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What the heck is a Nano Brewery?

I was tempted to type the headline, add (eom) and see what happened . . .

I understand the concept of nano brewery (or nanobrewery). But if we are going to have a rule about when a brewery is too big to be called micro shouldn’t there be one for nano?

I ask because the Green Dragon in Portland, Ore., is sponsoring its second Nano Beer Festival next week — “25+ nano breweries and food from Portland’s food cart scene.” Referred to as Nano Food Carts (a nice touch) on this poster.

If you give the poster a good look you’ll notice Upright among the breweries. We visited Upright last year and there’s a 10-barrel brewhouse at the heart of that system. The guys at Berkshire Brewing in Massachusetts cranked out 6,000 barrels one year on their seven-barrel system. Granted, they had to be crazy, and microbrewery has been defined on the basis of production rather than size of each batch, but nano generally refers to something very, or even extremely, small.

A nanosecond is a billionth of a second. Feel free to check my math (because it is probably wrong), but the amounts get too small if we try this with billionths. Start with a 700-barrel brewhouse — mega breweries make even bigger batches but consider of the Anheuser-Busch plant outside of Fort Collins, Colo., which is gigantic. Divide 700 by 1,000,000, then multiply by 31 (that’s how many gallons are in a barrel). Multiply that by 128 (ounces in gallon) and we’re at a batch size of less than 3 ounces. That’s a millionth of 700 barrels. Divide that by 1,000 for a billionth.

Screw it. Let’s just call them craft breweries. Much more concise.

19 Responses to What the heck is a Nano Brewery?

  1. Alan August 19, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

    I heard of pico breweries a while back. I think one-barrel breweries are the next big thing. Certain of it.

  2. Barm August 19, 2010 at 6:49 pm #

    As soon as someone figures out how to make a living from a one-barrel brewery, I’m sure everyone will be doing it.

  3. Troy August 19, 2010 at 7:31 pm #

    I am a homebrewer and I brew in 5 gallon batches. I have a friend who home brews in 1-2 gallon batches. I have called his a nanobrewery for a few years now. Much more appropriate title for him than a commercial brewery.

  4. Mike August 20, 2010 at 5:11 am #

    Small, little, tiny, pico, nano, mini, minute, wee, bantam or bacillus brewery. Feel free to use any of them, but I’ve trademarked them all, so be prepared to pay!

  5. Stephen Beaumont August 20, 2010 at 7:16 am #

    Considering that we’re still trying to get people over to craft brewing from microbrewing — I just had another editor assign me a story on “microbreweries” — this is a slippery slope. I’m with you, Stan, craft is all that’s needed.

    On the the making money from a tiny brewery front, La Barberie in Quebec City for years existed as a two barrel, custom brewery, making four keg batches and aging nearly all of them in wood. When I visisted them after only a few years of operation they had already brewed well in excess of one hundred recipes. Way ahead of their time, they were.

  6. Jeff Bearer August 20, 2010 at 10:19 am #

    I’ve wondered much the same thing. Is it only marketing or is there something behind it.

    If i were to define it, I’d like to go this route: someone who makes beer commercially, but needs to keep a day job to make mortgage on the house.

    This could be a couple of partners who all do the same. but absolutely positively no employees who aren’t full partners.

    I didn’t base that off of any existing nano brewery, just the romantic image I’ve conjured in my head!

  7. Dan August 20, 2010 at 11:17 am #

    Just as craft/micro breweries once needed a way to distinguish themselves from the big boys, I think there should be some way (if not legal, enforceable or carrying any weight beyond a FYI) to distinguish really, really small breweries from those which are only really small (note the tongue here in my cheek). Community Beer Works is ordering its 1bbl system this week: we’re nano, I’d say. Maybe not by a strictly mathematical equation, sure, but Southern Tier we’re not.

  8. Swordboarder August 20, 2010 at 12:07 pm #

    I always put them as 1bbl or less size brewery. It’s for breweries that are glorified home brew systems that are still selling their product. It’s completely inefficient and non-profitable, where a microbrewery can in theory make a profit or at least pay the person making the beer. However a 7 bbl system is not a nano no matter how much they say it is. My $0.02.

  9. Sean Inman August 20, 2010 at 12:13 pm #

    I take all the names with a grain of salt. They are just points of reference for me.

    Just like I no longer get worked up over Widmer calling it’s wheat beer a Hefeweizen, Upright being lumped in with Nano’s doesn’t bother me, even a tiny bit.

    Americans like to categorize everyone and everything. I would rather drink the beer than play that game.

  10. Oliver August 20, 2010 at 1:55 pm #

    Interesting thread! Nano Beer Fest was a concept that I came up with a couple years ago for Fanno Creek Brewpub in Tigard Oregon. They wanted to put on a small festival of ‘smaller, more boutique’ breweries from Oregon. I think that Rogue (aka Green Dragon) decided to try to take advantage of the success of the past few Nano Beer Fests, and renamed their ‘Mini Beer Fest / Indie Beer Fest’ that they had last year to ‘Nano Fest’ that I have seen marketed as the ‘2nd Annual Nano Beer Fest’, ‘2nd Annual Nano Brew Fest’ and ‘2nd Annual Nano Beer Festival’ (see their artwork). The 2nd Annual Nano Beer Fest actually took place the first weekend in August. You can visit the website at


  11. Mike August 20, 2010 at 1:56 pm #

    Sean, I agree. It’s sad that the same people whose obsession with style gave rise to the phrase “style nazi” are now busy working up the same obsession for what to call a small brewery. All this silly talk about labels when they could be out enjoying a beer instead of worrying about what to call it.

  12. Joe Stange August 20, 2010 at 10:53 pm #

    Stan, shame on you for ruining all the good words. Those nanobreweries make lots of quaffable beer.

  13. Matt Hendry August 22, 2010 at 9:53 pm #

    On the the NanoBrewery List all the breweries are 3 barrels or Under
    and they make enough money as a small owner operated business and are typically run from a brewery owners garage or similar building on their residential property that they have obtained licencing for .

  14. Kristen England August 23, 2010 at 9:27 am #

    Seems a sure way to lose money to me. The amount of beer you would have to make and sell to make up for the permits each year is ridiculous. Around here, anything under 15bbl would be very hard to do well with as a brewery. Especially considering if you are in downtown minneapolis or st paul.

  15. Jeff Alworth August 23, 2010 at 1:48 pm #

    How did I miss this post? (Oh yeah, I am painting my house and not reading blogs.) In any case, I think there is an actual distinction to be had–though the Green Dragon sort of violates it. We are seeing the emergence in Portland of 1-3 barrel breweries that are operated effectively out of someone’s basement. These are barely commercial enterprises and produce vanishingly small amounts of beer. (I think most of them have almost no tank capacity.) So it refers to an entity that is unlike other small breweries.

    But you’re right, anything over about five barrels, especially if it has an actual brewhouse and/or attached restaurant, is just a standard-issue craft brewery. Upright, to use your example, is in no way distinctive from about 1400 other American breweries. Most of the breweries at the Nano Fest are just regular breweries.

  16. olllllo August 24, 2010 at 11:40 am #

    If the labor/barrel produced ratio makes no economic sense, it’s a nano.

  17. Tom from Raleigh September 1, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    I like Jeff Bearer’s definition.

    How ’bout this: if one person can pick up the boiler, it’s a nano.

  18. Michael Skubic September 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    Haha. Yes indeed.
    The Labor/BBL ratio is WAY out of whack, but the Love/BBL ratio is spot on!

  19. Andy from Michigan November 4, 2010 at 4:25 pm #

    Close to opening a nano in Marquette, Mi. Oh wait, maybe it’s a craft brewery or a small microbrewery. 1bbl , lots o conicals. I think it’s a nanobrewery. I can lift the kettle(when it’s empty). Thanks for the definition Jeff!

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