The definition of what makes a nanobrewery a nanobrewery as opposed to a microbrewery is a bit hazy, but check out the brew room and you’ll probably see just a handful of smaller barrels. Visit the tasting room and you’ll notice the hours are likely a few days a week for a few hours at a time (likely because the brewery is operated by one person who works a “day job” and moonlights as a brewer). Pull up a seat and you’ll have a small, carefully curated selection of taps to choose from. Take a sip and you’re likely to fall in love.
Some nanobreweries were started by accident when a hobbyist became so good (s)he started selling beer out of the garage (after getting the proper permits, of course!). The cost of starting up a full-scale brewery is massive, so nano is the perfect-sized operation for that type of brewer. Others started small out of necessity, and the demand for the beer—and perhaps a national award or two—created a following that allowed for growth to a larger operation. Notable breweries who started this way are Wit’s End (Denver, Colorado), Lawson’s Finest Liquids (Warren, Vermont), Toppling Goliath (Decorah, Iowa), Dogfish Head (Milton, Delaware), and Bissell Brothers (Portland, Maine).
So this year, while you’re planning your beercations, be sure to check out the nanobreweries in the area. Here are five to start with.
Dakota Shivers Brewing (Lead, South Dakota)
Whether you’re doing your road warrior thing at Sturgis or taking a break from hiking around Mount Rushmore, you’ll want to take a trip to Lead (the other mile-high city), where Dakota Shivers lives. The brewmistress, Linda Shivers, designs and brews her own recipes and serves up six of her amazing libations two nights a week (Friday and Saturday, 4−8 p.m.). Be sure to try the Whistle Blowin’ Stout, which is a milk stout that’s dry-hopped with whole coffee beans. The tasting room (pictured above) is warm, friendly, and cozy, just like going to a friend’s house and hanging out in the dining room…that happens to serve craft beer on tap.
Sisyphus Brewing (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
What’s more fun than beer? Not much, but if you head into Sisyphus Brewing you’ll find the answer: comedy. This nanobrewery is home to open mics, amateur hours, and national acts—be sure to check their website for the current lineup. Their seven taps flow as easily as the laughter and pour anything from ambers to IPAs to stouts to wee heavies. Their West Coast IPA is a 100-IBU IPA with a respectable 8 percent ABV, and their Imperial Brown Ale has notes of chocolate and caramel.
Brewers Union Local 180 (Oakridge, Oregon)
All the beers brewed at the Brwers Union are cask-conditioned and stored in a cellar behind the bar at a constant temperature to ensure the best flavors imaginable. Each of the English-made firkins is designed to tilt to the perfect angle based on the amount in the cask. Because of the size of the brewery and the nature of its operation, the selection in the six beer engines is rotating constantly. In addition to their own beers, they serve beers and ciders from other breweries (and always one gluten-free selection), as well as a selection of pub bites.
Black Frog Brewing (Toledo, Ohio)
We’ve mentioned Black Frog Brewing before, but we believe the impact Black Frog has made on the brewing industry in Toledo bears a second mention. The nanobrewery is not only veteran-owned, it is the first minority-owned brewery in the city. Brewmaster Chris Harris was a member of the United States Army, and his father served in the National Guard. He started his nanobrewery in 2014, and it features six taps. Last year, on Learn to Homebrew Day (November 5, 2016), he hosted an event at Black Frog that taught attendees to homebrew and raised funds for Veterans Matter, an organization that assists the United States’ almost 40,000 homeless veterans.
Kälte Brewing (Morrisville, Vermont)
Kälte Brewing is run by Nic Volke, who brews half-barrel batches in the small wooden barn in his backyard. Most of his winter beers are German lagers that are conditioned in the cold Vermont temperatures (a bit of trivia: kälte is German for cold). In the summer, he turns to warmer-fermenting beers such as saisons, hefes, and IPAs. There’s no tasting room, but coming soon, you can buy bottles in Nic’s backyard on the weekends.
We’d love to know more about the nanobrewers you visit! Be sure to share the love in the comments.
PHOTO: DAVE MURPHY