Beer has always played an important role in society. The history of craft beer illustrates how small businesses took on mega-corporations.
Craft beer has witnessed a resurgence around the world in recent years. Walk into a bar or a restaurant today, and you will likely see a menu of an array of craft beers for you to sample. Many craft beers are marketed to a local audience, while others have gained a national prominence. However, it was not always this way. For decades only beer owned by a small number of major brewing corporations were available. Those who wished to sample the delights of other flavours had a hard time finding a beer that would suit their palate. So what is the history of craft beer? How did we arrive at a period of such a resurgence in microbrewing?
Beer is interwoven with the history of humanity. Tribes and civilisations throughout the world consumed beer, each developing their own style and flavour. People generally produced beer from the crops which were readily available to the local community. Beer produced in northern Europe would have been much different to beer brewed by the Incas. As a result, brewing adopted a range of techniques and methods, which resulted in different tastes and flavours.
Beer had an important social aspect. It was used by some in religious ceremonies, others used beer to avoid drinking contaminated water. It also had economic value, used to supplement or entice workers for particular labour. A recent study at Cambridge University discovered that stone masons, working in the perilous conditions of a quarry, were provided with 14 pints of ale a day for their work. Beer also had a high caloric value, and it could be an efficient source of energy for those who were engaged in manual tasks during a period before industrialisation.
Throughout Europe, local breweries played an important role in the social fabric of life. They became an important industry for the community, similar to that of the local baker or butcher. Brewing was an artisan craft. As mass emigration to North America occurred throughout the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, many of the customs and traditions of European brewing followed. Immigrants brought the techniques that were popular in places like Bohemia to the new world.
History of Craft Beer
With the arrival of immigrants and massive amounts of thirsty workers seeking to quench their thirst, breweries boomed across America. European style beers such as Pilsner became increasingly popular. However, brewing took a dramatic hit following the arrival of prohibition in 1919. The sale of alcohol was banned throughout the United States. Those wishing to avail of a drink had source their supply from illegal moonshining. Because liquor such as rum was much easier to produce and transport than denser beer, it didn’t make sense for moonshiners to produce beer. During the prohibition period, many breweries went out of business.
By the time the federal government ended prohibition in the 1930s, the public had lost many local beers. Major companies consolidated most of the market and supplied their beer across the United States. This is the situation that continued for some period. However, a defining moment in the history of craft beer was the purchase of Anchor Brewing Company in 1965 by Fritz Maytag. While other major beer companies were brewing only their commercial brands, Anchor maintained the traditional brewing methods.
A political development also aided the craft beer movement. In 1978, home brewing was legalised in the United States. A ban on brewing your own beer at home had remained in place since the prohibition era. The Carter administration lifted this ban, opening the door possibilities in a beer cottage industry. Nonetheless, microbreweries struggled to establish a foothold in the marketplace. In 1987, craft beer only represented 0.1% of the beer market in the United States.
Campaign for Real Ale
Across the Atlantic, there were movements to preserve and protect the traditional British pub. The Campaign for Real Ale established itself in the early 1970s. They felt that traditional British ale was dying out, overtaken by commercial brands and mass produced beer. Specifically, the Campaign for Real Ale sought to protect beer from casks instead of kegs. Many felt that addition of addition of carbonation in beer from a keg fundamentally changed the taste of the product. The campaign was wildly successful, with thousands of pubs signing up as members in a bid to preserve the traditional beers of Britain.
By the 1990s, a number of successful microbreweries were established in the United States. Some were significantly lucrative, such as Boston Beer Company, which went public in 1995. Riding on the back of their popular Samuel Adams Boston Lager, the company managed to raise $60 million in an IPO round. This was an important step in the history of craft beer, as it proved that a microbrewery could grow into a very successful business model. And the results are clear today. By 2016, there were over 5,000 microbreweries throughout the United States.
The number of options available to the public in terms of beverage selection is unlike that of any in modern times. Thanks to a wide level of distribution, the public can now enjoy craft beers from around the world. Craft beer is not limited to the United States. In the United Kingdom, the number of microbrewers has grown by 64% in the past five years. Some governments are providing tax incentives for craft breweries to encourage their development.
The history of craft beer has been a resurgence of traditional methods of brewing and recipes that were believed to have been lost. The revolution in microbreweries has provided the public with an array of choices, and also has helped preserve traditions of significant social importance.
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