Written by Emily Corwin for npr.org
While beer sales have been down, nationally, since the great recession, the craft beer industry has been going strong â€“ growing 15 percent in 2011, according to the American Brewersâ€™ Association. The newest kid on the block in craft beer is the nanobrewery â€“ a very small scale commercial brewery that produces fewer than 2,000 barrels a year. To put that in context, the Brewersâ€™ Association defines a microbrewery as producing fewer than 15,000 barrels a year, and a large brewery as exceeding 6 million*.Â Hess Brewing in California keeps anÂ online listÂ of nanobreweries and estimates about 93 in operation nationally â€“ although that list is probably not comprehensive.
A customer makes an order at Throwback’s tap room.
A year and a half after the nanobrewery bill went into effect, New Hampshire has seven nanobreweries, and a few more on the way. Throwback Brewery in North Hampton is one of the larger operations. Â It is run by Annette Lee, a former environmental engineer, and Nicole Carrier, a software marketer.
Throwback is located in a small warehouse park that is easy to miss from the main road. The obscure location doesnâ€™t stop four customers from straggling in on a Wednesday evening, ordering growlers and drinking four ounce glasses â€“ they cost $1 each â€“ at two mismatched kitchen tables to the side of the bar. Â Behind the bar, hoses line a clearing between burlap bags of grain, five foot tall chrome tanks, and an array of equipment, much of which was jerry-rigged by Lee.
The popularity of nanobreweries like Throwback has a lot to do with the local food movement. Carrier and Lee source all of their ingredients within a 200 mile radius, and vow never to produce more than their local community has an appetite for. â€œOur whole goal is to make great local beer from local ingredients, and serve it around here,â€ Carrier says. Â Â During the last legislative session, Lee was instrumental in getting a bill passed that allows nanobreweries to sell beer at farmers markets. They hope to begin setting up at markets next season.
But can a good nanobrewery stay â€œnanoâ€?
Nanobreweries are also fueling consumersâ€™ appetite for experimental beers. Their â€œnano-sizedâ€ batches make it easy to try new things all the time.Â Successful nanobreweries, however, may not stay â€œnanoâ€ for long. Â Retailers who sell Throwback â€“ Barbâ€™s Beer Emporium in Concord, and The Meat House in Pembroke and Portsmouth, for example â€” Â say the small scale of nanobreweries is hard on them. â€œThe thing about nanobreweries is they run out of products,â€ says Tom Brock Jr., who buys beer for Meat House. Â Demand often exceeds the production capacity of a successful nanobreweryâ€“ but even if it doesnâ€™t, a lack of distribution infrastructure makes deliveries infrequent. When customers return for more of something they liked and find itâ€™s unavailable, they choose another brand and donâ€™t look back.
Thatâ€™s one reason the small-scale beverage industry is pushing for more legislation this session. Representative Tim Oâ€™Flaherty (D) Manchester, among others are working on bills that Â lift limitations on beer retailers, brewers, and cross-licensing, to make it easier for small-scale breweries to grow, serve and distribute their products. Â Additionally, a Bipartisan Beer Coalition is forming in the House of Representatives. Its first meeting is scheduled for January 23.
In the meantime, Throwback is already planning its expansion to a farm nearby, where it will likely graduate to a traditional brewery license, to meet growing demand.
*CORRECTION: These statistics have been revised since the post was published.