It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Just the other day in one of our local pubs I had a conversation with a senior guy in the Napa
Valley Vintners who was here on the East Coast visiting relatives. Somehow the topic of
contract production came up. Well, it wasn't just out of the blue since we were drinking a
contract brewed beer. He said it's quite common for small wine makers to rent equipment and
space, and even staff, from larger wineries to make their product rather than building their own
production facilities. He explained there are lots of boutique and high-end producers that do
this, since the capital costs of building your own crush pad, fermentation rooms, and storage
cellars is staggering. In fact, there is a whole industry of “custom crush” outfits, many of which
don’t even have a label of their own but make a good living letting other people work on their
equipment. Not unlike you having me come up with topics each month. Ha.
Anyway I was curious about whether there was some stigma in the wine industry about these
contract jobs. He seemed puzzled and said it is quite the reverse – some of the most sought-
after wines in the area are produced in this way. I told him that that isn’t totally true in the beer
world. The term “Contract Brewed” is sometimes uttered with a sneer, as if it is somehow
selling the product short to let someone else do your work, or to brew the beer far from your
To be honest I think that view is not mere snobbery – there are truly some poor contract-
brewed beers out there. Some people complain the gypsy brewers have no roots and are
simply marketing companies. They don't "make" anything, whereas ‘true’ craft brewers do.
These arguments place gypsy, ah I mean "nomadic" brewers outside of the real craft beer
industry. Frankly I only care about the beer. Whether you brew in house or outsource the
important question is the recipe and the quality of the ingredients that go into it, not the
My guess is it does come down to the quality and integrity of the contract or off-site facility.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time!
Hello Gina -
I know more than a few people who still hold a negative view about nomadic brewers however
the belief that they are incapable of creating quality products no longer exists in general, if only
due to the array of high ratings regularly given to the likes of Stillwater or Lawson’s Finest
Liquids or Grimm or Casita Cerveceria, which started out by making beer on the same
equipment as globally loved Hill Farmstead.
As you know I'm a fan of some of the beers produced by Shmaltz. They went 17 years as a
contract brand, producing at locations in California (Mendocino Brewing) and New York (Olde
Saratoga Brewing) before they opened their own space in Clifton Park, New York in 2013. That
facility produced not only Shmaltz and several other brands, including Alphabet City and 518
Crafts. After five years of operation they sold that space to Singlecut Beersmiths and will return
to contract brewing in 2019. ,Does that make Shmaltz any less of a brand? No, Does that mean
I won't buy it again? No.
Gina, if we were the owners of a brewery, paid rent and payroll, but we were not the brewers or
we were the brewer but didn't do graphic design or accounting or compliance, where is the line
that decides what is or isn’t a ‘real’ brewery? The fact is that we’re all paying somebody to do
the stuff we don’t do.
I acknowledge that there have been entrepreneurs in the past who would seemingly do little
more than slap a label on a Golden Ale, but there were far more "gypsy" brewers who had
backgrounds or long standing passion for beer and for making the product.
I'm sure you recall our tour of Two Roads in Ct. We both were surprised to learn that the
brewery not only produces its own brand but 14 others. In fact the brewery was built with that
very intent in mind. Basically they take small-batch beer recipes and scale them up to bigger
volumes without compromising quality.
Brands like Stillwater, Evil Twin, and Grimm Artisanal Ales have been able to brand themselves
and make contract brewing cool. The quality and success of those brands and more have
helped change the mind of many purists who were critical of contract brewers. Contract
brewing has in a way become the cool thing to do.
I know you agree with me (that's a first) that at the end of the day, it’s what’s in the glass that
Here's looking at you Gina