STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Nanobrewing sounds like scientists tinkering in a secluded, top-secret lab.
For former polymer scientist Sean Arsenault — who together with his twin brother, Andrew, are about to start selling beer that they had previously made exclusively at home — indeed, that’s what it is.
“We get to use our creative side, but we’re engineers by training. It’s like a small laboratory with all the refrigerators,” said Arsenault of a home brewing setup he described as taking up a lot of space, “much to the chagrin of my wife.”
What’s the difference between craft brewing — which by definition already means small and independent — and nanobrewing?
“It’s really a question of scale,” explained Tim Patton, co-owner of St. Benjamin Brewing Co., a nanobrewery at 1710 N. Fifth St., Philadelphia, that’s named for Ben Franklin and located in what was the carriage house and stable of a Kensington brewery driven out of business by Prohibition. “A barrel is 31 gallons. The accepted definition of a nanobrewer is less than five barrels per batch. It allows people (ambitious home brewers) to get into the market; it’s a lot less expensive.”
Bucks Country Brewery, 31 Appletree Lane, Bedminster Township, is committed to keeping a small carbon footprint while brewing such concoctions as Pappy Smitty’s Dirty Sock, Golden Nectar, Rye, Mulley’s Tavern Red, Barley Nectar and a selection of seasonal beers. Despite keeping 47 different beers on tap in his brewpub, owner/brewer Andrew Knechel considers himself a nanobrewer, with both a one-barrel and a three-to-six-barrel system. “I’m not really looking to build a distribution empire,” he said of staying away from canning, bottling or hauling kegs all over the region. “On site, you meet the people that are drinking beer and getting direct feedback on things.”
Now that Pennsylvania has relaxed laws that require brewpubs serving beer by the pint to also sell food, “I think you’re going to see nanobrewing really, really take off 20-fold,” Knechel said.
Brewpubs that sell pints must at least have snacks, he said, and one of Bucks County Brewery’s specialties is bagel bites made at the Bagel Barrel in Doylestown that use the brewery’s spent grain.
For now, the Arsenault brothers’ Brewery ARS (taken from the first three letters of their last name) is a nanobrewery because they’re still in the process of securing a brick-and-mortar tasting room/brewing facility. However, they don’t intend to stick with ultra-tiny batches. “We’re going to go with a 10-barrel system. We wanted to actually make a living doing this,” said Arsenault.
“For almost every company I’ve spoken to … the nano is really just a stepping stone,” said Patton, who together with partner Christina Burris, are creating new interpretations on classic beer styles, such as India cream ale, lavender saison and coffee kolsch, and have more than 80 bars throughout the region willing to serve them.
“At any moment, 20 or 30 have us on tap,” he said. “We are actually working on our IPA (India Pale Ale). We weren’t happy with the way our IPA turned out last summer.”
The Arsenault brothers — who are “probably not” going to brew an IPA because they believe the market’s saturated with them — know that they’re onto something, now that 276 backers pledged more than $32,000 to them on Kickstarter.
“It was a really interesting learning curve in terms of how to market our brand,” said Arsenault. “It was awful (home brewing) at the beginning; we made some vile batches … but we kept questioning everything we made. 2012 is when our beer started tasting good.”
Brewery ARS’ flagship beers are Starving Artist — a dry-hopped, lemon-forward saison, and Antique’n — a single-hop saison. “It depends what our distributor wants. We’ll try to roll out a new beer each month,” he said.
Something else that could embolden potential nanobrewers is H.R. 232 — the Small Brew Act — a federal bill that, according to Knechel, would reduce the excise tax per barrel for craft and small batch brewers.
www.stbenjaminbrewing.com; www.facebook.com/stbenjaminbrew; Twitter @stbenjaminbrew.
www.facebook.com/BreweryARS; Twitter @BreweryARS.
Other nanobrewers across Pennsylvania — depending on your criteria of nano — that are seizing the momentum of the drink local movement include Two Rivers Brewing Co. in Easton (www.faceboook.com/tworiversbrewing), Beaver Brewing Co. in Beaver County (www.beaverbrewingcompany.com) and Milkman Brewing in Pittsburgh (http://blog.milkmanbrewing.com).