What Are Microbreweries and Nanobreweries?

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We all know that a brewery is a place where beer is made. But what exactly is a microbrewery? Though you may have an idea that a microbrewery is smaller than a normal brewery, there are some deciding features that classify a brewery as a microbrewery. Let’s take a look at them now.

What is a Microbrewery and Nanobrewery?

Thanks the word “micro”, you probably already guessed that a microbrewery is smaller than a brewery. Breweries that aren’t “micro”, like Heineken International, may produce millions of beer barrels every year. Microbreweries don’t. In fact, by law in the U.S., a microbrewery has to make less than 15,000 barrels of beer each year to be defined as such.

Why does this matter? Well, microbreweries pay less taxes than breweries, which makes sense. They don’t get the same distribution as larger breweries, and they typically have a certain specialty to differentiate themselves and keep customers interested in them, since they don’t have the advertising power of bigger breweries. Microbreweries produce speciality beers, sometimes with special or seasonal releases that feature different ingredients. These types of beers are often referred to as “craft beers”.

Nanobreweries make even less beer than microbreweries, although there has not been a number of barrels defined yet to classify breweries as nanobreweries. According to The Food Section, a nanobrewery is “a scaled-down microbrewery, often run by a solo entrepreneur, that produces beer in small batches.” The U.S. Department of Treasury classifies nanobreweries as”very small brewery operations”.

As you can see, microbreweries and nanobreweries focus on the quality of the beer and its flavor, rather than quantity. After all, their best marketing tool is word of mouth. Microbreweries and nanobreweries are allowed to concentrate on perfecting their beers’ flavors instead of competing with huge breweries for the number of beer barrels sold. That’s why you’ll find that each of our beers at Berghoff brewery has a distinct flavor that is carefully crafted and unlike any other beer on the market. Our specialty is German beers, but we also have a unique way of adding European qualities to traditionally American beers, like we did with our IPA.

Microbrewery vs. Nanobrewery vs. Brewpub

Now that we know what a microbrewery is, how does it compare to other popular brewery terms and descriptors? Though there’s no number to define how much a brewery must produce in order to be classified as a nanobrewery, they typically produce a much smaller number of barrels than microbreweries and may be run by one brewer.

While breweries focus on crafting their beer and mostly give it to others to sell, brewpubs brew their beer to be sold in their restaurant or bar. According to the Brewers Association, a brewpub is a restaurant-brewery that sells 25% or more of its beer on site, whereas a microbrewery sells 75% or more of its beer off-site. The only difference between the two is where their beer is sold. Once a brewpub sells more than 75% of its beer off site, it becomes recategorized as a microbrewery.

Microbrew History

During the late 1900s, there was a new movement in the UK that celebrated small breweries producing traditional cask ales. Unlike some of the big breweries at the time, they focused on the quality of the beer rather than quantity. The term “microbrewery” was coined in the late 1970s to describe these kind of small breweries. The Litchborough Brewery, founded by Bill Urquhart in 1974, was one of the first successful microbreweries in the world. It offered training courses and apprenticeships in beer brewing, along with making and selling beer, of course.

Though the term “microbrewery” was first coined to describe smaller breweries, it eventually came to mean more than that. “Microbrewery” also began to convey a creative attitude and approach to beer making that emphasized experimentation, customer service, flexibility and adaptability, according to The Edible City by Christina Palassio and Alana Wilcox. The term seems to hold the same connotation today, with microbrewery owners constantly pushing for innovation in flavor, operation, ingredients, marketing, and more.

The idea and the term microbrewery spread to the U.S. in the 1980s, although the craft beer movement was said to be revived in the U.S. in 1965 by Fritz Maytag, when he acquired Anchor Brewing Company.

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Carla Lauter was the founder of The Beer Babe and has been a beer blogger and expert for several decades. She's been interviewed in beer publications and podcasts about her favorite brews and the craft brewing scene. While she's ceased her involvement with The Beer Babe, her legacy remains in the various reviews and articles she has written.