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What Is a Microbrewery?

By Kat Yares
Updated May 16, 2024
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Microbreweries are small producers of beer that serve local or regional markets. To qualify as a microbrewery, the establishment must produce less than 15,000 barrels (178,841 decaliters) annually.

Small local breweries are not a new idea. Before the days of refrigeration, most towns and villages had a brewery, as beer could not be transported before it went bad. After refrigerated transport became possible, most local breweries were closed down in favor of the larger, more consistent brewers such as Miller and Anheiser Busch.

Home brewers continued to brew their own beer, mostly for reasons of taste. During the years of prohibition, all beer was home brewed, as the sale of alcoholic beverages was by law, illegal. After prohibition was abolished, many home brewers with encouragement from friends and families began selling their brews at local bars. Thus, the microbrewery was reborn.

The first to actually use the term microbrewery was a small operation that opened in 1976 in Sonoma, California. The oldest still in operation today is Boulder Brewery in Colorado, which opened in 1979. The Boulder Brewery began its operations in a converted goat shed, but has since expanded into a modern building.

Brewpubs are a natural progression of microbreweries. Selling only their own brewed beer, the first to open was in an opera house in Yakima, Washington in 1982. The most famous brewpub and microbrewery is Redhook Ale and was opened in an old trolley barn by a former Starbucks executive and a winemaker.

Most larger cities in America have several microbrewers and many have brewpubs. While microbreweries are not real competition for the major breweries, they do claim approximately 3 percent of the market share. In response to this, most major brewers have begun their own microbrewery lines, spun off from the brand name beers.

Currently there are more than 1,600 microbreweries in operation in the United States alone. The number of home brewers is unknown, but brewers of both home brew and microbreweries cite the same reasons for their existence. Taste, body and overall flavor of microbrewed beer exceeds the major brands. The majority of microbreweries produce ales and lagers, generally more robust than regular beer.

Most brewers will claim that after drinking micro brewed beer, customers never want to return to the bland, pale beer that comes in a can.

There are dozens of books and websites available to help you begin starting your own microbrewery. With a bit of experimentation, you may discover the next great beer.

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Discussion Comments

By Windchime — On Jun 13, 2011

I was given a microbrewery kit for Christmas and didn't even take it out of the box for ages. It just wasn't something I thought would be appealing or interesting to me. Luckily my sister, who gave me the gift, nagged me to give it a go.

Once I made a start though I was a convert. Now I'm quite good at it, and confident enough to serve what I make to others. If I had the cash I'd love to start a small business in this field. Right now I'm limited to looking at sites advertising microbreweries for sale, and dreaming!

By lonelygod — On Jun 12, 2011

There is a huge community of beer drinkers that love to try independent brews from microbrewery. Often people tire of the same name brand beers and want something that has a richer or more unique flavor.

A microbrewery is a great hobby and can be a fun way to supply for parties. If you want to entertain your friends you can always invite them over to join you for a chance to make their own unique beer.

I would be careful of how long you keep your yeast though. There is an expiration date on the package for a reason.

By drtroubles — On Jun 10, 2011

My friend was living abroad for a while and didn't have much love for the local brews so he took to making his own home microbrewery.

It is actually pretty inexpensive to get started, and most of the supplies you need can be found online. A lot of stores will ship worldwide so no matter where you are you can get good hops.

In the case of legality, it is a good idea to check if it is legal to make your own brew and then sell it. Making your own beer shouldn't be an issue, but actually trying to make a profit off of it is a whole other issue, due to local alcohol regulations.

By CaithnessCC — On Jun 10, 2011

I'm a committed fan of microbrewery beers, and one of the highlights of my year teaching in Japan was the chance to attend a festival dedicated to this market.

The alcohol brewing laws there were very strict for many years, so few people had the chance to appreciate beer unless it was made by the major companies. I was thrilled to see the nation embrace something different.

By dfoster85 — On Jun 10, 2011

I don't drink beers of any kind, microbrews or otherwise, but there are actually other kinds of microbreweries. In St. Louis, for instance, where I used to live, there's a root beer microbrewery! They have other small-batch sodas, too. Fitz's is the name of the place.

We used to go there to get fried ravioli (a St. Louis delicacy also available at Olive Garden) and floats. My husband would get a root beer float and I would get a dreamsicle float--orange soda and vanilla ice cream. Yum!

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