Microbreweries are small producers of beer that serve local or regional markets. To qualify as a microbrewery, the establishment must produce less than 15,000 barrels (178,841 decaliters) annually.
Small local breweries are not a new idea. Before the days of refrigeration, most towns and villages had a brewery, as beer could not be transported before it went bad. After refrigerated transport became possible, most local breweries were closed down in favor of the larger, more consistent brewers such as Miller and Anheiser Busch.
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Home brewers continued to brew their own beer, mostly for reasons of taste. During the years of prohibition, all beer was home brewed, as the sale of alcoholic beverages was by law, illegal. After prohibition was abolished, many home brewers with encouragement from friends and families began selling their brews at local bars. Thus, the microbrewery was reborn.
The first to actually use the term microbrewery was a small operation that opened in 1976 in Sonoma, California. The oldest still in operation today is Boulder Brewery in Colorado, which opened in 1979. The Boulder Brewery began its operations in a converted goat shed, but has since expanded into a modern building.
Brewpubs are a natural progression of microbreweries. Selling only their own brewed beer, the first to open was in an opera house in Yakima, Washington in 1982. The most famous brewpub and microbrewery is Redhook Ale and was opened in an old trolley barn by a former Starbucks executive and a winemaker.
Most larger cities in America have several microbrewers and many have brewpubs. While microbreweries are not real competition for the major breweries, they do claim approximately 3 percent of the market share. In response to this, most major brewers have begun their own microbrewery lines, spun off from the brand name beers.
Currently there are more than 1,600 microbreweries in operation in the United States alone. The number of home brewers is unknown, but brewers of both home brew and microbreweries cite the same reasons for their existence. Taste, body and overall flavor of microbrewed beer exceeds the major brands. The majority of microbreweries produce ales and lagers, generally more robust than regular beer.
Most brewers will claim that after drinking micro brewed beer, customers never want to return to the bland, pale beer that comes in a can.
There are dozens of books and websites available to help you begin starting your own microbrewery. With a bit of experimentation, you may discover the next great beer.