The newest trend filling steins doesn't mark a huge change from the norm — in fact, it's pretty nano. Nanobreweries, to be exact: a model of DIY suds start-ups that's allowing beer entrepreneurs to build their empires just the way they like them. Enterprising beer nerds, you've hereby discovered the brewpub version of underground farmers markets.
"One day we'll open a real pub, and if you find your photo on the wall you'll get a free pint," said Richard Brewer-Hay (yes, that's the name he was born with) as he showed off the pub-appointed Noe Valley basement room that houses his Elizabeth Street Brewery. Daughter Addison, a precocious four-year-old, plays on the ground next to us as we sip a stout concocted by Brewer-Hay in the very same room — we just checked in with her sister, Quincy, on her way to bath time upstairs.
Nanobreweries are, in effect, the domains of beer makers caught between formidable brewing habits and starting their for-profit commercial operation. The Hess Brewing Company website volunteers that the definition of a nanobrewery is production of 10 to 75 gallons of beer annually. It estimates that there are 44 nanos in the country, with 21 in the works. Nanos can't sell their own beer without undergoing the same kind of expensive brewpub permitting process, so most keep their beer available on a by-donation basis — making for a real good party if you can get an invite.
Brewer-Hay, who moonlights as a blogger for eBay, began brewing seven years ago. Natural hosts, he and wife Alyson would offer his American-style, English-inflected beers at their neighborhood-famous Super Bowl parties. They named their brews after members of the family: Firecracker Red for the ginger-haired Addison; Daddy's Chocolate Milk for the stout that Brewer-Hay is partial to (and that we sit sipping). Recently bottled, it has a smooth, light taste. Also, like most of Elizabeth Street's creations, it is low in alcohol.
At first, Brewer-Hay's small batches were purely a labor of love. But as his brewing skills expanded, the family's parties did too, first to 150, then 200. Word spread, until one day he looked around and "didn't know anyone in the room." He realized he had hit on something and started to consider the shift to opening his own brewpub.