Near Beer

The fad fades, but brewpubs survive

It's a precarious thing, and despite management's concern for food, the beer clearly matters. "You make one mistake and everybody knows about it," admits Fabian, for once acknowledging the importance of beer to a brewpub. Rock Bottom, by the way, once lost a batch when the cooling system failed--not a problem fatal to business, but a temporary setback peculiar to the industry. Brooks tends toward conservatism at Two Rows. "We've got 220 recipes, but we run three beers all the time," he says. "I think brewpubs have a problem with going outside the dots and brewing what they want rather than what the customer wants." And the customer wants only what's familiar. To capitalize on American tastes, Rock Bottom created Dallas Light, a craft brew comparable to Miller Lite.

Despite temporary setbacks, branding problems, and a rash of closings, brewpubs cling to a niche. The craft-beer fad may be over, but demand for beer remains strong. The remaining brewpubs plan to focus on food and service, while adapting to the mundane tastes of America's beer-drinking crowd.

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