Brewers Association

History of Craft Brewing

First Brewpub pioneer John Mitchell
John Mitchell pioneered North
America’s first brewpub in 1982.

America's brewing landscape began to change by the late-1970s. The traditions and styles brought over by immigrants from all over the world were disappearing. Only light lager appeared on shelves and in bars and imported beer was not a significant player in the marketplace. Highly effective marketing campaigns had changed America's beer preference to light-adjunct lager. Low calorie light lager beers soon began driving and shaping the growth and nature of the American beer industry, even to present day.

By the end of the decade the beer industry had consolidated to only 44 brewing companies. Industry experts predicted that soon there would only be 5 brewing companies in the United States.

At the same time as American brewing landscape was shrinking in taste and size a grassroots homebrewing culture emerged. The homebrewing hobby began to thrive because the only way a person in the United States could experience the beer traditions and styles of other countries was to make the beer themselves. These homebrewing roots gave birth to what we now call the "Craft Brewing" industry.

Fritz Maytag, Anchor Brewing, first modern microbrewery pioneer in the USA
Fritz Maytag, Anchor
Brewing, first modern
microbrewery pioneer
in the USA.

  • Several notable "events" took place during this period that helped inspire a change in American beer culture.
  • Anchor Brewing Company was purchased by Fritz Maytag in 1965. Maytag maintained some of the original beer traditions of that brewery, brewing unique beers during a time when all of America's unique beers and breweries were disappearing.
  • Increased homebrewing activity inspired beer enthusiasts to start their own small brewing companies. Their intent was always to reintroduce the public to more flavor and to the traditions of beer.
  • In 1976 what some call the true renaissance of American craft brewing emerged with the founding of The New Albion Brewery in Sonoma, California by a homebrew enthusiast. While this brewery went out of business after about 6 years, there were hundreds of homebrewers that were inspired and followed in their footsteps and started breweries in the early-1980s.

The quality of beer from these small breweries improved over the years, enabling a wider distribution and establishing popularity and choice. Up until the early-1980s the popular image of beer in America was simply that of a mass-produced commodity with little or no character, tradition or culture worth mentioning.

Geoff and Marcy Larson handpacking beer at Alaskan
Handpacking at Alaskan
Brewing Co. in the '80s.

 

The 1980s marked the decade of the microbrewing pioneers. In a time when industry experts flat out refused to recognize their existence as anything serious, the pioneering companies emerged with their passion and a vision, serving their local communities a taste of full flavored beer and old world European traditions; all with what was to become a uniquely American character. Through extraordinarily difficult market conditions, the microbreweries and brewpubs of the 1980s struggled to establish the foundation for what was to become the proliferation of craft beer in America.

Momentum began to pick up for the microbrewing phenomenon in the early- to mid-1990s with annual volume growth increasing from 35% in 1991 increasing each year to a high of 58% in 1995. Craft brewer volume growth slowed to between 1 and 5 % annually between 1997 and 2003. 2004 saw an acceleration of craft brewer sales with annual growth percentages for the craft segment of between 6 and 12 % each year from 2004 through 2008, as beer drinkers increasingly connected with small and independent breweries and local breweries. Craft Brewers have succeeded in establishing a high levels of quality, consistency and innovation, expanding the minds of the beer consumer and in creating the most diverse brewing culture in the world. While craft brewers only had 4 % of the US beer sales in 2008, there is a tremendous upside for beer drinkers and craft brewers.

The number of craft brewers has gone from 8 in 1980 to 537 in 1994 to over 2300 in 2012. the number of breweries in planning is skyrocketing. As of June1, 2013 there are more than 1,500 breweries in development in the US. Craft brewers operate in 344 congressional districts and the majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery. Truly craft brewers and craft beer drinkers are participants in a revolution. There has never been a better time or place to drink beer than in the US right now.

See Craft Brewer Defined.

 

Photos courtesy of the Brewers Association

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