This one isn't strictly fair of me. Of course, all 16th-century breweries were microbreweries, because no factories of the time could produce the volume of beer that would qualify them as anything but. Actually, you might say that the 16th century marked a period of transition from mini-microbreweries - individuals making beer in the home for family consumption - to breweries in pubs and monasteries, producing beer in larger quantities for public sale.
Evidence of beer production dating back about 7,000 years has been found by archaeologists, although the process might well be even older than that. But the addition of hops to beer came much later. The oldest surviving written record of using hops in beer came from Abbess Hildegard of Bingen in the year 1067: "If one intends to make beer from oats, it is prepared with hops." Hops were first introduced in northern Germany in the 13th century, and the process then spread to the Netherlands. England began importing beer made with hops from the Netherlands in the early 1400's, and by 1428 it was planting its own hops. At that time, hops were the ingredient that changed what was called an ale to a beer. But by the 16th century, all ales and beers were made with hops, and the word "ale" was used to refer to any strong beer. This was also the century during which lagers were discovered by accident after beers had been left stored in cool caverns for long periods.
The addition of hops to beer was a crucial element in developing an export trade, because the various herbs used prior to hops didn't preserve the beer long enough for it to be shipped elsewhere without spoiling. Germany remained the hub of beer production. In the 16th century the city of Hamburg had more than 600 independent breweries, and was exporting beer to places as far away as India. But even the largest-scale exporters in 16th century Germany would be considered very small fry by 21st-century standards.
As an interesting aside, what might be the oldest surviving European food regulation dealt with the subject of beer. In 1516, William IV, the Duke of Bavaria, adopted a "purity law" requiring that the ingredients of beer be restricted to water, barley, and hops. Enaction of a law that enforced quality control was, at the time, a groundbreaking concept.
low-tech beer transport system
Microbreweries, artisanal food production, locavorism... everything old becomes new again. Does anyone other than me find it funny that modern foodies would love to be transported back to the 1500's, a time 200 years before that damned Industrial Revolution came along and ruined everything?
I know, I know, I was ranting against food conglomerates in my J post. Maybe I'm being inconsistent, and maybe it's because I don't like beer. I do think that people should eat fresh un-processed food whenever possible, and that they should cook it themselves. Sometimes, though, trends just get to the point of being ridiculous, IMHO. Your thoughts?