Nanobreweries: Serving Up Small Batches with Big Taste

Photo by Don Hajicek
Photo by Don Hajicek

By Emily Hutto
If you’ve been following craft beer media over the past few years, you might have noticed a new word that isn’t yet recognized by dictionaries: nanobrewery.
Nanobreweries are defined loosely by the Brew- ers Association as brewing companies that produce 100 barrels (or 3100 gallons) per year or less. Accord- ing to Julia Herz, the Craft Beer Program Director for the Brewers Association, “They usually have very limited distribution, mostly selling to their network of friends and family.”
Nanos are their own breed of craft brewery. Like Herz says, beyond their small production num- bers, inherent to most nanobreweries is a sense of community. Their taprooms are full of their closest friends, kids, and dogs. And more often than not, their furniture and decor has been borrowed from the owners homes.
Verboten Brewing, a new nanobrewery in Love- land, is no exception. Its four co-owners Josh and Angie Grenz and Joe and Keri Akers began as pas- sionate homebrewers who decided that Colorado’s climate was perfect for starting a small brewing company. They set up shop in an industrial building in east-central Loveland to house their three-barrel brewhouse, five taps, and a nitrogen tap borrowed from Josh and Angie’s living room. Immediately new patrons flocked Verboten for their well known wit beer (Belgian wheat ales). Lovers came back again for their most popular beer, the Killer Boots Caramel Porter, which has caramel in the mash that is made via Dancing Pines Distillery’s candy making machine. It’s pretty convenient that Dancing Pines is across the street from the brewery.
“We’re getting to the point where there are a lot of breweries [in Loveland — Big Beaver Brew- ing Company, Loveland Aleworks and Grimm Bros. Brewhouse to name a few], but there was still room for us,” says Angie. “Fortunately the buzz around brewing is so big that [marketing] kind of takes care of itself… we only do outreach with social media.”
Perhaps there was room in the market for Ver- boten because this new brewery is making beers that you can’t find elsewhere, not just in Loveland but anywhere else in Colorado. The Five Second Frencher, a Belgian-style wit beer infused with lemongrass and The Behemoth, a rum-barrel aged sour porter, are just two examples of the innovative beers Verboten has to offer.
“We liked the nano model because it encap- sulates the local made, hand made, seasonal con- cept,” says Angie. “It’s something we enjoy in food. We like the way that translates to beer. It can reflect the season very well. We wanted to have a continual surprise for our customers, to get something new and different every time they come in.”
Angie speaks to another key characteristic of the nanobrewery concept: experimental beers. With
so many Colorado breweries making classic beer styles so well, it seems nanos are pushing the limits on what you can include in a mash. “Not every additive we
do with herbs or spices or fruits will always appeal to everybody, but we can have it on for a little while,” Angie adds. “People can try it, experience what you can do with a style of beer, and we can move on from there.”
Verboten regularly rotates their beers, and will try anything at least once when it comes to fresh ingredients. The brewery has a commitment to qual- ity that trumps all of their other practices. Brewers Josh and Joe have already dumped one of their batches of a pear wit that didn’t turn out quite right. “It wasn’t worth ruining our reputation over,” says Josh. “We’re really picky.”
With only a three-barrel brewhouse, they can be really picky. “It’s not quite the pain that it is to dump a 15-barrel system of beer,” jokes Angie. “We wanted to be committed to putting out the best product that we possibly could.”
So even with a tiny brewing system and a lim- ited budget, the commitment to quality and the community support that Verboten has is quickly es- tablishing them as a destination spot both for locals and Northern Colorado craft-beer connoissuers.
Another nano not to be missed in the nearby area is City Star Brewing Company in Berthoud. They brew a lineup of flagship brews including the popular Bandit Brown Ale and the hoppy Red Neck- tar Ale, as well as specialty beers such as the Vanilla Bandit (their brown ale aged on Madagascar vanilla beans) and the Chai Wallah Watchman Stout, all on their three-barrel brewhouse.
For some, a three-barrel system might seem
Photo © Don Hajicek
small — Odell brews on a 50-barrel system for comparison sake — while for others it wasn’t small enough. One nano out of Denver, Wit’s End Brewing Company, brews on a one-barrel system. Owner and brewer Scott Witsoe followed in the footsteps of another Denver brewery, Strange Brewing Com- pany; which also started on a one-barrel system. To-date Strange has upgraded to a three-barrel brewhouse and pays homage to their roots with one-barrel Wednesdays, a weekly small-batch ex- perimental beer that they often invite friends and interns to help them brew.
As a newer phenomenon to the craft brewing industry, “nanobreweries” might not be specifically defined by how many barrels of beer they can make at a time or how they distribute that beer. Each nano has different production numbers and vastly different business models. Across the board though, these small companies do have a few things in com- mon: they support their local communities and they introduce craft beer drinkers to new flavors. And they’re running out of chairs in their dining rooms for all of their repeat customers.

Nanos of Note

Verboten Brewing

1550 Taurus Court Loveland, CO 80537

City Star Brewing

321 Mountain Avenue Berthoud, CO 80513

BRU Handbuilt Ales

Boulder, CO

Crystal Springs Brewing Company

Boulder, CO

Wild Woods Brewery

5460 Conestoga Court Boulder, CO 80301

Strange Brewing Company

1330 Zuni Street Denver, CO 80204

Wit’s End Brewing Company

2505 W. 2nd Avenue, #13 Denver, CO 80219

Our Mutual Friend Malt & Brew 2810 Larimer Street Denver, CO 80205

TRVE Brewing

227 Broadway Denver, CO 80203

Dads and Dudes Breweria

6730 S. Cornerstar Way Aurora, CO 80016

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