), behind a glass panel, where drinkers can see the brewer hard at work making beers sold solely on site.

These sort of brewpubs are common sights in the lagerlands of Bavaria and Bohemia, outlets such as U Tří růží in Prague, where the gleaming copper-faced kit stands next to the bar, or The Beer Factory in Pilsen, whose vessels also nudge the bar-top. American brewpubs have long been part of the craft beer scene, while in Victorian Great Britain hundreds of pubs made their own ‘home-brewed’ beer. There was an echo of this with David Bruce’s Firkin pubs of the 1980s and 90s, but it does seem as if taprooms are now the preferred option, especially as the amount of British breweries continue to grow.

However, for the licensee who majors in beer and fancies making their own, it’s time for the brewpub to shine once more.

Successful stories

The first step before pouring your own beer, is to work out what you actually want. For Elliott Mason, bar and brewery manager at Long Arm (which is close to Liverpool Street station), bringing in a brewery was about ‘wanting to create the freshest beer in London and actually have a trademark term to go along with the set-up, Tank Fresh TM. There are other places that serve directly from Brite tanks, but we were the first in the UK to use pressure to feed the taps. Which was incredibly important when you think about the space that we had available’. 

An onsite brewery is also a living, breathing advertisement for a business, a place where the mystery of brewing can be explained to customers, as Mason explains: ‘we love doing our beer tours and tastings. It’s great getting people eager to learn in and being able to show them the whole process, the hops… then of course a thorough sampling of the beers is important!’

An onsite brewery is also a living, breathing advertisement for a business

Another example of brewpub success has been the Brewhouse & Kitchen chain, with 23 pubs since its launch in 2011. Each venue is different, but all have one thing in common — there is a brewery in full view of drinkers and eaters, with a variety of award-winning beers being produced and an added incentive of beer and brewing experiences such as regular meet the brewer events and brewery tours.

‘We first saw the concept in the United States and as we were both in the pub trade also saw the rise of craft beer in the UK, and these inspired us to create Brewhouse & Kitchen,’ explained Simon Bunn, who co-founded the business with Kris Gumbrell. ‘Bringing the brewery into the pub rather than just having a tap room shows the “craft” of craft beer and brings a more interactive experience to the customer,’ he continued.

‘Recently, our site in Chester had the highest number of guests attending a brewpub experience with 43 people so far booked onto events, whilst the Bristol, Islington and Cheltenham sites have all reached or exceeded their target of 16 bookings for the week. Across the company, we have experienced 16% growth across all of our experience days. We are also launching our first wine tasting night. It has 300 people signed up already and adds the events and education that we are doing across the business.’

Want to add a brewery to your pub?

According to various brewers I spoke with, the cost can be anything from £500 to £25,000, depending on ambition.

Work out what your customers want before going off-piste: if they want pale ales, brew them before producing a double chocolate oatcake IPA.

Factor in the costs for electrics, plumbing and general building work. And get a good brewer!

City Pub Group is another company with brewing kits in several of its 28 venues in cities as diverse as London, Bath, Exeter and Norwich. This includes the St Andrews Brew House in Norwich, a lively city centre pub.

Steve Chroscicki is the brewer here. For him, the Brew House ‘at the most basic has the USP idea that it offers something different from the other high street offerings. With City Pub Group they take it further with lots of beer-centric events including brewery tours to ‘experience days’ and more…’

Or as Mason explains: ‘It’s a case really of “you get what you put in”; if you have the resources, the expertise and the time to create a quality product that is great, and we’ve certainly found that having something freshly brewed on site is something our guests really respond to and will seek us out for. I think unfortunately if you compromise on any of the above you’re likely to put off guests.’

So if you have the space, the customer base and the interest in beer, then it makes sense to move onto the next level. After all, it’s a keen market out there and fortune favours the brave. So, ready, steady, mash.

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