What Are Microbreweries?

People toasting with beer glasses in front of a brewery's storage tanks

Ever wondered what makes those local brews at your favorite bar so special? As the craft beer scene continues to grow, microbreweries have always been an essential part of the conversation, especially when it comes to beer in Pennsylvania.

But what are microbreweries exactly? These small-scale breweries are known for their unique and innovative beers, contributing significantly to the diversity of the beer market.

Let’s explore what microbreweries are, how they operate, and their place in the broader spectrum of brewing.

Key Takeaways

  • Microbreweries are small breweries that produce less than 15,000 barrels of beer annually, focusing on unique and innovative beers.
  • Craft breweries, like New Trail Brewing Co., emphasize quality brews and ingredients, differentiating themselves from mass-produced beers.
  • New Trail Brewing Co. embodies the creativity of microbreweries and elevates it to the next level of production with its dedication to craft brewing and community engagement, shared with many more people.

What Makes a Microbrewery a Microbrewery?

Microbreweries are defined by their production capacity and distribution methods. Specifically, according to the Brewers Association, a microbrewery should have a production capacity of less than 15,000 barrels of beer a year. They typically sell 75% or more of their beer off-site through various channels such as distributors, retailers, and directly to consumers.

Characteristics of Microbreweries

Microbreweries have distinct characteristics that set them apart from larger brewing operations. From their unique beer styles to their innovative production methods, here’s what makes microbreweries special.

Specialty beers

Microbreweries are renowned for their focus on creating small-batch, boutique beers. Unlike mass-produced beers, microbreweries often experiment with:

  • Seasonal or themed brews: Offering unique beers that reflect the time of year or a specific event.
  • Experimental styles: Pushing the boundaries of traditional beer styles by using unconventional ingredients or innovative brewing techniques.

This dedication to craft and creativity sets microbreweries apart in the craft beer movement, attracting beer lovers who seek freshly brewed beer with distinctive flavors.

Production and innovation

Microbreweries are hubs of innovation in the brewing industry. They constantly experiment with:

  • Ingredients: Using high-quality, locally sourced ingredients to create unique beer styles.
  • Fermentation processes: Exploring different fermentation methods to enhance the complexity and depth of their beers.
  • Styles: Crafting a diverse range of beer styles, from IPAs to stouts, ensuring there is something for every palate.

In addition to their creative approach, microbreweries typically benefit from lower taxation compared to larger commercial breweries, allowing them to focus on quality over quantity.

Distribution and sales

Microbreweries often have limited distribution channels, which adds to their charm and exclusivity. Their sales methods include:

  • Direct-to-consumer sales: Selling beer directly to customers through their tasting rooms or at beer festivals.
  • Regional distributorships: Partnering with local distributors to reach a broader audience while maintaining a regional focus.
  • Tasting rooms and beer festivals: Offering customers the chance to sample and purchase beers on-site, enhancing the community feel.

The sales structures of microbreweries typically follow:

  • Direct sales: Microbreweries sell their own beer directly to consumers.
  • Two-tier system: Microbreweries act as wholesalers, selling to retailers who then sell to consumers.
  • Three-tier system: Microbreweries sell to wholesalers, who sell to retailers, who finally sell to consumers.

These distribution methods enable microbreweries to remain connected to their local communities and offer a personalized experience to beer enthusiasts.

By focusing on these key characteristics, microbreweries have carved out a unique niche in the brewing industry. Their dedication to producing high-quality, innovative beers ensures they remain a beloved choice among craft beer aficionados and contribute to the rich tapestry of the beer market.

Other Types of Breweries

Beer taps in a brewery

Did you know there are several other types of breweries? Here’s a list of them and how they differ from a microbrewery:

Macro brewery: These are larger breweries, like Budweiser and Coors, that are known nationwide or globally. Unlike smaller breweries, these do large-scale beer production and produce millions of barrels annually. These breweries focus on mass production and distribution.

Craft brewery: Produces up to 6 million barrels annually with a focus on quality, flavor, and traditional brewing methods. These are often independently owned.

Brewpub: A combination of a brewery and a pub that sells at least 25% of its beer on-site, often paired with significant food services.

Taproom brewery: Similar to a brewpub but typically does not serve food. It sells 25% or more of its beer on-site in a taproom setting.

Nano brewery: An even smaller scale than microbreweries, a nano brewery produces up to 2,000 barrels annually. It is often seen as the starting point for aspiring brewers.

Regional brewery: A regional brewery produces between 15,000 and 6,000,000 barrels annually and serves a larger geographic area.

Contract brewing company: A business that hires another brewery to produce its beer. The contract brewing company handles marketing, sales, and distribution, while the actual brewing is done by another facility.

Micro Brewers vs. Craft Brewers: What’s the Difference?

Brewery sign

Microbreweries and craft breweries are terms often used interchangeably, but the two have distinct definitions.


A microbrewery can be a craft brewery, too, but not all microbreweries meet the craft criteria.

Production and distribution

Microbreweries are a subset of craft breweries. They start small, producing unique and innovative beers that attract a dedicated local following. As they grow, they may expand their production and distribution, but they may remain a part of the craft brewing category.

Here’s how:

  • Production capacity: Microbreweries produce less than 15,000 barrels of beer annually. They are considered craft breweries but with a specific production limit.
  • Expansion: As microbreweries grow, they can increase production and improve facilities while still adhering to the craft brewing ethos of quality and innovation.

Brewing standards

One of the biggest challenges for expanding microbreweries is to scale up without losing the qualities that made them successful. They often achieve this by:

  • Maintaining traditional brewing methods: Continuing to use high-quality ingredients and traditional brewing techniques.
  • Fostering community connections: Staying engaged with local communities through events, collaborations, and sustainable practices.
  • Investing in technology: Utilizing modern brewing equipment and processes to enhance efficiency and consistency.

Craft brewery

Craft breweries are defined by their small scale, independence, and traditional methods. Craft breweries can be microbreweries but not all craft brewers can be considered micro.

Here are the key aspects:

  • Production capacity: Craft breweries produce up to 6 million barrels annually. Microbreweries, which produce less than 15,000 barrels, fall under this category.
  • Independence: Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcohol industry member who is not a craft brewer.
  • Traditional methods: Craft beers emphasize traditional brewing methods and high-quality ingredients.

Key differences and similarities

  • Production capacity: Microbreweries produce less than 15,000 barrels annually, whereas craft breweries can produce up to 6 million barrels.
  • Distribution: Craft breweries generally have broader distribution networks compared to microbreweries.
  • Focus on quality: Both microbreweries and craft breweries emphasize quality, flavor, and traditional brewing methods.
  • Innovation: Both types of breweries are known for their innovative approaches to brewing, often experimenting with new ingredients and techniques.

Microbreweries are Your Gateways to the World of Craft Beers

Glass of beer from a craft brewery

Having explored the unique world of microbreweries, it’s clear how these small-scale operations contribute to the beer industry. Now, let’s look at the exciting realm of craft brewing.

We’re New Trail Brewing Co., and we’re craft brewers. We embody the creativity and innovation found in microbreweries and elevate it with our craft brewing expertise.

Our brewery is known for:

Award-winning brews: Indulge in our range of quality brews, from Hazy IPAs to award-winning Pilsners.

Local and fresh beers: Enjoy freshly-made beers brewed primarily with locally sourced ingredients.

Being community-focused: We partner with local farmers, nonprofits, and other outdoor-focused organizations to support our local economy and ecology.

We craft beer you’d love to taste over and over again. Embark on a flavorful adventure with New Trail beers! Join us in our dog-friendly Tasting Room or order your beer here.

Frequently Asked Questions

What defines a microbrewery?

A microbrewery is defined by its production capacity, producing less than 15,000 barrels of beer annually.

What is the meaning of micro-brewed?

Micro brewed refers to beer produced in small batches by a microbrewery, emphasizing quality and unique flavors.

What makes a beer a microbrew?

A beer is considered a microbrew if it is produced by a microbrewery and follows craft brewing standards with limited production.

What is the difference between microbrewery and macro brewery?

The primary difference is scale; microbreweries produce less than 15,000 barrels annually, while macro breweries produce mass quantities, often millions of barrels per year.

Subscribe now

Interested in knowing what's new this week? Or maybe we're having an exclusive merch sale. Subscribe now to stay up-to-date with New Trail

    instagram default popup image round
    Follow Me
    502k 100k 3 month ago

    Your compare list