Theater brewpubs are tapping into a sense of brew and view adventure and reviving interest in going to the movies.
As the Alamo Drafthouse prepared to tap a new summer brew, John Gross began to worry whether it would sell.
Sure, pizza-flavored beer sounded like a good idea on paper. And in spirit there was no better beverage to pair with the opening of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows than It’s Pizza Time! — an IPA infused with basil, oregano, thyme, fennel, jalapeños and pineapple.
Kevin Eastman, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic, had even helped craft the beer, which was brewed by Stone Brewing in California.
But Gross, director of national beer promotions for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, wondered whether customers seeing Out of the Shadows or other movies would actually drink what he had to pour.
Sometimes Alamo partners with breweries to create special releases specifically for movies. “Everybody Wants Some Beer” was a “super-crushable lager” made especially for the film Everybody Wants Some.
“That was such a weird one. I was genuinely kind of worried it would backfire,” Gross said. “When it came time to order and pay for it, people might think it was weird and go with something safer.”
He shouldn’t have worried. Alamo patrons loved it, and the kegs were empty within weeks.
“Our guests were pretty adventurous, which I was proud of,” Gross said.
John Gross is director of national beer promotions for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. It’s his job to find the proper brew and view pairings.
That sense of brew and view adventure is what Alamo and other theater brewpubs across the country are trying to tap into. Their hope is that packaging quality food and drinks with movies will get people excited about going to the movies again.
Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Video On Demand and other streaming services are making it easier to watch new releases and classic films from anywhere. That’s a tempting option given that tickets, parking, popcorn and soda can total north of $50.
But watching movies at home means missing out on the community that comes with the theater.
“I love Netflix, and I watched Amazon Prime last night,” Gross said. “But I do really think that there will always be a desire for movie fans to get together with other movie fans and experience a communal atmosphere.”
So how do we get back to bonding over celluloid? Good food and good beer.
Charging nine dollars for a Bud Light and pairing it with Snowcaps isn’t going to cause box office receipts to start spiking. A cynical theater experience is what’s keeping more people at home.
But a brewpub theater with a full dinner menu and 20 local rotating taps shows a welcoming kind of enthusiasm. Bonus points if the hallway includes shrines to old-school Ridley Scott and Guillermo del Toro films.
“We look at it more as a quality of experience,” said Greg Johnson, director of sales and marketing for Flix Brewhouse.
“Beer is a communal activity. That lends itself to movies. They go together,” Johnson said.
Perfecting Brew and View Pairings
Alamo Founder and CEO Tim League. Photo via Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.
Alamo’s founders saw the potential for brew and view pairings almost 20 years ago.
Alamo started in 1997 as a one-screen theater in Austin, Texas. The chain now has roughly two dozen theaters and counting across the country.
The Drafthouse doesn’t create special brews for every new release, but part of Gross’s job is to work with breweries and film studios to see if and when brew and view pairings are possible.
Some films, such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, are fun challenges to take on. Other releases, such as Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some practically require their own beer. The guys of Everybody Wants Some spend most of the film chasing girls, playing baseball, drinking beer or discussing all of the above. Gross knew the perfect brew and view pairing would be a super-crushable lager. The resulting limited edition was Everybody Wants Some Beer, made by Austin Beerworks.
“It was the sort of beer these guys would want to drink at their ’80s baseball parties,” Gross said.
Not all of the limited edition beer Alamo and its brewery partners craft is available at every location, partly because shipping it across state lines is tricky. And the home base in Austin doesn’t designate what the out-of-state theaters have on tap. What’s important is that the beer is local and varied, Gross said.
Making the Beer Their Own
While Alamo has had nearly two decades to master their craft, other brewpub theaters have emerged more recently and are finding their own niche.
Flix Brewhouse opened its first brew and view theater in 2011 in Round Rock, Texas. The chain now has locations in Iowa and Indiana, with more on the way.
Part of what separates Flix from other brew and view theaters is that each location has a local brewer making some of the beer served. If you travel from one theater to another, you’ll see some of Flix’s standard favorites, but you’ll also have specialty beers made for different occasions, Johnson said.
“We’re able to create special beers for movie releases, special events,” Johnson said.
Keeping Them Coming
Mandy Pantinkin spoke to two sold-out crowds at special screenings of The Princess Bride. Photo via Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.
Right now the novelty of brew and view theaters is on the rise. You may not have an Alamo or Flix nearby, but locally owned theaters are making major changes to add food and drink options.
That includes Eastgate Brew & View, which opened just over a year ago in Cincinnati after its owners realized audiences expect more when they go to the movies.
“It’s no longer just going out and seeing a movie. Time is precious, and people want to have it all at one time,” said Diane Janicki, director of operations for Theater Management Corporation in Cincinnati.
Gross, Johnson and Janicki know they can’t take the appeal of what they offer for granted. They constantly have to critique their menus, draft options, mainstream lineups and midnight offerings to see what can be improved.
The point isn’t to try to please everyone — otherwise, midnight shows of The Room and Evil Dead 2 would cease to exist. What’s important is maintaining enthusiasm for the brew and view experience.