Beer barrels outside the Castle Rock microbrewery in Nottingham, England.

A microbrewery or craft brewer is a brewery which produces a limited amount of beer, and is associated by consumers with innovation and uniqueness.[1]

In the UK, the term has become synonymous with small scale breweries operating under the UK Progressive Beer Duty threshold of 5,000 hls. The most common products are traditional bitter ales, generally known as "Real Ale" or "Cask Ale". Breweries are often described by their production capacity or brew length, mostly ranging from 2 to 20 bbls (a brewer's barrel or bbl is 36 imperial gallons).

In the US the American Brewers Association defines a American "craft brewery" as "small, independent and traditional", and gives a production size of less than 6,000,000 US beer barrels (700,000,000 L) a year,[2] further grouping them as microbrewery: annual production less than 15,000 US beer barrels (1,800,000 L); A "brewpub" brews and sells beer on the premises. A brewpub may also be known as a microbrewery if production has a significant distribution beyond the premises - the American Brewers Association use a fixed 75% of production to determine if a company is a microbrewery.[3]; regional craft brewery: at least 50% of its volume is all malt beers.[4] A regional brewery has annual production between 15,000 US beer barrels (1,800,000 L) and 2,000,000 US beer barrels (230,000,000 L) per year. In order to be classified as a "regional craft brewery" by the brewers association, a brewery must possess "either an all-malt flagship or [have] at least 50% of its volume in either all-malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor."[3] Of the 1,759 breweries in America, only 43 are not defined as craft brewers, and 100 not defined as either a micro or brewpub.[5]


Origins and philosophy

The father of British micro brewing, Bill Urquhart at Litchborough Brewery

The term originated in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s to describe the new generation of small breweries which focused on producing traditional cask ale. The first successful example of this approach was Litchborough Brewery founded by Bill Urquhart in 1975 in the Northamptonshire village of the same name. Urquhart had been the final head brewer at the large Phipps Northampton brewery when it was closed by owners Watney Mann 1974 to make way for Carlsberg Group's new UK lager brewery on the site. Alongside commercial beer brewing, training courses and apprenticeships were offered. Many of the movement's early pioneers passed through Litchborough's courses prior to setting up their own breweries.[6]

Although originally "microbrewery" was used in relation to the size of breweries, it gradually came to reflect an alternative attitude and approach to brewing flexibility, adaptability, experimentation and customer service. The term and trend spread to the United States in the 1980s where it eventually was used as a designation of breweries that produce fewer than 15,000 US beer barrels (1,800,000 L) annually.[7]

Micro or craft breweries have adopted a different marketing strategy than large, mass-market breweries, offering products that compete on the basis of quality and diversity, instead of low price and advertising. Their influence has been much greater than their market share (which amounts to only 2% in the UK),[8] indicated by the fact that large commercial breweries have introduced new brands intended to compete in the same market as microbrewery. When this strategy failed, they invested in microbreweries; or in many cases bought them outright.

Microbreweries in the United States

Microbreweries, regional breweries, and brew pubs per capita.[9]

In the early twentieth century, Prohibition drove many breweries in the US into bankruptcy because they could not all rely on selling near beer, nor "sacramental wine" as wineries of that era did. After several decades of consolidation of breweries, most American commercial beer was produced by a few very large corporations, resulting in a very uniform, mild-tasting lager, of which Budweiser and Miller are well-known examples. Consequently, some beer drinkers craving variety turned to homebrewing and eventually a few started doing so on a slightly larger scale. For inspiration, they turned to Britain, Germany, and Belgium, where a centuries-old tradition of artisan beer and cask ale production had never died out.[10]

The popularity of these products was such that the trend quickly spread, and hundreds of small breweries sprang up, often attached to a bar (known as a "brewpub") where the product could be sold directly. As microbrews proliferated, some became more than microbrews, necessitating the definition of the broader category of craft beer - high quality beer. The largest American craft brewery is the Boston Beer Company, makers of Samuel Adams.[11] Portland, Oregon is very well known for its microbrew proliferation. In 2008, Portland had 30 microbreweries located within the city limits, more than any city in the world and greater than one-third of the state total. Many of Portland's 46 microbrew outlets have won nationwide and international acclaim.

American microbreweries typically distribute through a wholesaler in a traditional three-tier system, others act as their own distributor (wholesaler) and sell to retailers and/or directly to the consumer through a tap room, attached restaurant, or off-premise sales. Because alcohol control is left up to the states, there are many state-to-state differences in the laws.

The Association of Brewers reports that as of July 31, 2009 there were a total 1,482 craft breweries (962 Brewpubs, 456 Microbreweries, and 64 Regional Craft Breweries) in the United States.[12][13]

Microbreweries in other countries

Microbreweries are gradually appearing in other countries (such as New Zealand and Australia) where a similar market concentration exists. For example, microbreweries are flourishing in Canada, mostly on the West Coast, in Québec and Ontario, which has a large domestic market dominated by a few large companies. Many of Ontario's microbreweries have joined together to form the Ontario Craft Brewers association. Britain also has a large number of small commercial breweries making cask ale, the smallest of which are known as microbreweries and can be found in spaces as restricted as a single domestic garage. There is less of a divide between these and the giant companies, however, as breweries of all sizes exist to fill the gap. In Japan, microbrews are known as Ji Bīru (地ビール), or "local beer." In 1994, Japan's strict tax laws were relaxed allowing smaller breweries producing 60,000 litres (13,000 imp gal; 16,000 US gal) per year. Before this change, breweries could not get a license without producing at least 2,000,000 litres (440,000 imp gal; 530,000 US gal) per year. As a result, a number of smaller breweries have been established throughout the country.

In Germany, there were 901 small breweries in 2010. The Federal Statistical Office defines a small brewery as a brewery with a production of less than 5.000 hectolitres beer p.a. Small breweries pay a reduced beer tax. The total market share of the small breweries is less than 1% [14]. 638 of them have a production even less than 1.000 hl p.a. and can be considered as microbreweries in a narrow sense. The figures apply to commercial breweries only and do not include hobby brewing. About one third of the small breweries have tradition going back up to 500 years, most of them in Franconia. About two thirds were founded in the last 25 years. The vast majority of small breweries operate in combination with a brewpub.

Welsh Dragon motif of Felinfoel Village Micro-Brewery canned beer pioneers


A brewpub in Brussels

A brewpub is a pub or restaurant that brews beer on the premises. Some brewpubs, such as those in Germany, have been brewing traditionally on the premises for hundreds of years. Others, such as the Les 3 Brasseurs chain in France,[15] and the various chains in North America, are modern restaurants.


Before the development of large commercial breweries in Britain, beer would have been brewed on the premises from which it was sold. Alewives would put out a sign — a hop pole or ale-wand — to show when their beer was ready. The medieval authorities were more interested in ensuring adequate quality and strength of the beer than discouraging drinking. Gradually men became involved in brewing and organised themselves into guilds such as the Brewers Guild in London of 1342 and the Edinburgh Society of Brewers in 1598; as brewing became more organised and reliable many inns and taverns ceased brewing for themselves and bought beer from these early commercial breweries.[16]

However, there were some brewpubs which continued to brew their own beer, such as the Blue Anchor in Helston, Cornwall, England, which was established in 1400 and is regarded as the oldest brewpub in Britain.[17][18] In Britain during the 20th century, most of the traditional pubs which brewed their own beer in the brewhouse round the back of the pub, were bought out by larger breweries and ceased brewing on the premises. By the mid-1970s, only four remained: All Nations, The Old Swan, the Three Tuns and the Blue Anchor.[19]

The trend toward larger brewing companies started to change during the 1970s when the popularity of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA)'s campaign for traditional brewing methods, and the success of Michael Jackson's World Guide to Beer, encouraged brewers in the UK such as Peter Austin to form their own small breweries or brewpubs. In 1979, a chain of UK brewpubs, known as the "Firkin" pubs, started.[20], running to over one hundred at peak. However, that chain was sold and eventually its pubs ceased brewing their own beer. The resulting decline in brewpubs was something of a boon to other forms of microbrewing, as it led to an availability of trained craft brewers and brewing equipment.

British brewpubs are not required to double up as restaurants, as is the case under some legislatures. Some specialise in ale, whilst others brew continental lagers and wheatbeers. Current examples small independent brewpubs such as The Ministry of Ale, Burnley, The Masons Arms in Headington, Oxford, The Brunswick Inn, Derby, The Watermill pub, Ings, Cumbria and The Old Cannon Brewery, Bury St Edmunds.


Interest spread to America, and in 1982, Grant's Brewery Pub in Yakima, Washington was opened, reviving the American "brewery taverns" of well-known early Americans as William Penn, Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry. Growth was initially slow – the fifth American brewpub opened in 1986,[21] but the growth since then has been considerable: the Association of Brewers reports that in 2006 there were 1,389 regional craft breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs in the United States.[13]


In France, a chain of American style brewpubs operate under the name Les 3 Brasseurs.[15] There is also a chain of about 7 brewpubs called Frog and Rosbif, which blend British and French traditions. ('Frog' is the English nickname for the French, and 'Rosbif' or roast beef the French nickname for the English)[22]. The pubs are decorated in a broadly British style, and serve a selection of ales, stouts and wheat beer.


In Canada, changes in outdated liquor control laws finally allowed "Spinnakers" to open in Victoria, British Columbia in 1984. Legislative changes followed in other provinces and brewpubs quickly sprouted up across the country in the 1980s and 1990s.


Whereas in other countries, microbreweries and brewpubs have risen in reaction to the mass production and marketing of beer, in Germany, the traditional brewpub or Brauhaus remains a major source of beer.

Craft brewer

Craft brewer is a term coined by the American Brewers Association; it gives a definition of "small, independent and traditional", with small defined as an "annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less", and beer produced by a craft brewer being termed "craft beer".[23] The Brewers Association further groups craft brewers as microbrewery: annual production less than 15,000 US beer barrels (1,800,000 L); brewpub: sells 25% or more of its beer on site; regional craft brewery: at least 50% of its volume is all malt beers.[4] Of the 1,759 breweries in America, only 43 are not defined as craft brewers, and 100 not defined as either a micro or brewpub.[5]


A nanobrewery is type of very small brewery operation, often culturally defined by a less than 4 US beer barrels (470 L) brew system. They are acknowledged by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), and are fully licensed and regulated breweries. Nanobreweries are often on task to grow into microbreweries or brewpubs. There are quite a few breweries and brewpubs that could have been described at one point in their history as nanobreweries, had the term been invented. One example is Dogfish Head, from Milton, Delaware. Sam Calagione started the company as a brewpub on a 10-US-gallon (38 L) Sabco brew system in 1995. As of 2010, it produced 75,000 US beer barrels (8,800,000 L) annually.

A list of nanobreweries is kept current by Hess Brewing Co., a nanobrewery from San Diego, California. As of July 2011, it lists 107 nanobreweries in the United States alone with 61 currently operating, and 46 in planning.[24]

See also


  1. ^ Alison Boteler (2009). The Gourmet's Guide to Cooking with Beer. Quarry Books. p. 15. ISBN 9781592534869. http://books.google.com/books?id=-CFM8cPwMk4C&pg=PA15. Retrieved 21 July 2011. 
  2. ^ "CraftBeer.com | Craft Brewers are Small, Independent, Traditional". www.craftbeer.com. http://www.craftbeer.com/pages/beerology/small-independent-traditional. Retrieved 2010-07-15. 
  3. ^ a b Market Segments
  4. ^ a b "Brewers Association | Market Segments". brewersassociation.org. 2011 [last update]. http://www.brewersassociation.org/pages/business-tools/craft-brewing-statistics/market-segments. Retrieved 21 July 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "Brewers Association | Number of Breweries". brewersassociation.org. 2011 [last update]. http://www.brewersassociation.org/pages/business-tools/craft-brewing-statistics/number-of-breweries. Retrieved 21 July 2011. 
  6. ^ "Brewed In Northants" by Mike Brown with Brian Willmott. Brewery History Society (2010) ISBN 1 873966 03 2
  7. ^ Welcome to the Brewers Association
  8. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1681002.stm BBC
  9. ^ Craft Brewing Industry Statistics
  10. ^ Stack, Martin H. (July 2003). "A Concise History of America's Brewing Industry". Economic History (EH.net) Encyclopedia. http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/stack.brewing.industry.history.us. 
  11. ^ "Beer Madness: 32 beers compete for the top seat (washingtonpost.com)". The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/artsandliving/source/features/2007/beer-madness/index.html?hpid=features1. 
  12. ^ http://www.brewersassociation.org/pages/business-tools/craft-brewing-statistics/number-of-breweries
  13. ^ a b Beertown-Brewers Association
  14. ^ [1] Destatis Fachserie 14 Reihe 9.2.2.
  15. ^ a b 3 BRASSEURS
  16. ^ [ Martyn Cornell Beer: the Story of the Pint]
  17. ^ Blue Anchor
  18. ^ Blue Anchor
  19. ^ Neil Hanson (ed), Good Beer Guide 1985, CAMRA, 1984. ISBN 0-9509584-0-9.
  20. ^ Firkin Brewery
  21. ^ Triple Rock – About our Pub
  22. ^ Frog Pubs
  23. ^ Craft Brewer Defined
  24. ^ The Hess Brewing Odyssey

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • microbrewery — ☆ microbrewery [mi΄krōbro͞o′ər ē ] n. pl. microbreweries a small brewery producing beer of high quality, distinctive flavor, etc., usually for local consumption and distribution …   English World dictionary

  • microbrewery — UK [ˈmaɪkrəʊˌbruːərɪ] / US [ˈmaɪkroʊˌbruərɪ] noun [countable] Word forms microbrewery : singular microbrewery plural microbreweries business a small independent company that produces small quantities of special beers …   English dictionary

  • microbrewery — noun Date: 1982 a small brewery making specialty beer in limited quantities • microbrewer noun …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • microbrewery — /muy kroh brooh euh ree, broor ee/, n., pl. microbreweries. a brewery producing less than 15,000 barrels per year and usually concentrating on exotic or high quality beer. [1985 90] * * * …   Universalium

  • microbrewery — noun a small commercial brewery; in the United States often used to indicate a brewery that produces fewer than 15,000 barrels of beer annually …   Wiktionary

  • microbrewery — mi|cro|brew|e|ry [ˈmaıkrəuˌbru:əri US krou ] n plural microbreweries a small company that makes only a small amount of beer to sell, and often has a restaurant where the beer is served …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • microbrewery — noun (plural microbreweries) chiefly N. Amer. a brewery producing limited quantities of beer. Derivatives microbrewer noun …   English new terms dictionary

  • microbrewery — micro·brewery …   English syllables

  • microbrewery — mi•cro•brew•er•y [[t]ˈmaɪ kroʊˌbru ə ri, ˌbrʊər i[/t]] n. vin a relatively small brewery usu. concentrating on exotic or high quality beer • Etymology: 1980–85 …   From formal English to slang

  • microbrewery — /ˈmaɪkroʊbruəri/ (say muykrohbroohuhree) noun a small scale brewery which produces a limited number of barrels per year, usually with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity; boutique brewery. –microbrewer, noun –microbrewed, adjective …   Australian English dictionary

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