Nanobreweries – The Next Big Thing for Beer

Monday morning, a word graced the front page of our local newspaper for the very first time. That word is “nanobrewery.” I’m going to go ahead and say that we should all get used to the term.

I actually used the word myself, when I blogged about Keuka Brewing Co., back in April. What I didn’t realize then, is that “nanobrewery” isn’t just a clever play on words, it’s a way to identify a growing entrepreneurial trend. Nanobreweries are launching all over the place. In fact, they seem to be the next big thing in beer.

So what is a nanobrewery? MSN put it well (although their article doesn’t seem to be available anymore) by explaining, “The nanobrewery concept allows one or a few good craft brewers to spend a few weekends a month brewing batches of beer that can be sold to pubs in their communities…The model isn’t one that focuses on eventual growth. The nanobrewer isn’t going to quit his day job. They are brewing because they love the process and want to share the results with the people in their neighborhoods.”

The Buffalo News article that I referred to earlier details the concept and creation of Buffalo’s first nanobrewery, aptly named Community Beer Works.

Two of the men behind the operation are Rudy Watkins and Ethan A. Cox. They’re local beer enthusiasts/connoisseurs who are part of a group that is in the process of purchasing an old building on the West Side, which they will promptly turn into a small brewery. A nanobrewery.

As Cox explains in his interview with The News, “A nanobrewery is a beermaking operation even smaller than popular microbreweries, and they are popping up across the country.”

From a legal perspective nanobreweries are still considered commercial breweries. That means they’re required to go through all of the city, state and federal licensing processes to conduct their business and distribute their products. So, even though the gears are turning and everything is in motion, Community Beer Works can’t plan on offering thirsty Buffalonians (myself included) their brews until the middle of next year (best case scenario).

Lawsons Finest Liquids

Despite all of the time and work that goes into getting a nanobrewery up and running, the initial capital investment is relatively small. In fact, most start out operating on homebrew-sized equipment (or slightly scaled versions).

We did a little research on the Google machine and found the “Great Nanobrewery List: From CA to MA“, compiled by the fine folks at Hess Brewing. It’s pretty awesome to see how just how many of these nanobreweries are already operating now and the growing list of brewing companies just getting started.

Incase you’re wondering just how big (or small) a nanobrewery is, consider this; Community Beer Works is currently made up of nine individuals who specialize in homebrewing and marketing. They’re hoping to make up to 1,100 kegs in their first year (that’s about 6,000 gallons of beer) and within five years they plan to bump their annual production up to 34,000 gallons. One of their biggest (and most admirable) goals is to have a series of Community Beer Works in other Buffalo neighborhoods within the next 10 years. I too now share that dream.

One of my very favorite parts of this unique story (every nanobrewery has one) is the organization’s plan to utilize their own community gardens and urban farms. They’re working on transforming vacant lots in the neighborhood into brewers’ gardens where they’ll grow hops and specialty grains. Once they’re finished with the brewing process, they can give the spent grain back to the urban gardeners for mulch.

I don’t mean to get all sappy but I can practically hear the song “Circle of Life” playing as I write this. As cheesy as I feel saying that, I know it’s a really good thing for future grassroots campaigns. “Feel good” stories get much better.

Like most nanobrewery owners, Watkins and Cox don’t have grandiose dreams of getting filthy rich or becoming the next Dogfish Head (although Sam Calagione did start brewing on a 10 gallon system); they just want to make a difference in their city and make a living doing what they love. Think about it; if the beer bars in a region offer a nanobrewery’s beers on draft and they regularly fill growlers for their neighborhood’s beer lovers, that’s enough to keep their business going and growing.

One of the finest examples of nanobrewery success to date is Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Warren, Vermont. Their founder and brewer Sean Lawson has been an avid (and award-winning) home brewer for almost 20 years and he uses a small batch system to custom craft specialty beers for the Mad River Valley region. As Sean put it “there is real movement out there, all across the US, of very small community-based breweries that make beer in tiny batches for their very local customers.” Well-said Sean.

If you’re wondering what a nanobrewery can do, just consider the fact that Lawson’s Finest Maple Tripple won a bronze medal in the “Specialty Beer” category at the 2010 World Beer Cup. With over 3,330 different beers from 642 breweries and 44 countries competing in 90 different categories, that’s quite an honor.

KegWorks is hereby pledging to do whatever we can to help Community Beer Works succeed here in our hometown. The only thing better than a good neighbor is a good neighbor with great beer. We’ll be sure to keep you posted on their progress!

[techtags: NANOBREWERY, COMMUNITY BEER WORKS, BEER NEWS, CRAFT BEER]

8 Comments

  • Brad August 31, 2010 @ 9:42am

    A very interesting concept. I’d have a hard time doing it and *not* wanting to go full scale. Especially if it means having to keep a day job.

  • Thomas August 31, 2010 @ 9:49am

    I love the concept, but I suspect many will be test systems for future larger breweries, proof of concept runs. We have Roth Brewing here in Raleigh that is trying out the nanobrewing idea in my area.

    One quibble “brewers’ gardens where they’ll grow hops and specialty grains”, hops sure, but grains doubtful the infrastructure and labor to malt grain is very specialized. The cost of labor and time would make wasteful in my experience. Hops on the other hand, completely practical.

  • Dan August 31, 2010 @ 9:58am

    Brad, the nice thing about slow growth is that we don’t need to raise an ungodly amount of capital to begin with. There’s also the time commitment: many of us have kids, and I can tell you that my wife would NOT go for me leaving my grant-funded job to go brew beer because maybe in a year or two we can be profitable. So I’ll give up my free time, and in a few years if things go well, then I take the real plunge.

    Our equipment is going to be bigger than homebrew scale, but much less than any respectable brewery you’ve been to in the past. We considered a 10 gallon system but realized we would pretty much need to brew 22 hours out of the day to make that feasible.

    I’m glad people are excited about us! We’re certainly itching to get going. Liz, we’ll be sure to keep in touch.

  • Liz August 31, 2010 @ 10:24am

    Thanks for the comments guys- and Dan, best of luck as you guys embark on what I’m sure will be an incredible journey. Seriously, if there’s anything we can do to help – let us know!

  • Ethan August 31, 2010 @ 10:31am

    Thanks for the great article, Liz! We’ll have to meet one day…

    @Brad- well, nano-brewers definitely go in a few different directions. Some keep it small, as a hobby business. Others do plan for growth, but are still interested in capping it at the 5-8bbl level or so and are not looking to be nationally distributed. The latter is more us- of our team, some of us do intend to one day get paid here.

  • Ethan August 31, 2010 @ 10:38am

    @Thomas-
    you’re quite right about barley and malting; that’s not really what we envision. We’ll have to order our base grain from someone, no question. But what the brewer’s garden (or garden network) *can* provide us is hops (perhaps enough for a special batch or two each year, certainly not all of our needs), and some cool herbs and spices. As well, we’re hoping a larger operation (like The Wilson Street Farm, or perhaps http://www.lakevieworganicgrain.com/ might supply us with some unmalted specialty grains: spelt, quinoa, aramath- even the now-banal rye… So yeah: we definitely know the limits of what we can really source “locally”

    Now, if someone wants to open up a nano-matlings, we’re definitely supportive!

  • mark woodcock January 7, 2011 @ 6:47am

    Hey !! Keep your eyes open for Woodcock Brothers Brewing Co., opening spring of 2011 in Wilson NY. Will have on site pub and growler fill station. Facility is a 45,000 sq. ft. cold storage building built in the 1900 era!!

  • Hannah January 7, 2011 @ 9:25am

    Mark Woodcock – great to hear! We’ll be on the look-out. Let us know when you open so we can head on over for a tour!

    Cheers!

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