How New Hampshire Is Helping Nanobreweries Revolutionize Craft Beer

While beer sales have been down, nationally, since the great recession, the craft beer industry has been going strong – growing 15 percent in 2011, according to the American Brewers’ Association.

The newest kid on the block in craft beer is the “nanobrewery” – a very small scale commercial brewery that produces fewer than 2,000 barrels a year. To put that in context, the Brewers’ Association defines a microbrewery as producing fewer than 15,000 barrels a year, and a large brewery as exceeding 6 million*.  Hess Brewing in California keeps a list of nanobreweries and estimates there are about 93 in operation nationally – although that list is probably not comprehensive.

New Hampshire is the only state in the nation to recognize and codify nanobreweries as separate from large-scale beverage manufacturers. In doing so, the state lowered certain Prohibition-era liquor limitations that make it hard for the little guys to get a license, open a tap room and get brewing – including a requirement that a brewery sell hot food if they wish to serve beer.

A year and a half after the nanobrewery law went into effect, New Hampshire has seven nanobreweries, and a few more on the way. Throwback Brewery in North Hampton is one of the larger operations.  It is run by Annette Lee, a former environmental engineer, and Nicole Carrier, a software marketer.

Throwback Brewery

Throwback is located in a small warehouse park that is easy to miss from the main road. The obscure location doesn’t stop four customers from straggling in on a Wednesday evening, ordering growlers and drinking four ounce glasses – they cost $1 each – at two mismatched kitchen tables to the side of the bar.  Behind the bar, hoses line a clearing between burlap bags of grain, five-foot tall chrome tanks, and an array of equipment, much of which was jerry-rigged by Lee.

The popularity of nanobreweries like Throwback has a lot to do with the local food movement. Carrier and Lee source most* of their ingredients within a 200-mile radius, and vow never to produce more than their local community has an appetite for. “Our whole goal is to make great local beer from local ingredients, and serve it around here,” Carrier says.   During the last legislative session, Lee was instrumental in getting a bill passed that allows nanobreweries to sell beer at farmers markets. They hope to begin setting up at markets next season.

But can a good nanobrewery stay “nano”?

Nanobreweries are also fueling consumers’ appetites for experimental beers. Their “nano-sized” batches make it easy to try new things all the time.

Successful nanobreweries, however, may not stay “nano” for long.  Retailers who sell Throwback – Barb’s Beer Emporium in Concord, and The Meat House in Pembroke and Portsmouth, for example —  say the small scale of nanobreweries is hard on them. “The thing about nanobreweries is they run out of products,” says Tom Brock Jr., who buys beer for Meat House.

Demand often exceeds the production capacity of a successful nanobrewery — but even if it doesn’t, a lack of distribution infrastructure makes deliveries infrequent. When customers return for more of something they liked and find it’s unavailable, they choose another brand and don’t look back.

Upcoming legislation

That’s one reason the small-scale beverage industry is pushing for more legislation this session. Representative Tim O’Flaherty (D) Manchester, among others are working on bills that would lift limitations on beer retailers, brewers, and cross-licensing, to make it easier for small-scale breweries to grow, serve and distribute their products.  Additionally, a Bipartisan Beer Coalition is forming in the House of Representatives. Its first meeting is scheduled for January 23.

In the meantime, Throwback is already planning its expansion to a farm nearby, where it will likely graduate to a traditional brewery license, to meet growing demand.


*CORRECTIONS: Details in this sentence have been revised since the post was published.


  • Correction, Craft microbreweries are under 15000 BBL/yr, while a regional craft brewery produces OVER 15000 and under 6M BBL/yr. Otherwise, a very interesting article.

    • Emily Corwin

      Thanks Michael, we’ve made a correction.

  • JT

    I’d like to see the proposed changes apply to all breweries in the state, not just nanos. We should encourage growth in ALL of New Hampshire’s breweries!

  • Kevin Bloom

    Most of the new and proposed legislation will apply to beverage manufacturers as well as brewpubs and nanobreweries. The bill sponsored by Rep. Tim O’Flaherty would removes the four ounce on over the counter sales, while the bill sponsored by Rep. Schroadter would remove some of the restrictions placed on, say, Smuttynose with respect to the same individuals being able to only hold one type of license. In addition, the nanodistilleries (new term?) are now demanding the same rights as the brewers (yay!) to self distribute, sell samples, and various other things. Fortunately, brewers much like JT sometimes show up at committee hearings to propose making proposed legislation apply more widely—and as a consequence you can find many more brands of locally brewed beer at farmer’s markets. Well done!

    • KB

      “Would remove the four ounce limit on over the counter sales” sorry ’bout that.

  • Bob

    There is no way they source ALL their ingredients within 200 miles. Yeast? Hops?

    • Annette

      It is a misprint. It is our goal to source everything within 200 miles. Currently we get about 60-70% of our ingredients locally including a substantial portion of our hops (from ME).

      • Emily Corwin

        Thanks for the careful attention. A correction has been issued.

      • Bob

        How are you going to source yeast within 200 miles? There aren’t any brewing yeast company within 200 miles that I know of.

  • crice

    Granite State Ale
    North Country Lager
    Pemigewasset Porter
    Seacoast Stout

    Portsmouth Pilsner
    Live Free, …IPA

    just saying, good name potentials

  • cdgraves

    The burgeoning beer market demands deregulation.

    It’s odd to say as a “liberal”, but the brewing industry really does need to be de- or re-regulated to accommodate the reality of both small and large breweries (and wineries and distilleries).

    Ridiculous regulations like New Hampshire’s “hot food” requirement – converse to their neighbor Maine’s “no food” law – make it much harder for small companies to establish a legal revenue stream without enormous up-front costs.

  • Chuck

    ” When customers return for more of something they liked and find it’s unavailable, they choose another brand and don’t look back.”

    Gotta disagree, many breweries make a delicious beer for a limited period of time, and find that customers desire that brew a great deal when it returns to market.

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