A recent statement made by the Brewery Association defining craft breweries has set the blogspace and media ablaze. While the debate waged on (and before I even knew about it), I had the opportunity to visit two national chains that supposedly focus on craft beer this past week – Yard House and World of Beer. I actually earned extra credit by hitting up two Yard Houses, the Virginia Beach location and the Raleigh location (the food is amazing). I found myself pondering over a Dogfish Head Immorta whether these two chains were helping or hurting the craft beer cause.
While both beer bars had an extensive beer menu each boasting offerings upward of 250 beers, neither of their varieties were impressive. It’s the whole “quantity” versus “quality” argument. Sure, there were ample craft beers. But they were all the usual suspects – Rogue, Stone, Bell’s, New Belgium, Oskar Blues, Flying Dog, Dogfish Head, Abita, Anchor Steam, etc. While each of these are great breweries and meet one half of the Brewery Associations definition of a craft brewery being independent, they were not local, the other half of the definition.
North Carolina has some amazing breweries and both World of Beer and Yard House in Raleigh missed the mark completely. There was a mere spattering of craft breweries from the state – Highland, Aviator, Carolina Brewery. Where was Natty Green or Big Boss? The same goes for the Yard House in Virginia Beach. I sampled some tasty Virginia ales at a Don Shula’s 347 in the Roanoke Sheraton but found Virginia breweries to be non-existent at the Virginia Beach Yard House. Not even the Chalkboard series at the Yard House, which is intended partly for local breweries, had much in the line of local. It seemed like the menus at both places was dictated from a corporate office too far away to care about local. The beer menu seemed to be cast in stone with little room for movement. Neither place even offered a winter or Christmas ale outside of Sam Adam’s.
And the staff? The bartender at the Yard House in Virginia Beach had a good knowledge of beer but had nothing local to promote. The team of the Yard House in Raleigh had little to offer in suggestions and seemed somewhat defeated that their beer menu lacked much from the state. To quote the bartender, “Corporate still isn’t sure about the East Coast market.” The bartender at World of Beer was absolutely useless. He knew nothing about what was offered and was solely concerned with getting into the pants of one of the two young ladies sitting next to me (and those were lofty aspirations indeed).
Looking around, I was equally disappointed with the patrons. Most were drinking wine, cocktails, or popular imports. The young ladies next to me at World of Beer appeared to be enjoying a craft beer, so I inquired about it. “OMG!!! It tastes just like cherry cola!!! You should try one!!!!” Were any of the customers there because they enjoyed craft beer or was it just the cool place to be?
What are your thoughts on chains like Yard House and World of Beer or national brew pubs like Rock Bottom or BJs? Are they helping or hurting the craft beer cause? Me, I’d rather patron Growlers Pourhouse in Charlotte where I can sample a cask ale.