The Rise, Fall, and Eventual Revolution of the American Brewery

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“Beer, it’s the best damn drink in the world.”

- Jack Nicholson

The Rise

Beer and the American Dream are inseparable. It may even be argued that beer heavily shaped the development of this country. The very first American “help wanted” ad appeared in a London newspaper in 1609, seeking brewers to come to colonial Virginia. The Mayflower’s planned voyage to Virginia was abruptly changed and we now learn about a place called Plymouth Rock all due to a shortage of supplies, most notably beer. One diary entry from that voyage reads, “We could not take time for further search or consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially our beere (sic).”  The shortened Mayflower voyage gave rise to one the first American beer styles that was short lived, the Acorn Beer, which one may still enjoy in small taverns in New England. William Penn built a brew house in 1683 and used the liquid as a peace offering among the Native Americans. Thomas Jefferson wrote about beer in a letter he penned, writing, “I wish to see this beverage become more common.” Well, Mr. Jefferson got his wish.

The Fall

By 1880, America brewing was a boom with 2,272 working breweries. In Boston alone, 200 breweries thrived in the city while the State of Wisconsin saw 100 breweries dedicated to only producing wheat beer. The mass number of breweries, with many being local brewpubs, was not distinctly American, it borrowed from these immigrants’ European model, in which almost every large enough town had its own brewery or brewpub. 1892 marked the beginning of the decline of the local brewery in America with the patented “cork crown”, allowing beer to be bottled and shipped long distances reliably, the days of fresh local beer were numbered. By 1910 only 1,568 breweries remained and two decades later America’s experiment with “temperance” and Prohibition had ended with then President Roosevelt’s famous words, “I think this would be a good time for a beer”, only 231 operating breweries remained. These breweries survived the Prohibition era by switching manufacture to non-alcoholic beverages. The brewpub would see its full destruction though with the adoption of the 3-tier system and enforcement of "tied house evil" laws, making it illegal for a manufacturer to also be a retailer. In the early 1970’s, through consolidation and changing consumer tastes, including America’s new love for light beer (a product of World War II war wives dictating the beverage of choice), only 50 breweries remained in the United States.

The Revolution

One would think the story ends here, but brewers are rebels at heart, they challenge the status quo everyday and make great beer doing so. Instead of dying off, the out of work brewer became the microbrewer, and shifted to an economically lean model of manufacturer. In 1982, Washington became the first state to pass a bill allowing breweries to have direct sales within a restaurant environment. The microbrewer, who survived on smaller scale equipment, fit this new model perfectly and the brewpub was reborn. Since 1982, almost every state now has friendly laws allowing for this practice of small scale brewing and sales directly from the taproom. Not only did this create a new renaissance of local breweries, it created a renaissance of choice for the consumer, which is the distinct driving force behind the stellar growth of craft beer in the United States. Brewers know that at the end of the day, products are about the people who consume them. Therefore, as of September 2015, the Brewers Association reported a staggering 4,000 active breweries in the U.S., a solid historic record in small and local American Brewing. Even more inspiring is that although a very small fraction of American beer consumption, craft beer, including brewpubs and micro/nano breweries, were the only segment to see growth in the past decade, including throughout the 2008 recession.

Florida has more than 195 breweries contributing over $3 billion dollars in total economic impact to the state. Ranking 10th in the United States, Florida has seen a boom of craft beer consumers with a new generation of consumers demanding diversity in their beer and willing to try new and revived styles. The great American tradition of the local taproom and brewpub is alive and well in the sunshine state.

  Image Source: Brewers Association, Boulder, CO,  www.brewersassociation.org

Image Source: Brewers Association, Boulder, CO, www.brewersassociation.org