“Microbrewery”: a Pre-1980 Term of Brewing Science

This is the third part of my look at use of the term microbrewery or the variant, micro-brewery, prior to its appearance in Zymurgy magazine in 1980. The second part is here, and the first part, here. 

Zymurgy is a magazine for homebrewers, and with the American Homebrewers Association whence it issued, was an important resource for American homebrewers in a newly-legalized (from 1978) environment. Inevitably some early craft brewers read it, if for no other reason than not a few had previously home-brewed (Ken Grossman, say), and others were operating on a scale not so different from the purely amateur home brewer.

I showed that a noted Belgian brewing scientist, Jean De Clerck, used the term in 1969 to describe the model or teaching brewery established at the brewing school in Louvain where he had long taught. The term was used in English by an American journalist on sojourn in Belgium reporting to an American audience on the importance of beer and brewing in Belgium.

Let’s shift to 1985, a seemingly irrelevant year for this purpose given it is five years after the appearance of the term microbrewery in Zymurgy.

D.E. Briggs, T.W. Young, and J. Howard authored in the U.K.-based Journal of the Institute of Brewing, “A Simple Experimental Six-Line Microbrewery”. It appears in July-August, 1985, Vol. 91, pp. 257-263, see here.

“Microbrewery” appears only in the title. The article describes the development of a “small-scale brewing system for repeated trials”. So, a brewing system for trial work for industry. The article states it was received by the Journal in October, 1984. This is still some four years after the Zymurgy usage.

To be sure, we can assume CAMRA’s publications and probably some general press coverage on beer in the U.K. used “microbrewery” in its current signification as a small-scale commercial brewery.

Did the three authors get their usage from such presumed appearances, taking a leaf from innovative vocabulary of an infant American industry? I think it’s very doubtful. First, they don’t explain the term to their audience, a specialized academic and industry audience concerned with the fermentation and other sciences vital to brewing.

If this audience did not know the term already, surely there would be a need to explain it. If they did know it, as I think we can assume they must have, how could that have arisen?

Can we presume all those dons, lecturers, and industry QC specialists should be taken to know the latest developments in American craft brewing? Developments so arcane only a comparative few knew of them in the U.S. in 1984?

Quite doubtful, when there was just a handful of new breweries in the U.K. established in the wake of CAMRA’s creation as well. None of this was “on the map” for the purposes of such an audience, in other words.

So how did they know then? They knew because De Clerck was only one of many brewing scientists and technical authors who used the term before 1980.

Based on my far-from-exhaustive survey, consider these sources in addition to the 1969 De Clerck usage.

In 1978 in the same Journal, Messrs. Hyde and Brookes authored “Malt Quality in Relation to Beer Quality”. See May-June, 1978, Vol. 84, pp. 167-174,  here.

Referring to testing of certain mashes they write, “Mashes were carried out in a microbrewery”, again a model or testing brewery of some kind.

In 1971, J. Harrison, in the same Journal, authored “Effect of Hop Seeds on Beer Quality”, see here. He wrote, “Microbrewery trials with … [crushed hop seed] indicate that it will not affect beer quality”.

So this Journal had used the term before 1985 in a way similar to De Clerck, i.e., in a non-commercial beer-making context. That’s why the article by Dennis Briggs et al didn’t seek to explain the term; they presumed their audience knew its meaning.

And yet more.

In 1960 B.A. Burkhardt authored “A Micro Brewery for the Early Quality Evaluation of Hybrid Barley Selections”. It is published in Proceedings, the American Society of Brewing Chemists, 1960 at pp. 123-128. See publication details, here.

I haven’t been able to source the text but the title explains clearly what the author addressed.

This shows the term was understood as early as 1960 in brewing technical circles to mean a small-scale experimental or model brewery, to add therefore to the case for Belgium in 1969. Consistent with brewing science having long been international, use of this term was international, too.

Given the popularity of the microprocessor and microchips c. 1980 certainly the term could have been hit on independently within the American Homebrewers Association as I stated earlier.

But at a minimum, the familiarity with “microbrewery” by brewing science well before 1980, added to use by early craft brewers of brewing consultants with a highly technical background, suggests to me the term’s efflorescence from c.1980 is not unconnected.

N.B. Among the half-dozen sources cited by Briggs et al in their 1985 article is one by notre ami De Clerck, but I am not able at present to locate the text. No reference is cited peculiar to a recent emergence of the term in America to describe a new brewing cottage industry.