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It’s an exciting time for the beer industry and those who love to drink it. While domestic producers have the lion’s share of the market, the presence of craft brewers is increasing with 12.3 percent of the nation’s beer sales volume. It’s worth noting that experts predict that the industry as a whole has plateaued. However, the playing field has shifted with others commanding a larger piece of the pie. Nanobreweries are part of this movement.
What Is a Nanobrewery?
Classifying the type of depends on the production by the brewery. National brands like Budweiser produce millions of barrels each year. After all, there are a lot of thirsty people with over 11 million customers in the United States alone. The next category is the craft brewers who produce less than six million barrels annually. They are followed by microbreweries at less than 15,000. Then, you have the so-called nanobrewery.
The federal government doesn’t have a formal definition than to say that production is limited to a small number. It differs from other types not only in its size but its model as well. Sometimes they are an entrepreneurial venture to test a proof of concept before going all out as a microbrewery or something larger. The individual or group make a conservative investment to see if the business will succeed.
Other times, a homebrewer might want to stretch their skills and take a step into the deep end of the pool. It could turn out as a lucrative source of secondary income. Or an existing business might want to branch out into the brewpub territory. This industry as a whole is in a unique market position that makes it worth considering.
The annual growth rate of the craft beer industry was about 14 percent from 2012 to 2017. Industry experts expect this trend to continue for the next five years. One of the main driving factors is consumer support.
Advantages of a Nanobrewery
Other than a smaller initial investment, a nanobrewery has a lot going for it which plays a direct role in its success. About one-third of new businesses fail within the first two years for a myriad of reasons. Microbreweries are a different story. Over 75 percent of establishments that opened since 1980 are still around which speaks volumes about their popularity. Let’s delve into the things that set them apart from the rest.
More Than Just a Beer
All beer includes the same base set of ingredients of water, yeast, malt, and hops. That only scratches the surface of the possibilities. With its small production, a nanobrewery can afford to experiment. It can vary the proportions and try new fermentation processes. A brewer may add other ingredients like spices, herbs, or fruit to give a beer a distinctive flavor. The limited supply can work in its favor by stimulating a greater demand.
Each one of the main ingredients offers opportunities. Think that water is all the same? Minerals like calcium and carbonate can add complexity to a brew. Yeast types like ale, lager, Weizen, or Brettanomyces play a key role in turning the sugar source into alcohol, carbonation, and aromatic elements.
Then, there is the malt. A brewer can use any type of grain or even rice or bran. Some may opt to add molasses, sugar, or glucose to feed the yeast. But they are limited to these sources to fuel fermentation. The brewer can choose additional helper ingredients like honey, maple syrup, or fruit juices to create a unique recipe.
Other ways to add flavor include the processes after that initial fermentation. A batch aged in casks, for example, will take on nuances that mass-produced beers may not have. It can bring a richness and fuller body to the brew that makes it stand out from a plain old lawnmower beer. National brands lack this flexibility due to constraints to produce a consistent product.
Handling and Storage
Beer is like wine in that its flavor evolves as it ages. Several factors influence these changes including its composition. A nanobrewery has a huge advantage on this score because it can deliver the product at its peak freshness. Unfortunately, beers start to deteriorate relatively fast once they leave the brewery. Oxidation can have negative effects, causing off flavors and aromas.
Nanobreweries also forgo the issues that can arise from poor handling and unexpected temperature shifts during transport across regions. Maintaining low temperatures is one of the key elements that affect a beer’s freshness. A local brewery has another ace in its hand when it comes to turnaround time.
Beers have a limited lifespan when they move past their peak flavor. The best way to ensure that you get a tasty brew is to drink it before its best-by date. With small batches, a nanobrewery can provide a product at the optimal time when it is at its finest.
Putting It All Together
Brewers have several ways to measure the quality of a batch and give the beer aficionado an idea of to expect. Each of a brew’s vital statistic provides valuable clues of the taste and sensory profile. You’ll likely find that tasting different brands is not unlike sampling wines. You’ll find the same elements of appearance, aromas, flavors, and aftertaste that affect how you experience it. Trying a flight of nanobrewery offerings is an excellent way to train your palate.
The first thing you’ll notice is beer’s color. Its measured quantitatively with the Standard Reference Method (SRM) on a scale from 1 to 40. A lager, for example, may a figure of 5 or so whereas a stout will tip the scales at 25 or more. Other things to note include:
Each one is part of a batch’s distinctive style and, in turn, your sensory perception of a particular one.
Like wine, beer has an aroma which reflects not only the ingredients but the processes used to produce the final product. Hops can bring a broad spectrum of scents into the mix from citrus to herbal to woody—and everything in between. You may find it helpful to ask the brewer about the specific ingredients that are in the batch. It’s another opportunity to educate yourself about beer and learn about the nuances of brewing.
The type of malt will also play a role in what aromas you detect. You may get smells of biscuit, toast, coffee, or smoke, depending on the ingredient and the aging method. Other things can contribute as well. That’s where the addition of those helpers or adjunct show their stuff.
Flavor and Aftertaste
Tasting will give you the most direct way of picking up on what the hops and malt bring to the glass, but they may differ from what you noticed in the aromas. That’s part of the reason drinking a nanobrewery craft beer is an experience rather just a drink.
The sweetness you may detect is a result of the residual sugars present in the brew. That will vary with the malt source and other ingredients. The hops will influence the degree of bitterness which is measured quantitatively with the International Bitterness Units (IBUs) number. It can range from 0 to 100 with the larger figure denoting a more bitter beer.
However, everyone tastes things differently. Use it as a guide to learn about your preferences. Discern if you think the bitterness is subtle or if it’s more overt and aggressive. It’s another opportunity to talk with the brewer about the beer to learn what factors contribute to your perception.
Another thing to pay attention to is the degree of warmth you feel when drinking the beer. The Alcohol By Volume (ABV) of craft beers can range anywhere from 3 to 20 percent, depending on the locale. That’s another advantage that a nanobrewery has over a widely distributed brand.
State and local laws may restrict the amount which can prevent national beers from offering some products. A nanobrewery only need worry about the restrictions that affect the limited distribution.
All of the items above can affect other things about the beer which will influence your overall take. For example, you may perceive a beer as having a fuller body if it has a higher ABV. Likewise, a cooler temperature can give it a smoother mouthfeel. Pay attention to how long the flavors linger and how they change. That is a beer’s length. It may last only a few seconds. Some may persist for a minute or more. It’s one way to judge the brew’s quality.
Nanobreweries are the classic win-win. They provide an opportunity for the experienced homebrewer to take their hobby to the next level in a profitable fashion. The beer lover benefits from the chance to learn more about the craft and how to refine their palate to enhance the experience.
These establishments have tapped into something that national brands lack. As a local brewery, they can build relationships and foster consumer loyalty to secure their continued success. Their business model of craft production and community engagement will keep the beer flowing for years to come.