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As the beer market grows, breweries are becoming more and more popular. According to the Brewers Association, an organization working to promote and support small and independent brewers across the country, there are over 9,000 total U.S. breweries. Brewers across the brewing industry are expanding and innovating on the traditional, barrel-aged brewing process, diversifying the beer market and driving new demand.
But what is a brewery? Technically, a brewery is a place to brew beer commercially. But there’s far more to these establishments than just barrels of beer. Let’s get into it.
Types of Breweries
All brewhouses are fitted with the brewery equipment necessary for beer production, including the storage tanks needed for the fermentation process and kegs to dispense different batches. But each type of brewery is unique in how they serve their customers – from the types of ales they offer, whether a lager, belgian, german, ipa, sour beer, or pale ale, to the food service they provide (if any), and more. Below, we break down each category of brewery.
1. Craft Brewery
A craft brewery is a small, independent brewery characterized by a production size of 6 million barrels of beer each year or less, and less than 25% of the brewery owned “by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.” Craft brewers tend to focus on innovative twists on traditional drinks, serving craft beer with unique flavors that incorporate nontraditional ingredients. Microbreweries, brewpubs, taproom breweries, regional breweries, and contract brewing companies are all craft beer industry market segments.
A brewpub is a combination of a brewery and a pub (or public house). Brewpubs are full service restaurants that offer a selection of beer brewed on the premises. Specifically, brewpubs must sell 25% or more of its beer on-site.
Taprooms are similar to brewpubs in that 25% or more of the beer brewed on the premises is sold in the taproom. The main difference is that food is not typically served, and guests are sometimes even encouraged to bring their own meals to eat while enjoying local brews.
A macrobrewery is the largest-scale brewery, producing millions of barrels of beer each year, to be distributed at scale to restaurants, bars, or other vendors, rather than consumed on-site in a taproom, restaurant, or bar setting. By definition, craft breweries are not macrobreweries, and vice-versa.
Unlike a macrobrewery, a microbrewery is a much smaller-scale brewery. Microbreweries produce less than 15,000 barrels of beer per year and, while some offer taprooms or restaurants on-site, the majority of their beer stock – 75% – is sold off-site.
A nanobrewery is even smaller than a microbrewery, producing 2,000 barrels of beer each year or less. Think of this as the startup phase before a brewery grows into a full micro- or craft brewery.
7. Regional Brewery
A regional brewery is one that falls between a macro- and microbrewery. Regional breweries produce between 15,000 and 6,000,000 barrels of beer each year, both for off-site distribution and on-site consumption, depending on the size and scale of the brewery facilities and production.
8. Contract Brewing Company
A contract brewing company is a company or brewery that hires another company or brewery to produce additional beer that it then sells. This is often for the purposes of either expanding a company or brewery’s selection, or to cover additional production beyond the brewery’s capacity.
How to Categorize a Brewery
The best way to categorize all of these different types of breweries is by looking at three main components: price point, atmosphere, and service and presentation.
A brewery’s price point depends in large part on the styles of beer sold, the size of the brewery, the scale of production, and the types of beers produced. For example, small-batch, locally produced beers from independent brewers tend to have a higher price point than large-scale producers who distribute to third-party vendors. Most breweries, however, tend to offer a range of options at reasonable price points.
A brewery’s atmosphere is also an important factor to consider. More casual breweries may feature family-style seating or outdoor picnic tables with limited decor, creating a relaxed atmosphere, while a more high-end brewery may place greater emphasis on style or design, cultivating a more intentional, high-quality vibe for their guests with funky artwork or an aesthetic brewery layout. Some breweries may also feature entertainment, serving as a venue for live music, stand-up comedy, or trivia nights.
Finally, service and presentation also factor into how breweries are categorized. While brewpubs offer table service, most microbreweries deploy a counter service approach. And while you’d expect to be served drinks in a glass or a flight at a taproom, it would likely be quite strange to walk into a macrobrewery and be served a cold glass of beer.