The BA Column – A History of US Craft Brewing (Part 1)

| februari 13, 2013
The BA's COO Bob Pease.

The BA’s COO Bob Pease.

If you were asked to name one country that has done more to change the public’s perception about what beer is and what it can do in recent years there can really only be one answer – the United States of America.

The country that once had a ‘canoe-and-water’ reputation for its cleverly marketed but bland beers is the birthplace of the ‘Craft Beer Revolution‘ that is sweeping around the globe right now. So it is with immense pride that we at BeerSweden have teamed up with the Brewers Association – the organisation that represents over 1,500 US craft brewery members  – to give you a unique perspective on what makes this game-changing market tick.

Once a month we’ll be asking the BA to send us stateside news from the US craft beer scene as part of a regular column that will give you the inside track on new trends, beer styles, industry news and much more.

But before we look forward to all this it’s only right we take a brief look back at why a group of visionary US brewers revolted against boring beer in the first place. In this, the first instalment of the BA Column, the organisation’s Chief Operating Officer Bob Pease gives us a short history lesson on US craft beer.


Many years ago, at the turn of the 20th century, the United States had a thriving brewing industry, counting some 3000 breweries, large and small, spanning the country from coast-to-coast.  However, in 1919, the United States Congress passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution declaring the manufacture, sale and possession of alcohol to be illegal.


Prohibition brought the US beer industry to its knees.

Prohibition brought the US beer industry to its knees.

Prohibition officially took effect in 1920, and lasted for 13 years until 1933, when the 21st Amendment to the United States’ Constitution reversed the 18th Amendment. 

Over the course of the 13-year period of Prohibition, many breweries tried to survive on alternative businesses, among them the manufacture of ice and of malt syrup.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of breweries were not able to survive this “dry” period; only a few hundred breweries remained.

From 1933 until 1975, a period of time covering most of the Great Depression, World War II and post-war Baby Boom, the number of breweries operating in the United States continued to dwindle to fewer than 50 while the product offerings became more and more homogenous, focused on the pale, light lager style.  The business and culture of brewing in America was withering.

However, in 1976, Jack McAuliffe opened the New Albion Brewing Co. in Sonoma, CA, so that he could produce the types of beers that he preferred, which were not available in the US common market, specifically traditional English-style ales.   Equipment for small scale brewing was not readily available, so Mr. McAuliffe had to cobble together his brewery from an assortment of old and used soda equipment and dairy vessels.

While New Albion Brewing Co. went out of business after just six years in operation, the effort inspired several others to attempt to open small breweries in other parts of the country, among them Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, CA, and Boulder Beer Co. in Hygiene, CO.


Ken Grossman trying to figure out how his bottling machine works in the early days of Sierra Nevada.

Ken Grossman trying to figure out how his bottling machine works in the early days of Sierra Nevada.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. founder Ken Grossman followed in McAuliffe’s footsteps, crafting equipment from used dairy vessels in a machine shop in Chico.  Grossman and his partner and co-founder, Paul Camusi, opened Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in the fall of 1980, and shortly thereafter released their Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, which has come to be recognized as one of the leading beers in American craft brewing history as well as the style standard for American Pale Ale.

The industry developed slowly, as equipment was difficult to find, state liquor control agencies were not prepared for the questions and issues presented by these small operators, state laws were not entirely welcoming to these new small businesses and the marketplace was very much unprepared for the new names, labels and flavors these small breweries were introducing.

In the first half of the 1980s, several small breweries commenced operation.  Most of these were located in the western states of California, Oregon and Washington.  Among the more prominent early entries were the Hopland Brewery, Bridgeport Brewing Co. and Widmer Brewing Co. in Portland, OR and Redhook Ale Brewery in Seattle.  San Francisco, Portland, OR and Seattle quickly became centers of this new brewing activity.

The industry took a bit longer gaining a foothold in other parts of the United States.  Kalamazoo Brewing Co. (Kalamazoo, MI) and Summit Brewing Co. of St. Paul, MN were a couple the pioneering craft breweries in the Midwest, while the William S. Newman Brewing Co (Albany, NY), New Amsterdam Brewing Co. (New York City) and Boston Beer Co., (Boston, MA) makers of Samuel Adams Boston Lager, helped pave the way in the populous Northeast.

By the mid 1980s there were approximately 50 small breweries (craft breweries and brewpubs) operating in the United States, in all accounting for less than 1/10 of 1 % of the total American beer market, setting the stage for the first period of explosive growth in the American craft industry.

In part 2: we bring the story up to date, chart the explosion in craft beer breweries in the US and discover why the future has never looked brighter for beer revolutionaries the world over!


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Category: Articles in English, Senaste Nytt

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  1. Killer skriver:

    Intressant, men var inte Fritz Maytag med grundandet av Anchor 1970 en av de allra första? Liberty Ale gjordes bland annat för första gången 1975 om jag inte minns fel.