[mahy-kroh-broo-uh-ree, ‐broor-ee]
A microbrewery, or craft brewery, is a modern brewery which produces a limited amount of beer, usually with an orientation toward distinctive and flavorful products. The maximum amount of beer a brewery can produce and still be classed as a microbrewery varies by region and by authority, though is usually around 15,000 barrels (18,000 hectolitres/ 475,000 US gallons) a year. A brewpub is a type of microbrewery that incorporates a pub or other eating and establishment.

Origins and philosophy

The term and trend originated in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s to describe the new generation of small breweries which had a focus on producing traditional cask ale. Though originally used to reflect the size of the breweries it gradually came to reflect an alternative attitude and approach to brewing of flexibility, adaptability, experimentation and customer service. The term and trend spread to the United States in the 1980s where it eventually was used to indicate a brewery that produces fewer than 15,000 barrels of beer annually.

Micro or craft breweries have adopted a different marketing strategy than 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 for some of the microbrewery market, and when this failed, they have invested in or bought some microbreweries.

Microbreweries in the United States

In the early twentieth century, Prohibition drove many breweries in the US into bankruptcy because they could not rely on selling "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 - high quality beer. The largest American craft brewery is 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 Association of Brewers reports that in 2007 there were 1,406 regional craft breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs in the United States.

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 and in Ontario, which has a large domestic market dominated by a few large companies. 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 (15,850 gal) per year. Before this change, breweries could not get a license without producing at least 2 million litres (528,000 gal) per year. As a result, a number of smaller breweries have been established throughout the country.


Definitions of Microbrewery vary:

  • "In common-sense terms, a microbrewery is a small craft brewery which seeks the support of informed beer consumers." / "A beer maker with limited capacity whose products are typically distributed within a restricted geographic region."
  • "By definition, a microbrewery was originally considered to be a brewery with a capacity of less than 3000 barrels (3500 hectoliters), but by the end of the 1980s this threshold increased to 15,000 barrels (18,000 hectoliters) as the demand for microbrewed beer doubled and then tripled."
  • "Breweries and brewpubs producing less than 1,500 barrels per year."
  • "A small brewery; consumption of the product is mainly elsewhere." More: "A small brewery, generally producing fewer than 10,000 barrels of beer and ale a year and frequently selling its products on the premises
  • "The great chicken or the egg question in the Brewing industry has always been: What defines a microbrewery? The Institute of Brewing Studies does a good job of bringing some sense to great mystery -- and it puts those at less than 15,000 barrels in the micro category and makes the designation of craft brewery very important. I feel any brewery producing less than 50,000 barrels per year could fall into this category.
  • "There is also the whole issue of the definition of microbreweries. In the United States, a microbrewery is a brewery producing less than 1 million hectolitres per year. In Canada, a microbrewery is defined as a brewery producing 300,000 hectolitres of beer. Therefore, in the United States a brewery producing less than 1 million hectolitres is by definition a microbrewery and, as such, is entitled to a more preferential tax rate, 9 cents, whereas in Canada, the threshold and the definition are, to a certain extent, a disadvantage for microbreweries.
  • "A microbrewery is a small brewery with a limited production capacity which, of necessity, produces labour intensive hand-crafted beers.


A brewpub is a pub or restaurant that brews beer on the premises. Some brewpubs, such as The Blue Anchor brewpub in England, and those in Germany, have been brewing traditionally on the premises for hundreds of years. Others, such as the Les 3 Brasseurs chain in France, and the various chains in North America, are modern restaurants.

Before the development of large commercial breweries, beer would have been brewed on the premises from which it was sold. Alewives would put out a sign such as an ale-wand to show when their beer was ready. 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 brewpub in Helston, Cornwall, England, which was established in 1400, and is regarded as the oldest brewpub in the British Isles. 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.

In Germany, the brewpub or brauhaus remained the most common source of beer. However, the trend throughout the rest of the world during the early to mid 20th century was for larger brewing companies.

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.

Interest spread to America, and in 1982 Grant's Brewery Pub in Yakima, Washington was opened, reviving the American "brewery taverns" of well-known early Americans as William Penn, Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry. The growth since then has been considerable: the Association of Brewers reports that in 2006 there were 1,389 regional craft breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs in the United States.

In Dublin, Ireland, as in the UK, there were brewpubs. And, as in the UK, these had closed after large breweries, such as Guinness, were formed. In France a chain of American style brewpubs operate under the name Les 3 Brasseurs.

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. Standouts include the Brewsters chain operating in Saskatchewan and Alberta, Dieu du Ciel in Montreal, and the multi award-winning Bushwakker Brewpub in Regina, Saskatchewan—the city which boasts the highest brewpub per-capita ratio in Canada at 1:30,000.

Craft beer

Craft Beer is an American term which is also common in Canada and New Zealand and generally refers to beer that is brewed using traditional methods, without adjuncts such as rice or corn, and with an eye to what's distinctive and flavorful rather than mass appeal. Whereas the term microbrewery is a term for a small scale brewery that produces a small volume of beer, craft brewery describes an approach to brewing, which in principle may be carried out on any scale. Most microbreweries are also craft breweries.

Craft beer may refer to the products of brewpubs and smaller breweries, as well as some all-malt beers produced by larger breweries and applicable brews from outside the US. Many craft beers are unfiltered, bottle conditioned or cask conditioned. They generally contain fewer adjuncts than mass-produced beers.

In the United Kingdom, CAMRA use the term "real ale" to refer to unfiltered beers that are not force-carbonated, such as cask ale. In the US, such cask ales are uncommon, and craft beers on draft are mainly served from pressurised kegs, though American bottle conditioned beers are real ales.

The interest in beer styles in the US has increased steadily since Michael Jackson's 1977 book The World Guide to Beer was published in America. Additionally, the enactment of laws clarifying the legality of homebrewing in 1979 encouraged an increase in hobbyists who contributed greatly to the trend. Pioneer breweries such as the reinvigorated Anchor Brewing and newcomers Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada, along with many others which have not survived, brought the concept of craft beer to a wider audience and provided the foundation upon which today's market is based.

The American craft brewing industry was profiled in the feature length documentary American Beer which was released in 2004. Breweries featured in the film include Dogfish Head, Victory Brewing Company, McNeill's Brewery, Climax Brewing, Sierra Nevada Brewing, Anchor Brewing, New Glarus Brewing, New Belgium Brewing, Bell's Brewery and others.

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