Walk into any craft brewery today, and you’ll see a good dozen or more different beers on tap. Whereas the beer industry was once dominated by a monoculture producing the same-tasting “lite” lager, the craft beer revolution offered, instead, a vast array of flavorful options: roasty stouts, funky farmhouse beers and bitter IPAs, a slew of new options every single month. Walk into the recently opened Sacred Profane, however, and you’ll be met with only two choices: light or dark lager.
“I think what has happened over the last 10 years [in the brewery industry] is not within my purview,” says Michael Fava, the former head brewer at Oxbow Brewing Co. and now the director of operations at Sacred Profane, referring to the boom in seemingly indistinguishable hazy IPAs and pastry stouts pursued by a hypebeast-like culture. He relishes growing up in Philadelphia, what he calls the “most mature beer scene in the U.S.,” where, for generations, craft breweries have coexisted alongside beer bars, respecting Old World styles and not simply cashing out for the latest trend. “I think it was around 2017 I got it into my head—my idealistic mindset—I wish there was a brewery that only made one beer.”
Fava’s brewery and “tankpub,” as he’s termed it, opened September 1 in Biddeford, Maine, a town of 20,000 within the Portland metro area. Upon entering the taproom, one’s eye is immediately drawn to the four 500-liter copper tanks seemingly hovering over the bar. These pump the two lagers directly to the beer tower on the stainless steel bar top, which sprouts two de rigueur side-pour faucets. “The tanks are such a visual spectacle,” says Fava. “You come in the door, see the tanks suspended from the ceiling, and get very thirsty.”
The “tankpub” label and inspiration come directly from the tankovna pubs of the Czech Republic. At places like Prague’s U Zlatého Tygra or Lokál, tanks of fresh beer are a pub’s centerpiece, displayed under the glass bar or front and center in the barroom. At Lékárna (“Pharmacy”) in Plzeň, the key inspiration for Sacred Profane, two similar tanks reside above the bar—though they serve strictly Pilsner Urquell.
Sacred Profane is the first tankpub in all of North America, conceived and custom-designed to best make these two beers; the system cost $80,000 and took workers from the Czech-based LUKR several days to install. “We’re trying to create a space that does it justice, pays it homage,” says Fava. “This is not some Disneyland version of Czech tankovna.”
Fava’s partner in this endeavor, and in life, is head brewer Brienne Allan, formerly with Notch Brewing, though she’s perhaps best known in the beer world for last year’s Instagram takedown of sexist men in the industry. Fava and Allan spent several weeks in the Czech Republic earlier this year learning how to pour this unique beer, becoming tapster-certified under the tutelage of Pilsner Urqell’s experts. As far as they know, they’re the only English speakers ever to do the program—they even had to hire a translator for the class.
“The way it’s being poured changes the drinking experience, changes the mouthfeel, even the perceived bitterness,” says Fava. He claims it takes him two four-hour sessions to train a new bartender on the system. Indeed, Sacred Profane lives by the common Czech refrain that “the brewer brews the beer, but the tapster makes the beer.” Though Pilsner Urquell’s tapster program touts at least three different pour styles, Sacred Profane currently only serves the standard hladinka (“smooth”) style, which the brewery calls “classic.” Beers arrive with a wet foam, and just enough carbonation. The 4.2 percent ABV pale lager is bready with a slightly bitter, crisp finish; the 4 percent ABV dark lager is roasty and a bit spicy.
Having spent nearly two decades making a variety of beers and styles, Fava appreciates the meditative aspect of spending all his time getting incrementally better at brewing the same two beers. “These are straightforward beers in a straightforward place,” he says.
Both beers are exceedingly well reviewed, both currently scoring over 4 out of 5 on Untappd—a high rating for an app dominated by hazy- and pastry-loving users. Of course, there are haters and doubters, too. Can you really not brew a juicy IPA these days and still stay in business?
“I can’t see how you’d survive that way,” wrote one user on a Beer Advocate forum. “Half the crowd up there … could give two shits about style or the process behind it.” Another commenter stated, “I truly believe they could have a fucking slamming portfolio. Even including a hazy [IPA] here and there.”
Of course, the minimalist brewpub is not uncommon in the Czech Republic, where many spots offer literally one beer. Prague’s oldest brewery, U Fleků, founded in 1499, strictly serves tmavé pivo, a sessionable dark lager, and the venue is perpetually packed with locals and tourists alike drinking one after the other, each purchase designated by a slash mark on an index card. In the States, however, bars need options for any customer that might stroll in: light in color, dark in hue, fruity, bitter, low ABV, high ABV.
But Fava is not worried. He notes that 80 percent of beer consumed in the world is still lager, so he is optimistic about the future of Sacred Profane. “Since we only have two beers, we’re taking the guesswork away from customers,” he says.
Yet, the modern craft beer consumer is a person of choice, one that needs countless choices every time they go out. For those drinkers, Sacred Profane has a third beer option: řezané, the brewery’s light and dark lagers layered atop each other.