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What is a Nanobrewery?

One of the smallest brewing entities in the craft beer industry, a Nanobrewery has many advantages (and disadvantages) to how it operates.

Cold Harbor Brewing Company, a Nanobrewery in Westborough, MA
That's pretty much the size of the taproom right there.
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Most breweries start off in a "nano" capacity long before they get big and well known. It's no different for other industries ... think indie bands, minor league sports, etc.

The usual transition goes from the burners on a kitchen range to garage production to small storefront. A lot of homebrewers get started working on their Nanobrewery after they've read a handful of homebrewing books and get excited about making "the dream" a reality. When you hit the small storefront stage, you're probably in Nanobrewery territory.

In many ways, the brewing industry owes a lot to the industrious brewer who starts out on a one barrel system honing their craft. Sure, they aren't running a commercial brewery and they don't have heavy duty brewing equipment at their disposal, but they do have ingenuity and a passion for creating unique beers and that's what we're hear for.

In sadness, our favorite Nanobrewery, Squam Brewing, closed a while back. The owner helped to set some of the brewing laws in the state of New Hampshire to be able to get his farm Nanobrewery up and running.

What types of Beer does a Nanobrewery make?

A Nanobrewery, for the most part, can make anything that your favorite macrobrewer can make. The brewing process is the brewing process and kettles turn into kegs in much the same way at a small brewery as they do at a massive corporate brewhouse.

The fermenters and stainless steel kettles don't behave differently just because a macrobrewery has a better business plan. Great beer comes from small batches that end up in filled growlers in a converted garage just as much as they do from a large craft brewery like Tree House, who has beer production down to an exact science.

Nanobreweries will produce a variety of lagers and ales. They'll use a variety of esoteric adjuncts or experimental hops.

A new Nanobrewery in a local market may have to play the role of retailer by selling cans and crowlers to go to help cover start-up costs. But they also get the freedom to experiment with Triple IPAs and Fruited Kettle Sours when macrobrewers won't. The latter needs to churn out barrels of beer to keep the masses happy, and that's ok.

Should you open a Nanobrewery?

Do you have a skill in brewing? Do you have a knack for operating a business? Can you be a marketer, salesperson and customer service rep all-at-once? If you can answer yes to all of these, you may have a shot at running a successful Nanobrewery.

In order to operate a functioning brewery, you're going to need a product, and it better be good. If it's not good, it better have an exceptional gimmick. If not that, then you better have an outstanding location, excellent industry connections, or just have deep pockets and treat it like a pet project with a anything goes attitude.

Or, you know, you could leverage your fanbase from years and years of touring like Hanson Brothers Beer Company in Oklahoma.

Does it cost a lot to open a Nanobrewery?

Yes and no. It depends on what you consider a lot of money. If you're just talking a brewing system, you can get some quality used equipment for ~$10-25,000. We're half shooting from the hip, mostly because there are unseen costs such as shipping that go into it as well as potential labor to get it set up.

If you're seeing that and thinking that's a lot, here's a tip ... brewing your own beer ain't cheap. Like, if that scares you, just continue to buy sixers of a good Pale Ale and appreciate the work that brewers do.

But as far as general costs, here's a quick list.

  1. Brewery Equipment
  2. Real Estate
  3. Marketing
  4. Employees/Labor
  5. Ingredients
  6. Utilities
  7. Interior & Exterior Design
  8. Accountants, Attorneys, etc.

Attorneys are key because alcohol laws and brewing laws run different on a state by state basis. What works in Michigan might not work in Florida, and vice versa.

How much beer does a Nanobrewery produce?

While technically not a class of brewery as the Brewers Association defines them, a Nanobrewery produces the least amount of beer on an annual basis. Technically, a Nanobrewery is a Microbrewery because it produces less than 15,000 barrels per year.

On Rotation Brewery & Kitchen states that they brew less than 100 barrels per year, and up to 3 barrels any time they actually brew. We feel like their assertion that 3 barrels or less per batch dials in the classification of Nanobrewery nicely. Some brewpubs keep to that limit as well, depending on the size and scale of their operation.

The explosion of the craft brewing industry over the last decade plus has graduated a lot of nano brewers into true micro brewers that push that 15,000 BA limit.

Examples of Nanobreweries

Plus, there are Nanobreweries such as Kit NA that exclusively brew non-alcoholic beer. We think that's pretty slick.

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