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Really Small and Good Beer

Jason Reimers May 3, 2015

By: Jason D. Reimers, Esq.

Once known as a “beer wasteland,” New Hampshire is making its mark in the world of good beer. Becoming the first state in the nation to license “nanobreweries” is part of the reason. Smaller than a microbrewery, a nanobrewery produces less than 2,000 barrels of beer annually. That’s equivalent to about 62,000 gallons, or not quite enough to fill one tanker truck. Compared with Anheuser-Busch, which produce more than 3 million barrels annually in Merrimack, 2,000 barrels of beer seems small. But, most nanobreweries actually produce less.

Before the nanobrewery law, the only way home brewers could sell their beers was with a beverage manufacturer’s license that costs $1,200. A nanobrewery license is only $240, and it permits a brewer to sell beer directly to bars, restaurants and stores, at farmers’ markets, and on-site to individuals.

If you are a home brewer and starting to dream about your basement-brewed Monadnock Maple Stout being sold at stores and bars everywhere, here is a huge legal disclaimer: to operate a nanobrewery you need more than just a nanobrewery license. You should obtain a federal brewer’s notice from the Tax and Trade Bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury; purchase bond coverage; incorporate your business; pay federal and state taxes; and possibly more. You may also need to obtain approval from your local zoning board or planning board. Given these requirements, as well as the cost of equipment and supplies, nanobrewers report that the low $240 nanobrewery license fee, while helpful, is not the make-or-break factor.

One brewer thought that the most significant effect of the law is that it allows taprooms that can serve beer on-site. However, nanobreweries are limited to serving 4-ounce glasses of beer (equal to one quarter of a pint), though you can try a 4-ounce sample of each brew on tap. Nanobreweries may also fill growlers (reusable glass or ceramic jugs used to transport draft beer) for customers to buy and take away, and then return for refills.

I visited Throwback Brewery in North Hampton on a Friday night. Just finding the brewery in an industrial-zone warehouse was an accomplishment for which I earned a beer. I had never been in such a “bar” before, with two tables, some chairs lined up against the garage door, what may have been a retired dentist chair, and some of the best shirts and souvenirs around. I couldn’t pass up the “No Farms, No Beer” t-shirt. People were sipping 4-ounce tasters of Maple-Kissed Maple Porter and Hog Happy Hefeweizen. The owners/brewers were hustling glasses and supplies all around. They were busy. Several people showed up to have growlers refilled. Right down the street is another nanobrewery, Blue Lobster Brewing Company.

For some successful nanobreweries, the nanobrewery license is a steppingstone to becoming a full-fledged brewery. Candia Road Brewery in Manchester (one of the owners lives in the Monadnock region) started with a nanobrewery license and recently graduated to a beverage manufacturer license. Other nanobrewers swore that they harbored no aspirations to get any bigger, or, as one brewer put it, to “become the next Smuttynose.”

As New Hampshire begins to shed its reputation as a “30-pack state,” nanobrewers would like to see towns and the State do more to recognize the value of “beer tourism.” In particular, several nanobrewers would like to see the law changed to allow them to serve pints of beer. This would make their breweries more of a destination and increase their profitability.

The new law and the burgeoning nanobrewery scene has changed my perspective on beer. Microbrews that used to seem small now seem huge. Beers from brewers such as Henniker Brewing Company and Squam Brewing now catch my eye. Try one next time.