A microbrewery or craft brewery 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 flavor and brewing technique.
The microbrewing movement began in the United Kingdom in the 1970s and subsequently spread to other countries. As the movement grew and some breweries expanded their production and distribution, the term "microbrewery" came to be replaced with the more encompassing concept of craft brewing. A related term, "brewpub", refers to a pub or restaurant that brews its own beer for sale on premises.
Origins and philosophy
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.
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) (475000 US gal) annually.
In recent years, technology has also influenced the microbrewery, or craft beer, culture. 'Beer Hunt' is a consumer mobile app that aids the discovery of smaller or new breweries, while an Irish team has created a smartphone-powered home brewing appliance called 'Brewbot'.
Micro or craft breweries have adopted a marketing strategy different from that of 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 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
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.
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. The largest American craft brewery is the Boston Beer Company, makers of Samuel Adams.
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 Brewers Association reports that as of March 2013 there were a total of 2,416 U.S. breweries, with 2,360 considered craft breweries (98 percent—1,124 brewpubs, 1,139 microbreweries, and 97 regional craft breweries).
Following the federal 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 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%. 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 a leading 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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. 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.
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 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 jurisdictions. 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 the US, and in 1982, Grant's Brewery Pub in Yakima, Washington was opened, reviving the US "brewery taverns" of well-known early Americans as William Penn, Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry. Growth was initially slow – the fifth US 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 United States.
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.
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.
General beer consumption reached 50 million liters in early 2013 and an increasing interest in craft beers developed accordingly. The Great Brewing Company is one example of numerous microbreweries that have been established in the Asian nation, 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.
"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 United States, where it accounted for 7.6% of beer sales and over 90% of breweries in 2011. The Brewers Association defines American craft brewers as "small, independent and traditional": small defined as an "annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less", independent defined as at least 75% owned or controlled by a craft brewer, and traditional defined as at least 50% of its volume being all malt beer. 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 uses adjuncts only to enhance flavor; and contract brewing companies, which hire other breweries to make their beer.
Craft brewing expanded greatly in the United States in 1979 during the Jimmy Carter administration when the brewing of beer became deregulated.
A nanobrewery is a 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 December 2012, it lists 93 nano breweries operating in the United States and 51 in the planning stage.
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