Exploring the Difference Between Microbrews and Craft Brews

Are microbrews just another name for craft brews? If not, how are the two different? Learn more about microbreweries and craft breweries here.

The American craft beer craze has been an extraordinary phenomenon, and Virginia is no exception, with more than 200 breweries located throughout the state. The industry continues to create new jobs while brewmasters keep rolling out innovative creations, like dessert stouts, hazy IPAs with blackberry hone, and fruited saisons made with wild yeast. In the last few years, we have even seen a pilsner renaissance, with brewers putting out renditions of that traditional American beer.

As you ponder your list of sudsy options, you’ll see terms like “micro” and “craft brews” are often thrown around. They are often used interchangeably, even among beer enthusiasts. Yet there is a distinction between the two.

To find out what that is, keep reading. The information below explains this terminology and a few other definitions to help you keep up with even the most expert Cicerone (beer sommelier!).

Micro Brews vs. Craft Brews

Craft brewing is a general term used to describe brewing methods. Craft brews are generally defined by high-quality ingredients and innovations in brewing, as opposed to conventional industrial methods. They make each recipe in small batches, with great attention to each phase of the process.

A craft brewery is often very involved in local communities. This can mean relying on local ingredients but also philanthropy and sponsorships. For these reasons, craft breweries are generally smaller, but that does not have to be the case. 

Craft breweries are prolific, though. Today, about two-thirds of all Americans live within 10 miles of one.

When most people think of microbreweries, it might evoke “local” and “high quality” as well. While it is often the case that a microbrewery employs craft brewing methods, the differentiation has more to do with volume.

The technical definition of a microbrewery is that it produces less than 15,000 barrels of beer annually. There is one caveat: it is also a brewery that sells at least 75 percent of it offsite.

You may be wondering, “What is a brewery that produces less than 15,000 barrels of beer annually but sells less than 75 percent of its beer offsite? For that, see below.

Other Brewery Terms

An “independent” brewery is a nuanced term related to craft brewing. It is a brewery where most of the business is owned by a craft brewer.

Microbrewery is a term that describes the production of more than 15,000 barrels of beer every year. The term is less common, as people might typically use “brewery” and only make a distinction if the company is a microbrewery (and not the other way around).

You may also have heard the term “nano-brewery.” Many people assume this is a microbrewery but on a smaller scale. To some extent, that can be true.

Being a nano brewery does not necessarily have to do with volume but is a brewery run by only one or two brewers. (So, it often follows the production volume is smaller.)

We mentioned microbreweries must sell 75 percent of their beer offsite to achieve the distinction. This has to do with two other terms related to this industry: brewpub and gastropub.

A brewpub is a brewery that sells more than 25 percent of its beer on-site. While some brewpubs might serve or allow food, a gastropub is where “gastronomy” is a major focus. A gastropub adds high-quality food, in addition to craft beer, to the mix.

Learn More About Craft Beers

We hope you found this information on the American beer industry helpful. Now that you understand the difference between micro and craft brews, you can fully appreciate what each one entails.

At VA Foodie, our mission is to highlight the best food and the people who produce it throughout Virginia. Please check out our other posts, recipes, and recommendations, or contact us with your questions or suggestions.

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