The other night I was having a Stillwater Premium and posted a photo and comment about the beer on Facebook. A friend made a comment wondering if “wandering brewers” were missing out on part of the experience by not having a physical brewery. This got me thinking about the two types of breweries that are out there which don’t actually have a dedicated brewing facility.
The first is what I like to think of as a Beer Marketing Company. These virtual breweries own no equipment and basically have their wares contract brewed in some other facility. Often they will help devise the recipe, but more often than not they simply phone it in leaving the nuts and bolts to the brewery who holds the contract. Often these ventures are short-lived or they have to start and stop as the brewery they have contracted with is bought or sold.
The second is what I would call the Nomadic Brewery. They go around from place to place and have their beers made and assist with the process. Some use one facility like Skullcoast when they were brewed at RJ Rockers, while others use multiple facilities like Mikeller. Stillwater currently falls in this category. For the Premium from Stillwater the beer was brewed at Westbrook, but more often they tend to use De Proef (as does Mikeller). As I mentioned, the issue can come if something happens to or with the brewery. Skullcoast is now building a facility after they split with Rockers. At one time Tupper’s Hop Pocket was brewed by Old Dominion, but after OD was sold the beer is now contract brewed by St. George.
So are they missing out? Probably not. They don’t actually have to worry about the things about a brewery which would make a mere mortal pull their hair out. We all like to think of brewing as a glamorous life, but in reality it is mostly cleaning. Now throw in rent, insurance, utilities, employees, equipment, etc. and all of a sudden sitting at home during much of the process doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all. Sure no one can go on a tour of your facility, but after a while it starts to looks like a mash tun and a boil kettle with some fermenters, bright tanks and a packaging line. Now each brewery is different, but only in subtle ways however those subtle difference will affect the finished product. Let’s say Stillwater all of a sudden builds a facility, despite being the same recipe unless he copies everything from De Proef (or wherever else it is being brewed), it will not be the same. Fermenter geometry certainly makes a difference in flavor profile.
Now some of the Virtual Breweries rely on hype to sell their product and claim their price point. Mikeller falls into this category in my opinion. De Proef does an excellent job for them, but there is nothing about any of their beers that makes them worth more than similar styles at lower price points from other breweries. Stillwater is on the edge at times of having a price point which is too high which may explain seeing those beers passed over on occasion as people look for value.
At any rate, I like the business model of the Virtual Brewery. And so long as the companies can stay in business they will not end up as Folklore (couldn’t resist, I had the photo handy.)