Nano Breweries

Let’s say you’re a brewer with a real passion for what you do. Let’s say you make a good, consistent set of beers that your family, friends and friends of friends all really enjoy. Finally, let’s say you’ve been approached a few times by people who want to buy a keg or growler of your beer at a party or gathering where you’re serving your brew and you explain that you really can’t do that because the Feds might bust down your door and take away your dog or something. However it gets you thinking that if you could just own a brewery, you’d be able to sell all your beer, everyone would love you and you could live in your brewery and be happy forever! You just know you would! So you present this idea to Mrs. Brewer and she gives you that “oh honey” look and you sulk away muttering how you know you could do it and how the Man is keeping you down, etc. But you start thinking, “wait… I don’t need a brewery… I have a brewery in my garage!” Is it crazy? Is it legal? Could you pull it off?

The term “Nano Brewery” is more colloquial than a legal definition, but the principle is the same as owning and operating an actual micro brewery, just on a smaller scale. A micro brewery is defined as a brewery that produces 15,000 barrels of beer (645,000 gallons) per year. If you want to play with the scientific terminology, “nano” would then be defined as 15 barrels (650 gallons) per year. But again, that’s not a legal definition, so we’re left to figure that a nano brewery is simply an operation that produces less than its micro brewery cousins. A second way to look at it is that the US Government requires a brewer to have a license if he or she sells the beer, or produces more than 200 gallons per year (100 gallons if you’re the only adult in your household). To become a nano brewery, you simply file the same paperwork as you would if you were starting an actual brewery; the Feds make no distinction between you or your local brewery down the road. The Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has even added a small nano brewery guideline to it’s FAQ section. If you google “nano brewery”, you see that there’s more than just a few people who have started one, or are really thinking about it.

So why do it? As I was reading along trying to find examples of nano breweries and how they operate, it seemed pretty clear that most of the brewers wanted to test the waters of what it was like to be a pro brewer, sell some of the product to help cover their costs, but also to start working up some buzz and even a little capital that might send them into the full-time world of running an actuall brewery. You can set up a nano brewery with a few thousand dollars where setting up a micro brewery can cost millions. Nano brewing is a part time gig with little or no need for advertising budgets or costly overhead. It’s really just the brewer, the gear and the ingredients. The only trick is unloading all the brew after it’s done. How might you do that?

You could simply put out your shingle and hope people find out about you by word of mouth and come beating a path to your door, but that seems fraught with peril and lost revenue to me. You could start a small subscription type service, much like smaller wineries do, thus “pre-selling” your beer and knowing exactly how much you need to produce, but to get that done you need a base of beer enthusiasts who already know that they like your stuff. Perhaps you have that, perhaps you don’t. The holy grail would be to get an “in” at a few local restaurants willing to put your goods on their taps. This way you could create buzz and interest without much effort. You might even give the restaurant the first few kegs for free in hopes your brew takes off. As with any business venture, the threat of failure is pretty high. But there’s something very enticing about nano brewing with it’s low cost of entry and still more hobby-than-job trappings that may make it worth looking into for some of us. As a brewing trend, with larger breweries like Rogue and others holding “nano brew fests” and competitions, this seems like the beginning of a new world of brewing and I’m all for it!

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