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What Is a Microbrewery? Microbrewery Definition and Meaning

By
Emma Valdiserri
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The beer industry continues to grow as people take a detour from their favorite cocktail drinks. From bars in America to pubs in Ireland, beer (and its two types: ales and lagers) is one of the drinks every bartender should know.

While there are many beers to choose from, some of the best kinds come from microbreweries. So, what is a microbrewery? Grab a beer and keep reading to find out!

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Types of Breweries

If you like to booze with quality brews, you’ve come to the right place. The three main types of breweries are macrobreweries, microbreweries, and craft breweries. You may also find yourself in a brewpub or a gastropub, both of which focus on food, too.

Before diving into the general microbrewery definition and meaning, it’s important to distinguish between the three main types of breweries. Let’s start with macrobreweries.

Macrobrewery Description

Classic brand-name breweries like Bud Light, Coors, and Busch are macrobreweries. This type of brewery specializes in mass production and produces millions of barrels of beer a year.

Most mass-produced beers are light and have a watery consistency. In other words, macrobreweries focus more on quantity than quality.

You can find these common beer brands in any liquor or grocery store and buy them in bulk (see: how much is a case of beer). They’re popular at big parties, sporting events, and for various drinking games.

These beers are often less expensive than craft beer (see: what is craft beer) and have an average ABV of 3 to 5%. While there’s nothing wrong with a macrobrewery beer, you’ll likely find more flavor and enjoyment by sipping a beer from a microbrewery.

Microbrewery Description

Unlike macrobreweries, microbreweries produce a relatively small amount of beer. Microbreweries can produce no more than 15,000 barrels of beer a year.

In addition, microbreweries must sell 75% of those barrels in off-site locations. However, many of these beer brewing companies have a bar or tasting room for visitors to try at their main location.

What makes microbreweries extra special? They’re known for brewing “specialty beers.” These beers are not as common in the bar business as your typical Bud Light. Rather, the production of specialty beers makes the microbrewery experience a little more exclusive.

The majority of them are consumed at the microbrewery itself. Many beer fanatics travel long distances to visit different microbreweries. Often, visitors can tour microbreweries, learn about their history, and become experts on how their beer is made. After the tour, visitors can sit back and enjoy a standard pour of the brewery’s specialty beer.

Are you in the mood for a delicious brew? Check out these notable breweries throughout the US:

  • Crushed By Giants Brewing Company (Chicago, IL)
  • Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery (Springfield, IL)
  • Resident Brewing (San Diego, CA)
  • Culmination Brewery (Portland, OR)
  • Fox Farm Brewery (Salem, CT)
  • Under Pressure Brewing (Golden Valley, MN)

As you can see, there are plenty of microbreweries to choose from. Once you start sipping away, you may crave some tasty snacks. A lot of breweries may offer an appetizer list with some light bites to pair with your drink.

If you’re sipping beer from home and want to make your own appetizers, check out these delicious Mexican food appetizers for inspiration. Nothing says simple like an easy homemade salsa.

What Is a Nanobrewery?

A nanobrewery is a smaller version of a microbrewery. Most nanobreweries produce up to 2,000 barrels of beer a year. They’re often the first step towards creating a full microbrewery.

Microbrewery Sales

Curious about how microbreweries sell their products? While it’s common for breweries to sell beer online, microbreweries profit in three ways:

  1. Direct sales: The microbrewery sells their product directly to consumers. They can do this either through carry-outs or at their physical location. As mentioned above, many microbreweries have tasting rooms, a bar, or a restaurant where visitors can sip away.
  2. Two-tier sales: In this scenario, the microbrewery acts as a wholesaler. They sell their products to retailers who then sell it to consumers.
  3. Three-tier sales: This system implies the microbrewery sells to a wholesaler. From there, the wholesaler sells the product to retailers who then sell it to consumers.

If you manage a bar or if you’re opening a bar, consider scoping out some microbrews that your bar staff can offer. Even if your bar specializes in popular cocktails, offering other types of alcohol (like beer) can increase your customer satisfaction.

It may even generate a high ROI. Looking to spruce up your menu (see: define menu) even more? Craft a great wine list or try offering other liquors like different types of tequila or whiskey brands.

What Is the Difference Between a Microbrewery And a Craft Brewery?

While microbreweries can only produce 15,000 barrels of beer a year, craft breweries can produce up to six million barrels. Since microbreweries can only produce a limited number of barrels a year, their beers may be harder to find.

A craft brewery doesn’t always imply a microbrewery. However, many microbreweries produce craft beer.

Nanobreweries and microbreweries can fall under the category of a craft brewery as long as they meet the following criteria:

  1. Use of traditional ingredients: Craft beer must brew using grains, malts, hops, water, and yeast. Other flavors like fruit are optional to create different types of craft beers. If a brewery adds an ingredient to cut production costs, the beer is no longer “craft.” For example, many macrobreweries may substitute hops with corn or rice.
  2. Brewery ownership: No more than 25% of a craft brewery can be controlled or owned by another alcohol industry business that is not a craft brewer.

Craft breweries and microbreweries both focus on the quality of their beers. Even the word “craft” implies brewers treat craft beer as a form of art. They do so by committing to excellent brewing techniques and the use of quality ingredients.

While most craft beers are darker, some can be light, too! The color of a craft beer depends on its brewing process. Many microbreweries and craft breweries play around with different flavors. 

For example, some may use fruit, chocolate, or even peanut butter to create a memorable sip for their consumers. These flavors enhance the taste of the beer and may alter its color.

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Frequently Asked Questions About What Is a Microbrewery?

What Is an Independent Brewery?

You can identify an independent brewery by looking for the Independent Craft Brewer Seal. To be an independent brewery, no more than 25% of the brewery can be owned or controlled by another alcohol industry business that is not a craft brewery.

What Was the First Microbrewery in the United States?

New Albion Brewing Company was the first official microbrewery in the United States. It opened in 1976 in Sonoma, California. Anchor Brewing Company (also in the sunshine state) was the first craft brewery in the United States. It opened in San Francisco in 1896.

How Much Do You Need to Start a Microbrewery?

Opening a microbrewery will cost you at least $250,000. Larger breweries can cost up to $2 million to open, depending on operating costs and beer variety. On average, it costs between $500,000 and $1.5 million to start a brewery.