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A microbrewery is a brewery that produces a limited amount of beer. Exact definitions vary, but the terms are typically applied to breweries that are much smaller than large-scale corporate breweries and are independently owned. Such breweries are generally characterized by their emphasis on the integrity and quality of ingredients, flavor and brewing technique.
The microbrewing movement began in the United Kingdom (UK) in the 1970s—although a tradition of artisan brewing existed in the UK, Germany and Belgium for numerous centuries—and subsequently spread to other countries. As the movement grew and some breweries expanded their production and distribution, the more encompassing concept of craft brewing emerged. A related term, "brewpub", refers to a pub or restaurant that brews its own beer for sale on the premises.
Origins and philosophy
The term originated in the UK in the late 1970s to describe the new generation of small breweries that focused on producing traditional cask ale. The first successful example of this approach was the 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 in 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. However, award-winning homebrewer K. Florian Klemp wrote in 2008 that the craft beer movement was revived in 1965—subsequent to an earlier American era—when Fritz Maytag acquired the Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco, United States (U.S.), thereby saving it from closure.
Although the term "microbrewery" was originally 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 U.S. 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) (475000 US gal) annually. In a June 2014 interview, the owner of an Oregon, U.S.-based microbrewery explained: "You've got to do more than just make great beer. It's really about innovation, creativity—stepping outside the box of traditional beer marketing", while an employee explained that "heart and soul" is the essence of the operation.
Furthermore, microbreweries have adopted a marketing strategy that differs from those of the 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, indicated by the introduction by large commercial breweries of new brands for the craft beer market. However, when this strategy failed, the corporate breweries invested in microbreweries; or, in many cases, acquired them outright.
The turnaround of the Anchor Brewing Company in 1965, after it was acquired by Maytag, is considered a turning point for American beer, due to the revival of craft beer in the U.S., where microbrewing boomed after then-president Jimmy Carter de-regulated the beer market in 1979. During the same period, others turned to homebrewing and eventually a few of these brewers started to produce on a slightly larger scale. For inspiration, they turned to the centuries-old tradition of artisan beer and cask ale production that was continuing in the UK, Germany and Belgium.
The New Albion Brewing Company was founded in 1976 and served as a blueprint for American brewers to build small-scale commercial breweries. The popularity of these products was such that the trend quickly spread and a large number of small breweries were founded, 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 creation of the broader category of craft beer.
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. Following the federal U.S. government shutdown on October 1, 2013, craft beer producers were forced into an activity lull due to the closure of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), an arm of the Treasury Department. The TTB is responsible for granting approval for new breweries, recipes, and labels.
Microbreweries gradually appeared in other countries, such as New Zealand and Australia. In Canada, microbreweries flourished mostly on the West Coast, in Québec and Ontario, where a large domestic market was dominated by a few large companies. Many of Ontario's microbreweries subsequently formed the Ontario Craft Brewers association. The UK also has a large number of small commercial breweries making cask ale, the smallest of which are known as microbreweries, and they can be found in small spaces such as domestic garages. In the UK, a lesser divide exists between the microbreweries and the large companies, as breweries of all sizes exist to fill the gap.
In Japan, microbrews in the early 1990s, used to be known as Ji Bīru (地ビール), or "local beer." An early boom in small regional microbreweries followed Japan's 1994 revision of tax laws allowing the establishment of 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. In the late 2000s more well-regarded microbreweries in Japan have chosen to emphasize the term Craft Beer (クラフトビア) to mark a break with the short-lived Ji Bīru boom, and emphasize the traditional brewing skills and reverence for ingredients that characterize their products.
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%. 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.
In Spain in 2011, the newspaper El País reported a "revolution is occurring in craft beer" (cervezas artesanales) and more recently that by 2013 the trend had extended to the regions of Cataluña, Valencia, País Vasco and Madrid.
In Sweden, microbreweries have existed since around 1995. Today, the market is flourishing with many of the nation's regions and cities having their own breweries, such as Gotlands Bryggeri, Jämtlands Bryggeri and Helsingborgs Bryggeri. Stefan Persson, the CEO of Swedish clothing chain H&M, has his own microbrewery on his estate in England.
Craft beer and microbreweries were cited as the reason for a 15 million litre drop in alcohol sales in New Zealand over 2012, with Kiwis opting for higher-priced premium beers over cheaper brands.
Microbreweries have also increased in number in Asia. China, the world's largest beer consumer as of July 2013, is home to a growing craft beer market, with brands such as Slowboat brewery, Shanghai brewery, and Boxing Cat. Cambodia's first microbrewery, Kingdom Breweries, opened in 2009 and brews dark, pilsener, and lager beers. In Sri Lanka, over strict laws made it almost impossible for any craft beer to be brewed. On the remote East Coast, however, "Arugam Bay Surfer's Beer" managed to maintain a small, but popular brew pub. Established back in 1977 the Siam View Hotel escaped regulations due to the long civil war and it's remoteness. For two years running, the Daily Telegraph "Best of British" awarded the SVH the "Best Pub in Sri Lanka" medal.
Brewpub is an abbreviated term for a “brewery” and “public-house”. A brewpub can be a pub or restaurant that brews beer on the premises. Some, such as those in Germany, have been brewing traditionally for hundreds of years. Others are modern restaurants. As of July 2013, the number of brewpubs in Shanghai, China has doubled since 2010.
Beer arrived in Australia at the beginning of British colonisation. In 2004, Australia was ranked fourth internationally in per capita beer consumption, at around 110 litres per year, though considerably lower in terms of total per capita alcohol consumption. The most popular beer style in modern day Australia is lager.The oldest brewery still in operation is the Cascade Brewery, established in Tasmania in 1824. The largest Australian-owned brewery is the family-owned Coopers, as the other two major breweries, Foster's and Lion Nathan are owned by the British-South African SABMiller and the Japanese Kirin Brewing Company respectively. Foster's Lager is made mostly for export or under licence in other countries, particularly the UK.
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In Canada, around the late 1980s/early 1990s, changes in outdated liquor control laws allowed Paul Hadfield, a former architect, to open the Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub and Guesthouse in Victoria, British Columbia. Hadfield then expanded into "brew-inspired" jellies, chocolates, baked goods and vinegars.
The Firkin Group of British brewpubs then opened in Toronto, Ontario in 1987, by two South African entrepreneurs, Stanley Adelson and Ian Fisher—in 2014, 32 location exists throughout the province of Ontario. According to its corporate documentation, the Firkin brewpubs are "modeled after the traditional neighbourhood British pub" and sell craft beers such as Butler's Pale Ale and Creemore Springs Premium Lager.
General beer consumption reached 50 million liters in early 2013 and an increasing interest in craft beers developed accordingly. The Great Leap Brewing Company is one example of numerous microbreweries that have been recently established, with a localization strategy leading to the use of traditional Chinese ingredients and spices in the Beijing brand's beer production process. China's largest brewpub is located in Suzhou and is managed by the Taiwanese brewing company Le Ble D'or, while craft beer consumers are both ex-pats and native Chinese.
In France, a chain of American-style brewpubs operate under the name Les 3 Brasseurs. 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). The pubs are decorated in a broadly British style, and serve a selection of ales, stouts and wheat beer.
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. This is mainly true for the South of Germany, especially the state of Bavaria. Upper Franconia, a district in the Region Franconia in the north of Bavaria, has the highest density of breweries in the world. Upper Franconia has about one Million inhabitants and ca. 200 breweries. Many of them are microbreweries or brewpubs.
Following the introduction of American microbrews in 2012, the popularity of craft beer bars in Thailand—primarily Bangkok—increased fairly rapidly and in January 2014, the fourth global location of Danish microbrewery Mikkeller was launched in Bangkok. The brand partnered with an already established beer distribution company and seeks to capitalise on the higher earning capacity of Thai people in the second decade of the 21st century, as well as tourists. At the opening, one of the owners explained: "... and we thought it was about time to elevate the level of craft beer available in Thailand and, hopefully, expand throughout Southeast Asia." A total of 30 beers are served at the venue, including two microbrews exclusive to Thailand.
Before the development of large commercial breweries in the UK, 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.
However, there were some brewpubs which continued to brew their own beer, such as the Blue Anchor in Helston, Cornwall, which was established in 1400 and is regarded as the oldest brewpub in the UK. In the UK 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.
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, running to over one hundred at the chain's peak; however, the chain was sold and eventually its pubs ceased brewing their own beer.
Some British brewpubs specialise in ale, while others brew continental lagers and wheatbeers. The Ministry of Ales, Burnley; The Masons Arms in Headington, Oxford; The Brunswick Inn, Derby (in 2010, half of the beers sold by the establishment were brewed on-site); The Watermill pub, Ings Cumbria; and the Old Cannon Brewery, Bury St Edmunds are some examples of small independent brewpubs in the UK.
The city of Bristol was identified by the Guardian publication in May 2014 as an area where the microbrewery industry had flourished. Ten brewpubs, such as The Tobacco Factory, Copper Jacks Crafthouse and The Urban Standard, were identified as thriving Bristol craft beer establishments.
Interest spread to the U.S., and in 1982, Grant's Brewery Pub in Yakima, Washington was opened, reviving the U.S. "brewery taverns" of well-known early Americans as William Penn, Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry. Growth was initially slow—the fifth U.S. brewpub opened in 1986, but the growth since then has been considerable: the Brewers Association reports that in 2012 there were 2,075 regional craft breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs in the U.S.
"Craft brewing" is a more encompassing term for developments in the industry succeeding the microbrewing movement of the later 20th century. The definition is not entirely consistent, but it typically applies to relatively small, independently-owned commercial breweries that employ traditional brewing methods and emphasize flavor and quality. The term is usually reserved for breweries established since the 1970s, but may be used for older breweries with a similar focus.
Craft brewing is most established in the U.S., where changes to U.S. law laid the foundations for the expansion of craft brewing. The 1978 Carter homebrewing law allowed for small amounts of beer and wine, and, in 1979, Carter signed a bill to deregulate the brewing industry, making it easier to start new breweries.; although, states could still enact local restrictions. As a result of deregulation, homebrewing became a popular hobby in the 1980s and 1990s, and, in the mid-1990s, homebrewers launched business ventures based on home-based hobby brewing.
In 1979 89 breweries existed in the U.S.—the Brewers Association reports that in March 2013 a total of 2,416 U.S. breweries were in operation, with 2,360 considered craft breweries (98 percent—1,124 brewpubs, 1,139 microbreweries, and 97 regional craft breweries). Additionally, craft brewers sold more than 15.6 million barrels of beer, which represented approximately 7.8% of the U.S. market by volume. In 2007 the largest American craft brewery was the Boston Beer Company, makers of Samuel Adams.
The Brewers Association defines American craft brewers as "small, independent and traditional": "small" is defined as an "annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less"; "independent" is defined as at least 75% owned or controlled by a craft brewer; and "traditional" is defined as brewing in which at least 50% of the beer's volume consists of "traditional or innovative" ingredients. This definition includes older microbreweries, which traditionally produce small quantities of beer, as well as other breweries of various sizes and specialties.
The Brewers Association defines four markets within American craft brewing: microbreweries, with an annual production less than 15,000 US beer barrels (1,800,000 L); brewpubs, which sell 25% or more of their beer on site; regional craft breweries, which make between 15,000 US beer barrels (1,800,000 L) and 6,000,000 US beer barrels (700,000,000 L), of which at least 50% is all malt or contains adjuncts that are used only to enhance flavor; and contract brewing companies, which hire other breweries to make their beer.
In March 2014, the Brewer's Association (B.A.) updated the definition of craft beer to remove any references to the use of adjuncts in the brewing process. The change allows long-established breweries, such as Yeungling, to be defined as craft beer. The B.A. statement read:
The idea that brewers who had been in business for generations didn’t qualify as “traditional” simply did not cohere for many members. Brewers have long brewed with what has been available to them. (Since the Brewers Association doesn’t define craft beer — that idea remains up to the beer drinker — the definition doesn’t differentiate on what type of beer craft brewers brew, as long as the majority of what they make is beer.) The revised definition also provides room for the innovative capabilities of craft brewers to develop new beer styles and be creative within existing beer styles. The revised definition removes the subjective assessment by Brewers Association staff of whether adjuncts “enhance” or “lighten” flavor in a particular beer.
The B.A. decision also included an updated mission statement and market share goals for the industry. Association members committed to strive for a goal of 20 percent market share by the year 2020 and Gary Fish, owner of Deschutes Brewery and 2014 chair of the BA Board, explained:
The 20-by-‘20 objective is an aspirational goal for our craft community, with an inspiring symmetry. I’m convinced this goal is within our reach if we, as an industry, continue to focus on our strengths and passions—making and delivering high-quality, innovative, full-flavored beer to craft beer enthusiasts ... Additionally, by noting a commitment to quality and clarifying the place of homebrewers and brewing enthusiasts, we further acknowledge the critical role each plays in the health and growth of the craft brewing industry.
According to Russ Phillips, author of Canned!: Artwork of the Modern American Beer Can (2014), the use of cans by craft brewers in the U.S. has doubled since 2012, with over 500 companies using cans to package their beverages. Previously associated with the major brewing corporations, cans are now favored by craft brewers for numerous reasons: canned beer cools more quickly; beer-degrading light does not affect caned beer; greater portability and less room is required for storage or transportation; and cans consist of a greater surface area for wraparound design and decoration.
A representative of the Rhinegeist craft brewery, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S. explained in June 2014 that the perception that bottles lead to a taste that is superior to canned beer is outdated, as most aluminum cans are lined with a polymer coating that protects the beer from the problematic metal; however, the metallic taste that is caused by the lips drinking from a can remains a flavor-based issue and most craft brewers still recommend pouring beer into a glass prior to consumption. In June 2014, the B.A. estimates 3% of craft beer is sold in cans, 60% are sold in bottles, and kegs represent the remainder of the market.
The website The Food Section defines a "nanobrewery" as follows: "A scaled-down microbrewery, often run by a solo entrepreneur, that produces beer in small batches. The U.S. Department of the Treasury defines nanobreweries as "very small brewery operations" that produce beer for sale.
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