Unless you’ve been doing your drinking under a rock, you’ve noticed that the modern craft beer movement of the past decade sparked a steep rise in brewery openings all across the country. In fact, Statista reported 8,386 breweries in the United States as of 2019, compared to just 2,670 in 2012. From tiny corner brewpubs to large campuses with warehouse-sized brewing facilities, today’s breweries come in a wide range of sizes. But, which are actually “craft?”
Craft breweries produce small amounts of beer at a time (no more than 6 million barrels a year, according to the Brewers Association), with a focus on exploring unique flavors, ingredients, and styles. Craft beer is also independent — less than 25% of the brewery is owned or operated by a non-craft brewer. The BA reports that 98% of all breweries in the U.S. are now considered craft breweries.
At Tavour, we work with over 600 different independent craft breweries of varying specialties and sizes. Here’s a rundown of the 6 types of breweries all craft beer fans should know. Time to wow your friends with your industry knowledge!
1. Macro Brewery
Even though you might not drink it, it’s worth knowing what exactly defines a “macro brewery.” You can probably already pinpoint major macro beer brands because of their bulk availability in grocery stores, and their focus on “light” styles. Many of them are owned by the same large companies. They make more than 6 million barrels of beer a year and are often publicly traded. Macro brewers also tend to have multiple brewing or “production” plants across the country to meet their quantity needs. As you probably already know, a macro brewery is not craft beer.
2. Regional Brewery
Many larger craft brewers, like California’s The Bruery and Louisiana’s Parish Brewing are referred to as “regional breweries” because of their widespread recognition. Their operations are often spread out too, with multiple taprooms and brew houses. However, most regional breweries are still very much considered craft beer because their annual beer production usually falls between 15,000 and 6 million barrels a year. The only exceptions are if they are not independently owned.
Interestingly, Ballast Point was considered craft beer until their sale to Constellation Brands in 2015. Their sale to the small Kings & Convicts Brewing last year returned their former status, and they are now considered a craft beer regional brewery.
At no more than 15,000 barrels of beer annually, the vast majority of microbreweries automatically fall under the craft beer umbrella. In fact, the term “micro” has become synonymous with craft beer in many circles. Again, the exceptions to this are rare cases when ownership is not independent.
Though not as expansive as regional breweries, microbreweries often build up major followings. Located in Glenwood Springs, CO, Casey Brewing & Blending is considered a destination brewery for craft fans trekking through the Rocky Mountains. Likewise, Side Project Brewing put St. Louis, MO craft beer on the map and continues to be one of the most recognized breweries in the U.S.
A brewpub is a hybrid between a restaurant and a brewery, selling 25% or more of its beer on premise. The brewpub’s focus is primarily on its beer menu, often allowing customers a look into the brewing space via large windows or an open floor setup. That said, the food menu is typically substantial, offering more than just snacks or small plates.
Brewpubs are not always craft beer. Even if the sales percentage requirement is met, some brewpubs are still owned by non-craft beer entities. That said, Illinois’ More Brewing and Oregon’s Great Notion Brewing are two examples of craft brewpubs whose beer has caught the attention of drinkers far beyond their local communities.
While it is known that a nanobrewery makes less beer than a microbrewery, there is no quantity limit in place. Interestingly, there is a New Hampshire law that says a nanobrewery makes 2,000 barrels or fewer a year, but that’s just there. Either way, most nanobreweries have only one location that is both taproom and brewing space (and they may not even have a taproom). Additionally, their brewing system is usually limited to just 3 to 10 barrels.
Technically, a nanobrewery could be considered non-craft if it is owned by a macro or other non-craft organization. However, the vast majority of them are privately owned and run by just a small handful of people. Despite their small size, nanobrewers like Virginia’s Adroit Theory Brewing and Minnesota’s Junkyard Brewing have cult-like followings with fans that drive for hours out to their taprooms to stock up.
6. Pico Brewery
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of a “pico brewery” before — there aren’t many of them! Soquel Fermentation Project in Los Gatos, CA is an example of the rare pico, a brewery so unbelievably tiny, it’s considered a separate concept than the nanobrewery. A pico is typically run by just a few people (if that), and operates on a mere 1 to 3-barrel brewing system. Their releases are almost always limited runs and can’t be found easily. Due to their small size and focus on unique batches, we’ve yet to come across a pico brewery that isn’t considered craft beer!
No matter what kind of brewery they come from, the daily selections you see on Tavour are always independent craft beer!