Micro, Nano & Craft Breweries: What’s the difference?

Once upon a time if you wanted to get out of the house to enjoy a beer, you would go to a bar that sold common brand-name brews. In the United States at least, getting a local beer on tap meant doing some travelling, if it was available on tap at all. But with the rise of microbrews, that has all changed. As of late 2017, there were 6,266 craft breweries comprising 2,252 brewpubs, 3,812 microbreweries and 202 regional craft breweries in the U.S., accounting for 98 percent of all breweries in the U.S. 

You may have heard of brewpubs, microbreweries and craft breweries — have you ever wondered what the terms all mean? The range of names are partly the result of state laws regarding where and how a manufacturer can sell their beer. This has disrupted and stretched the limits of the traditional three-tier beer selling process of brewery-wholesaler-retailer. Here’s a quick primer on the differences. 

  • Brewery: regular brewery, or macrobrewery, is a brewery that manufacture more than 15,000 barrels per year. 
  • Microbrewery: The term microbrewery typically conjures up images of a local business, one that is not owned by a conglomerate, that manufactures its beer. Technically speaking a microbrewery is a facility that manufactures less than 15,000 barrels of beer in a year and sells at least 75 percent of it offsite. The typical microbrewery will have a portfolio that includes a range of beers, concentrating on quality and variety more so than shipping millions of units. 
  • Nanobrewery: As the name suggests, a nanobrewery is an even smaller microbrewery. The regulations can vary depending on location but as an example, New Hampshire law defines them as breweries that produce less than 2,000 barrels annually. Nanobreweries are typically the first step to becoming a microbrewery. 
  • Craftbrewery: A craft brewery makes under 2 million gallons of beer a year, but the more significant difference between other brewery types lies in production: a craft brewery beer has to have at least half tradition malt, versus oats, barley, or wheat. 

How to start a microbrewery 

If you have been thinking of starting your own microbrewery, you will need a few things to get started. Like any business, all roads start with money. Create a business plan that will include your budget and goals. Financing your business is done like any small business, whether through a loan, investments, or your own savings. Look for this to cost anywhere from $500,000 to $1M, depending on where you are located. In addition to the general business startup costs it’ll take to get up and running, the beer industry is heavily taxed and regulated — although there are some breaks for smaller breweries. 

Once you have a funding plan, you will need to obtain a federal brewing permit from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. This process can take up to a year. 

Next up you will need to find a location and begin to invest in equipment. Some items you will need include kettles, kegs, boilers, fermentation tanks, storage tanks, refrigerators, cleaning equipment, filter tanks and pumps, and canning and bottling equipment.

How long does it take?  

The answer to how long it will take to go from concept to serving customers will vary on many factors. However, once your equipment is in place it will mostly depend on the ingredients. Some brews can be ready in as little as two weeks while other seasoned barrels can take a few years. A microbrewery can have several brews being manufactured at once with all of them ready at different times. 


What is a microbrewery?

A microbrewery is a brewery that makes less than 15,000 barrels of beer in a year, selling at least 75 percent of it off-site. 

What is a nanobrewery?

A nanobrewery is a smaller microbrewery. The regulations vary depending on location but as an example, New Hampshire law defines them as breweries that produce less than 2,000 barrels annually. 

What is a craftbrewery? 

A craft brewery can make up to 2 million gallons a year, but half of the beer has to be malt. 

What is a standard brewery? 

A standard brewery is anything larger than these.

How many microbreweries are there? 

As of 2017, there were 3,812 microbreweries in the United States.

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