STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It used to be that the secret to manufacturing was taking your production to scale; stop making small batches of your product and find a way to make lots of it - cheap. For some people making beer, the challenge today is to go small scale. Microbreweries are popular, quirky brands catering to local tastes.
And now, let's talk about an even smaller concept, the nanobrewery. These breweries made, for example, create beers spiked with rhubarb or jalapeno made for a very few discerning customers. There are about 100 of these nanobreweries around the nation. Turns out the challenge is staying small.
New Hampshire Public Radio's Emily Corwin reports.
EMILY CORWIN BYLINE: Nicole Carrier is standing between an applewood smoker and three five-foot tall chrome tanks.
NICOLE CARRIER: And we put Applewood on this side right here. And then we smoke the grains on this side over here.
BYLINE: A year and half ago, she and her partner Annette Lee were just enthusiastic home brewers.
(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)
BYLINE: Now, they spend a lot of time rinsing out equipment and mixing up ingredients at their brewery, which is called Throwback. As in, a throwback to the days when communities were smaller and all food was local food. Call them farmers market types.
Nicole Carrier still works for IBM. Lee left her job as an engineer to start the place.
ANNETTE LEE: We call it a Frankenbrewery because we found some pieces and she sort of engineered them together.
BYLINE: Carrier and Lee have two full-time employees. They produce 360 gallons of beer a week. That's about what a bigger craft brewery throw away. But in a lot of places, starting a nanobrewery can involve a lot of red tape, thanks in part to prohibition era-liquor laws. New Hampshire is the first state to try to change that.
Despite pushback from big beverage manufacturers like Budweiser, the state has begun lowering the barrier to entry for people like Carrier and Lee. Today, seven nanobreweries are open here. But although these tiny breweries are proliferating, they may be hard to sustain.
TOM BROCK, JR.: The thing about nanobreweries that's always a challenge is they run out of products.
BYLINE: Tom Brock Jr. buys beer for an upscale national grocery franchise. He stocks Throwback at his New Hampshire stores. But he finds small breweries unreliable. And he worries the novelty that makes them trendy may ultimately make them unsustainable.
JR.: A lot of folks will look at nanobreweries and they're, like, well, I had all their lineup and I'm going to go on to something new.
BYLINE: If they're going to stick around, Brock says good nanobreweries may not stay nano for long. And it's true that Carrier and Lee at Throwback will be moving to a bigger facility soon. But selling as much beer as possible to as many people as possible? That's just not their style. See, Carrier and Lee buy most of their ingredients within a 200 mile radius of coastal New Hampshire. And they want to limit their sales within that radius too.
CARRIER: So if a lot of people around here are that thirsty, we'll get past a nanobrewery.
CARRIER: But we, you know, you won't see us in like, California or even New York.
BYLINE: Throwback Brewery is in a warehouse park, far from any downtown. But that doesn't stop five or six people from coming in to try a Chipotle Porter or Fennel Flower Stout on a Tuesday evening.
JOHN STRAW: Do you have an IPA?
CARRIER: Yeah, we have a red IPA and then we also...
BYLINE: John Straw buys a glass of beer and a jug to go every single week.
STRAW: It is really neat to be able to support the local farmers and keep business in New Hampshire or local, you know, within a couple states here.
BYLINE: Carrier says that while the locavore mission is probably good for business, she hopes the beer will speak for itself.
CARRIER: Do you like a particular style of beer?
BYLINE: I like hoppy beer.
CARRIER: Hoppy beer?
BYLINE: So she pours me a glass of beer.
Oh, it's delicious.
Next on the docket for Carrier and Lee: opening a beer and breakfast on their farm across the street.
For NPR News, I'm Emily Corwin in Concord, New Hampshire.