The Hophead: The Nanobreweries Next-Door

smallbeer The Hophead: The Nanobreweries Next DoorLong Island has in the last year become a tender hub of nanobreweries: As many as four are in operation or will be in operation by the middle of 2011. Two of those distribute in the city (which itself hosts no nanobreweries, as far as I was able to find—if I missed one, please let me know: tacitelli@observer.com).

Nanobrewers are the garage bands of the craft beer movement. Somewhere along the line someone—a friend, an older relative, a girlfriend (supportive wives, in fact, abound in this mini-universe)—sat them down and made them try the zymurgical equivalent of Exile on Main Street, and they absorbed the riff on “Rip This Joint,” and thought, “Hey, why not me?”

So they did a little research; talked it out with the people who needed to know; cobbled together some monies; re-arranged some furniture; got up earlier and stayed up later; and diligently set about a march to the big-time, dreams of Jim Koch and Ken Grossman in their heads. They would not fail. Damn the odds.

SLIDESHOW: THE NANOBREWERIES OF LONG ISLAND

(Technically, nanonbreweries are simply “very small brewery operations,” according to the Treasury Department, and need, just like the larger microbreweries and the much larger just plain breweries, certain licensing to sell commercially.)

It would be easy to dismiss nanobrewers as hobbyists—glorified homebrewers with the patience to fill out the government licensing forms and the beer guts to pony up for apparatuses more formidable than the standard 5-gallon stovetop kits (indeed, startup costs can run quickly into the thousands of dollars).

But that would be a mistake: nanobreweries, barely out of their infancy as a trend nationwide, can be incubators of innovation and entrepreneurialism in a craft beer movement whose members continue to balloon in size.

To wit: Earlier this week, the Brewers Association, the craft beer movement’s trade group, announced that it had changed its meaning of small in its definition of a craft brewer. “Small” once meant producing no more than 2 million barrels of beer a year (a barrel holds 31 gallons). Now it means no more than 6 million.

It’s the first time in 34 years that the definition has changed.

tacitelli@observer.com and Twitter: tacitelli

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