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August 17, 2010

Are microbrews 'domestic' beers?

look at all these microbrews!It's 5 p.m. -- prime happy hour time -- and you're parched.

You duck into a corner bar advertising $3 domestics and $4 imports, scan the draft list Yuengling, Bud, Bud Light, Clipper City, Dogfish Head, Oliver, Guinness, Stella Artois.

You order a Clipper City, and the bartender asks for $4.

"But it's not an import," you say. 

"It's a microbrew," the bartender responds.

That's usually where the conversation ends. But it shouldn't, because Clipper City is brewed over on Hollins Ferry Road. Why, at many Baltimore bars, are microbrews considered 'imports?' ...

It's a question that has bugged Midnight Sun commenter MR for some time. That's why he asked me to blog about it. He writes:

I can count numerous times that I've been told something like "All Domestics $3, Imports $4.50" and then gone on to order a Clipper City (I disapprove of the Heavy Seas re-branding), Dogfishead, or Flying Dog and been charged $4.50. Ignoring the fact that the three aforementioned beers are more "domestic" than any Coors, Bud or Miller, the fact that any bar would employ such a backwards system just tells me I'm not in the type of place I want to be.

What should bars do to solve this problem? The simplest answer is to make microbrews count as domestics, as long as they're brewed in America. Or, bars could advertise, "$3 domestics, $3.50 microbrews and $4 imports." That's a deal I could get behind. 


This reminds me of the time I stopped by Muir's Tavern on a Sunday and asked for a sixer of Yuengling to go. The bartender smirked and said, "We don't sell imports." Apparently, Pennsylvania is another country.

(Baltimore Sun archive photo from 1997. Points if you can identify the bar.)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:29 PM | | Comments (43)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


Bar is Max's? I agree that they aren't imports but they clearly cost the bar more than Bud and Miller. Just add Imports and Micros.

What kills me is when Yuengling isn't included as domestic. Come on!

Clearly "domestics" is merely shorthand for "crappy regular beers", which would exclude local microbrews.

Have to agree with MR - don't insult my intelligence and act like I don't know the meaning of 'domestic'. OK, they cost the bar more than BudMillerCoors, don't make them part of the (same) special. How about we toss the 'domestic' misnomer altogether and group them as Macro, Micro and Import?

Or put local beers on special. The bars must have to pay (slightly) less to have those shipped, right?

New Transported Man is correct. Is anyone really all that confused by this? Yes, to the letter of the law Clipper City is a de mestic beer. However, it costs the bar more, and also the customer more. Again, is anyone really THAT uncertain by what "domestics" mean in a bar setting?

It's always puzzled me! Obviously the domestic microbrews are more expensive per keg for the bar than the macro-domestics but they should certainly distinguish between them in their advertising! Is the bar Friends?

Why do local microbrews cost more money? The answer is simple, those beers cost the bar more money to get per keg because it costs the brewers more money to make.

What does that $1.50 more a beer get you? A better beer with more flavor and usually a large increase in alcohol. Depending on the beer you can get close to double the alcohol by volume over the generic lite beers which makes the slight increase well worth the money.

Was the bar "Friends"?

I'm just a caveman. I fell on some ice and was later thawed by some of your scientists. Your world frightens and confuses me! When I see my image on the security camera at the country club, I wonder, are they stealing my soul? I get so upset, I hop out of my Range Rover, and run across the fairway to the clubhouse, where I get Carlos to make me one of those martinis he's so famous for, to soothe my primitive caveman brain. But whatever world you're from, I do know one thing: "Domestics" means Miller/Bud/Coors and has nothing to do with where the beer is brewed.

What kills me about the Yuengling case in particular is that not only is it not an import, but it's the oldest freakin' brewery in the US. If that doesn't meet the definition of domestic, I don't know what does.

@Steve -- I wasn't referencing a specific bar. I've had this happen to me at numerous bars over the years.

Everyone understands why the prices are the way they are. The argument is the description of the categories of beer. Domestic and Import is a terrible way to price your beers unless you are pricing strictly by origin of brewery. Domestic, Microbrew, and Import doesn't really work because Domestic and Import should be mutually exclusive. So here is how it should read:

American Swill: $3
American Premium: $3.50
Imported Beer (whose recipe has been altered to a less enjoyable beer to cater to the stupid American grouptaste): $4

Sam, I wasn't suggesting that Friends was the "offending" bar ... you asked if we could idetify the bar in the photo!

Doesn't it seem like if this were truly a problem for the consumer that bars would actually do as BigPhilMD described? Yet, they haven't because it's not a widespread misconception.

So are we back to "microbrew" after the short-lived "craft beer" craze?

Anyway, at some places around town, beers like Bud Light Lime and Golden Wheat aren't even considered "domestic". How about a Midnight Sun dictionary crawl where we can harass the offenders into understanding what these words mean.

After the 30th consecutive "But it's brewed in the US, NOT imported", they might just relent and define their selection correctly.

Yup, been to Phillips Seafood before and got charged the import price for Yuengling. I always thought that was odd.

+1 on NTM's point...yes, Sam, local/non-local craft/micros ARE indeed, technically made domestically, but I think it is an unwritten convention that it typically refers to BMC as my fellow homebrewers and I call it.

Sam, it's just obsolete terminology from the days when domestic beer was all crap, there weren't any microbrews, and you had to get imported beer to get beer with any flavor. Many of your readers (and maybe yourself, for that matter) aren't old enough to remember those times.

At any rate, the domestic/import thing really needs to be retired.

seems pretty obvious that the term "domestics" is a holdover from the pre microbrewery boom of the 1990's when 99% of US-brewed beers were cheap swill. if a bar in 2010 advertises $2 "domestics" during happy hour, that's a pretty good indication that the bar doesn't know or care about good beer.

bar in the pic: Duda's

domestic and crap beers $3
important and craft beers $4

This is a longstanding problem and in my opinion just reflects the laziness of the bar in question. It's a holdover from the days when "domestic" at a bar, restaurant or retail store always meant macro swill (bud, miller, etc.), and import meant things like heineken, sam miguel, etc. Back in the day, the perception was that imports were superior to our local swill, and so worth the extra money (at least to some people).

Now-a-days the term "import" has almost no meaning from a qualitative standpoint. Beers like corona, heineken, Tsingtao, sol, etc., are nearly as lousy as the stuff made at AB, Coors and Miller, and the domestic craft beer scene is clearly producing beers that are easily as good as anthing you're likely to buy from overseas.

Microbrew/craft beer has been around long enough that you'd like to think they're firmly entrenched in the mainstream food culture... yet as this post clearly points out, apparently not.

Frankly, I think BigPhil's idea (or something like it) is a good one. Personally, I'd go with this:

domestic macro (otherwise known as swill). $3

american premium (yuengling, Ft. Henry/Clipper City amber) $3.50

Domestic craft and imports (not because imports or any better, just more expensive) $4

Regardless... I fully expect that even 20 years from now, there will still be restaurants and bars with a price point for imports and domestics, with the bar/restaurant in question charging an import price for a glass of loose cannon.

@Steve -- Oh right ... heh, sorry about that.

Is Jack Daniel's a domestic? Otherwise, pass.

I think your readers are overestimating the knowledge of local bar owners. They just do not know the meaning of the word "domestic". It not their fault. They grew up in a Bud lite world. All this other beer with its big words is confusing.

So are we back to "microbrew" after the short-lived "craft beer" craze?


Actually, as vague as the "domestic" and "import" labels are, I do believe that there is a concrete difference between the terms "microbrew" and "craft brew/beer". I think I read somewhere that a microbrew, by definition, is a beer that is only made/sold in "x" number of units per year. If the brewery sells more than that number, it is no longer a "micro" brew; therefore the term "craft beer" is applied. Now whether there's a measurable difference in quantity made/sold between "craft beer" and "macro" I don't know. I'm of the mind that the term "craft beer" represents something that is made in larger quantities than a microbrew but tastes better than (urine) (i.e. macro).

I am just very happy that 25 posts in, ADMIV has yet to berate anyone about beer and enjoying it their own personal way.

They catagorize Sam Adams as a microbrew too, I know it's not owned by the big three, but is it really NOT a domestic?

...but tastes better than (urine)


Blah, has George Carlin taught me nothing?!

Wharf Rat, now pratt street ale house. the Olivers gives it away.

Since it's been a day -- as Brien correctly guessed, the bar in the photo is Max's, circa 1997.

Woo Hoo, What do I win? hehe

Miller is British, Coors is Canadian, and Budweiser is Belgian. But their brewed in the USA you say? So are lots of "imported" beers. Microbrews like Clipper City and Dogfish Head are the only true domestics left. That said, since we all understand what is meant by "Domestic" beer, bars should probably just say "All Other" or "Imported/Micro" to make themselves clear.

if you all are so mad about this, why dont you write all of the domestic beers such as clipper city, dogfish, etc, and ask them to charge the same amount as miller lite. then the bars will include them with the domestic specials

and @ telecommutenow, your just plain stupid. If a bar owner doesn't know what domestic means they should not own a bar. They know what it means, but what are they supposed to do, put "CRAP BEERS, 2.00 TONIGHT, COME ON IN!!" , obviously not. Maybe listing it as Major Domestics might be a better way to phrase it, but everyone knows what domestic means unless your completely uneducated.

@ Ryan

Did you even bother to read the article? You missed the whole point of what the author was trying to say.

The point is, if you know what domestic means, than don't charge an "import" price for a beer made right here in Baltimore. Call it something other than an "import."

In case you haven't noticed, there is a similar problem with bars that sell beer by the "pint," only to find out that the pint shaped shaker glass they're serving your beer in holds at best 13 ounces of liquid. Last time I checked, 12/13 ounces isn't a pint, and while it's amusing and clever to call it a "federal hill" or "fells point" pint, how about if you just use a real pint glass for the pint of beer you're selling? Likewise, how about if beer bars refrain from calling a beer made in Baltimore or Pottsville an import? Is that really too much to ask?

Apparently it doesn't bother you, but some of us are just a bit tired of the ongong "bastardization" of the English language ("I thought I ordered a pint of beer, but this glass doesn't contain a pint of liquid..." "Oh, well you see, this is what we call a pint at our establishment.") Likewise... same with the domestic and import beer nomenclature. Are you telling me it's just too much trouble for a beer bar to use some other name for a premim priced beer, other than "import?" Sorry, but I'm not buying it.

just go to Muggsy's they only serve American Craft/Micro Brews on draft in awesomely full mugs no confusion there. depending on the ABV of course 10%+ beers go in a smaller mug sorry guys

Ahhh...I love internet flamers.

ryan sez::...your just plain stupid"

@ dry711

Is that what they're doing now at Muggsy's? I confess I haven't been in a while, but last time I was there they charged the same price for everything they had on tap, which the day I went included La Chouffe gold for just $3.

Granted, I've never seen La Chouffe served in a heavy, oversized 12 ounce mug, but at that price they could have served it in a plastic cup and I just would have smiled, smiled, smiled...

It's not a matter of what's an import and what's domestic, it's a matter of how much the beer costs the bar.

I've fallen victim to the Yuengling/Sam Adams not being part of domestic beer prices numerous times and my complaints always fall on deaf ears. And Dave F is absolutely right....Yuengling is the oldest brewery in America. That's about as domestic as it gets!
I totally understand that certain beers cost drinking establishments more money per keg/case and they need to charge the patron more for those beers. I think a simple solution would be to have a 3rd tier of pricing for "premium domestics" if a bar doesn't charge the same special domestic price for micros, Yuengling, and Sam Adams. Then there would be no need for this discussion.
Now if someone could explain to me what "call" liquor is, I'd be happy. It seems to be in between rail and top shelf, but I'm not 100% on that.

Call liquor is anything that is not rail. That's it.


Thanks for the clarification. So call liquor would include any "top shelf" brands as well?



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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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