Beer is the oldest and most common alcoholic beverage still in production today. With brewing techniques that have not changed much, even with the introduction of newer technologies, beer is a tried-and-true staple in many cultures and countries around the world. In many parts of the world, beer is as ingrained in their history as the wars they’ve fought, if it hasn’t been the reason for the wars they fought.
Even so, in today’s modern world, there are a lot of words thrown around about beer and the brewing of beer that make such a long-standing traditional beverage almost confusing. Not only are there so many types of beer from all over the world, but there are also many different words for different types of breweries, depending on how much they produce and how they sell their product (here in the US.) So, what are the different types of breweries?
Most breweries can be broken down into several different types of breweries, though they can sometimes fit into multiple categories:
- Craft brewery
- Macro brewery
- Nano brewery
- Farm Brewery
- Contract Brewing Company
Many of these can also be considered Craft Breweries.
1) Craft Breweries
By definition, a Craft Brewery is an independent brewery that produces smaller amounts of beer as compared to larger competitors (Macro Breweries). Craft breweries tend to emphasize the quality of the beer produced and have a passion for the technique used to produce it. This movement began in the UK and the US in the 1970s and has grown into its own culture ever since.
Craft brewers believe in innovation and provide new invigorations of older styles. Their breweries tend to be smaller and independently owned. Craft brewers usually begin with traditional bases and then infuse nontraditional ingredients in their process to add distinction.
It is believed that approximately 78% of adults of legal drinking age in the U.S. live with 10 miles of a brewery, the majority of which are craft breweries. There are several types of breweries listed above and more than one of them can be classified as a craft brewery as well. The only major distinctions that have to be met to be considered a craft brewery include:
- The brewery was owned independently, or less than 25% is owned by an outside party
- The brewery produces less than 6 million gallons of beer per year.
There are also set limits on the techniques that can be used in the brewing process.
Being a Craft Brewery is much more involved than just making your beer, there are also very strict regulations that go into determining if your product can be deemed a craft beer product. Be sure to check out the Brewers Association, an American Trade Group, based in Boulder Colorado for additional information.
2) Macro Breweries
Macro breweries are the largest types of breweries. They typically have annual productions of over 6 million barrels a year. These are the companies that own or produce most of the mass-produced beers in the country: Anheuser-Busch, Heineken, Molson Coors, and Carlsberg. Between these four breweries, they produce over 50% of the market’s beer. That’s just in the US.
There are Macro Breweries around the world. These include brands like Pabst, Yuengling, Guinness, Asahi Breweries, China Resource Enterprise, etc.
A Microbrewery is defined as a limited-production brewery. These produce specialty beers and usually sell their products locally. Though the term Microbrewery was originally used to describe the size of the brewery, it has been adapted over time, and spread to the US in the 1980s, as a term used to designate a brewery that produces fewer than 15,000 U.S beer barrels, or 460,000 U.S Gallons, annually.
As a microbrewery, 75% or more of the beer produced must be served off-site. A microbrewery will often also be a craft brewery, but that is not always the case.
4) Nano Breweries
A Nano Brewery is so small that there is not a definition of what quantity that establishes what makes it a Nano Brewery. Industry standards generally accept the term to refer to any brewery that produces 3 barrels of beer or less per batch.
5) Brewpubs / Tap Rooms
A brewpub, while still technically considered a microbrewery, and possibly a craft brewery, is a different animal. While still producing much smaller quantities of beer than the major beer distributors, the major difference comes from their purpose. While a microbrewery produces to be distributed and sold off-site, brewpubs have brewed for on-site consumption.
Brewpubs are typically attached to a restaurant. Their main focus is to produce products that are to be sold at that restaurant, or a bar attached to the restaurant. While they may distribute some products off-site, it is not the main focus of their production.
Similarly, taprooms are breweries attracted to small serving areas. Though they may sell small food items, their main focus is the sheer itself, and they brew almost exclusively for sale in the taproom. They may also, in areas that it is legal to do so, sell their beer to go.
Though becoming a trend today, this business model is not a new concept. Monasteries began this practice centuries ago. In many places, Monasteries were the major produces of beer outside of the home. As a means of income, they began selling their beer in taprooms, then to the population. In the 1700s and 1800s, it was not uncommon for inns to produce their beer for sale in their establishments, much the same as today’s brewpubs.
6) Farm Breweries
Farm breweries are very interesting and a great draw for those who follow the farm-to-table movement.
Historically, nearly all farmers brewed beer for the household. They were already growing the grains to do so for other purposes, and beers were sometimes seen to have medicinal purposes, and in some areas a better alternative than the water for drinking. While some farmers surely still brew, it is not as common today. There are farms however that are dedicated to growing the grains necessary to brew beer. Then there are the farms that have taken it one step further.
Farm breweries not only brew all of the grains and produce used to brew their beers, but they also brew them themselves, too. This not only allows them the freedom of creating their own
specialized formulas but to have complete control over the ingredients that go into their beer. From hops to barley to malt, they have complete control of their inventory and quality.
Some farm breweries grow all of their own ingredients. Some grow portions of their ingredients. Some breweries who categorize themselves as farm breweries source from local farms for their ingredients. This still allows them control over their ingredients without actually growing them.
The beer from these breweries should not be confused with farmhouse beer or ales. The beer that is labeled as a farmhouse have roots in Belgian and French history. Beers made after this fashion are made with specific methods and ingredients.
7) Contract Brewing Companies
Contract brewing is an option for lower startup costs. Contract breweries hire other breweries to actually brew their products for them. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s a legitimate option.
Contract breweries have ownership of their recipes and inventory. They dictate the techniques used and have control of the finalized product. The only difference is the actual brewing equipment.
Contract brewers will do one of two things. They will either contract a brewery to brew their product for them, or they will rent another brewery’s equipment and brew it themselves. Either way is fine, it’s just a matter of how much you are going to pay for the brewing process and who is doing the actual brewing.
Contract brewing is a great way to test new markets. Like nano breweries, contract breweries allow you to produce and distribute without as much investment or start-up capital as you would need for a larger operation. This would enable you to test products in markets without committing too much capital. Or in the long run, it would allow you to produce higher volume while keeping operations small and lessening overhead. It all depends on the brewers business model and plan.
Final Thoughts – Types of Breweries
Beer has been around, in some form or another, nearly since the beginning of mankind. Evidence of it has been found in ancient civilizations and European Monasteries were brewing it for mass consumption in the dark ages. Beer has moved from a nutritional supplement to a beloved recreational drink, but the passion that is put into its production is something that will probably never change.
The modern age has allowed for more refined methods but, surprisingly, trends today are moving closer to what they were centuries ago. Where large corporations controlled beer production in the early 20th century, small operations, farm breweries, taprooms and brewpubs, as well as nano breweries are becoming fashionable. These all greatly resemble the way beer was produced before mass production became the standard. Maybe sometimes the old ways aren’t so bad after all.