Taprooms vs. brewpubs a guide to brewery restaurants


Knowing the difference between taprooms and brewpubs comes down to the specifics, like which can brew beer, serve food, or host events. Your favorite local brewery might open a second location in the form of a taproom or brewpub, but what does that really mean?

Each state has its own alcohol rules and regulations, including for these types of places. Still, some generalities apply to each location. Let’s define each place and discuss the primary differences between the three.
Breweries are where beer is made. That much is obvious. But not all breweries can serve food or their food options are scarce. That’s because breweries, depending on the state, require specific licenses to operate accordingly.
Some states require multiple licenses for a location to make and sell beer for on-premise consumption. Additionally, for a brewery to be able to sell food with a full kitchen, it often requires an additional license. At that point, a brewery evolves into a brewpub.
However, breweries are still required to have food for guests, generally involving potato chips, pretzels, and the occasional charcuterie board. Food trucks are also a brewery staple, permitting customers to enjoy a meal with their beers without the operational costs of a full kitchen and staff.
Smaller breweries–like a microbrewery–could benefit from opening a taproom location to sell more beer with lower costs toward brewing operations.
Regional breweries often have several brewery restaurants in a region. For example, Wormtown Brewery’s Worcester location is the main production facility where we brew most of our beer. Our Foxborough taproom is an additional location for us to expand our reach across New England and experiment with new beers in a 7 BBL “test kitchen.”
Taprooms are slightly different from breweries and brewpubs. The emphasis is on the brewery’s beer, but the beer is not always brewed on-site. Taprooms are either a separate location or a physical extension of a brewery–a different building.
Taprooms, like breweries, are required to make food options available to patrons. You’ll see a range of menu sizes, from full entrees to snack items like chips and dip.
The taproom is often the most relaxed space in a brewery’s location portfolio. Frequently outfitted with table games and communal, indoor, and outdoor seating, these locations are versatile spots for breweries to sell their beers directly to consumers. For some, a taproom takes on a more arbitrary definition: a place where alcoholic drinks, usually beer, are poured from taps for consumption on-premise. This definition doesn’t differ much from a regular bar. However, the modern taprooms we know today are generally more beer-focused, especially if it’s a brewery’s taproom with only its beers for sale
Brewpubs are the comprehensive craft beer drinking and dining experience. The best of both worlds, if you will. It’s a fusion between a brewery and a restaurant where at least 25% of its beer sales occur on-site, compared to a brewery location focused more on distribution.
Brewpubs still brew beer on-site, with the inclusion of a restaurant.
Along with on-premise beer sales, brewpubs offer the complete restaurant package. They typically comprise a full kitchen with plenty of seating and quite a selection of the brewery’s beers on tap. Brewpubs prioritize on-site beer sales but can still distribute directly to consumers with to-go four- or six-packs in states where it’s allowed–Massachusetts being one of them.
Brewpubs generally brew more beer annually than microbreweries. It makes logical sense–if a brewery can afford to open a restaurant inside or at a second brewing location, they probably sell more beer throughout the year than those with less market share.
Brewery size doesn’t say everything about craft brew quality. However, there’s a case to be made that the smaller the brewery, the more honed in and fine-tuned its recipes must be to please existing and potentially returning customers.
At any rate, there are big and small breweries in different stages whose qualities surpass those in similar positions.
So, breweries and brewpubs can produce beer and sell it on-premise, but taprooms don’t brew beer. It’s liable to get a little technical on that front, so here’s a table highlighting the primary differences between these brewery restaurants.
The following are the general rules for each location:
Does it…?BreweryTaproomBrewpub
Brew beerYesNoYes
Serve beer on tapYes (with proper license)YesYes
Sell packaged beer to-goYes (per state law)Yes (per state law)Yes (per state law)
Sell foodYes (not full meals)Yes (not full meals)Yes
Host eventsYesYesYes (more limited)
Each location type is required to make food available on-premise. Furthermore, breweries, brewpubs, and taprooms can each sell beer for on-site consumption if the state it’s in permits it.
While each venue type has pros and cons, brewery events like trivia, cornhole tournaments, and live music are permitted at any of the three locations.
Breweries and taprooms are more for events than a brewpub since a brewpub is a complete restaurant with limited space and more people around. Brewpubs can still do events like beer tastings or live music.
Some common events you’re likely to see at breweries and taprooms include:
  • Cornhole tournaments
  • Bring your dog to the brewery day
  • Board games
  • Karaoke
  • Trivia
Searching for the best local breweries, particularly in brewery-dense areas, can be challenging. But, if you know what you’re looking for, it becomes a whole lot easier.
Finding the right one for you depends on what you prioritize in your brewery visits—customer service, menu (and menu size), capacity, outdoor seating, and beer are all valid considerations when finding, judging, and reviewing local breweries.
Do you want a hands-on brewery with servers and bartenders actively catering to your needs, or do you prefer a taproom with self-serving taps that let you go at your own pace? Your answer could be the difference between which brewery you like and the type of brewery restaurant.
Menu size is a considerable factor in deciding whether or not to go to a brewery. Some prefer a full menu with complete lunch, brunch, and dinner options. Some are in it strictly for the beer and are comfortable eating elsewhere beforehand and munching on some chips and dip at the brewery.
How many people can the brewery fit? You wouldn’t bring a 30-person party to the microbrewery, whose seating consists of a bartop with a few lounge chairs. Perhaps instead, you would opt for the taproom or brewpub with additional seating.
On the flip side, if riding solo or with a small group of friends is more your speed, a smaller brewery could become your new go-to spot.
A beer outside on a nice summer day is perpetually enticing. Breweries with outdoor seating give guests the ultimate option: inside or outside. Finding breweries with outdoor seating is a quick phone call or Google search away, and it could be the difference-maker when picking your new favorite place to grab a beer.
The beer is undoubtedly one of the most significant factors when judging a brewery. Is there sufficient style variety? Is the beer good quality? It’s no secret that a few tasty recipes can bolster a brewery’s ratings.
At the same time, a brewery with a comparatively less enticing beer portfolio might have more to offer in the above categories than one with five-star brews, thus earning its stripes among anyone looking for more than just a beer.
We began in a small ice cream shop on Park Ave in Worcester, MA in 2010. In 2015, after 5 years crammed in that location and 13 months of construction, Wormtown Brewery opened its new location, in the heart of Worcester, on Shrewsbury Street, where we continue to grow today. Here at Wormtown Brewery, we are dedicated to putting “A Piece of Mass in Every Glass” and work with many local farms as we believe sourcing ingredients locally ensures that they are the freshest possible for the freshest beer.
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