#CrestonBuzz Vol.6 Living in America: About Breweries in America Circa Long Time Ago

Have you ever wondered exactly when breweries started becoming a ‘thing’?

We have!

And during our quest for the truth, we found out that breweries were kind of a big deal way before Beer City, USA came into the picture…Thirteen Colonies kind of way back. The very first brewery in America was Block & Christiansen, established in 1612 on the southern tip of Manhattan Island. In 1637, the remaining 12 colonies saw their first breweries starting to open, beginning with Massachusetts.

Fast forward a couple centuries…


Headline from Ohio Newspaper, The American Issue 1919.

By 1810, America had 132 operating breweries for a population of 7 million people. Now that doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but in those times, drinking was associated with criminals and less savory characters. By 1829, the American Temperance Society already had 100,000 members, but within 4 more years they had a membership of over a million people supporting total abstinence. Many Americans were very adamant about outlawing beer and booze altogether, proclaiming to stay absolutely bone dry. Super boring right? Beginning in 1840 and for the next 80 years, two opposite and competing trends were evident in America. More breweries were popping up annually, especially in large metropolitan areas. While on the other end, more and more states began to enact individual prohibition laws.


Disarray and general unrest in Germany in 1848 started an enormous migration to America. Among the immigrants were very experienced German brewers, naturally. Lucky for American brewers and drinkers alike, they gladly bestowed some of their beer knowledge. Not coincidentally, of the seven breweries operating in the early days of Grand Rapids, all were vested by German immigrants producing traditional German lagers. This migration of skilled brewers continued to boost the craft beer economy as well as the nation’s frugality.


In 1861, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service was created and soon saw the value in placing taxes on beer production. A tax on every last barrel of beer helped finance the Civil War and other military needs. Because of the emergence of more and more breweries, the economy was wealthy enough to perpetuate the growth of the craft beer industry and the military. An all-time record number of 4,131 breweries were operating in the United States in 1873, producing nine million barrels of beer. (2017 is on pace to break that long-standing record of beer slingin’). It wasn’t until 1876, that Louis Pasteur, French chemist and microbiologist, studied beer and finally explained yeast and all of it’s lovely, fresh-to-funky strains to the beer world.

Taxes and prohibition laws by individual states, improved distribution methods and mergers/closures of breweries resulted in a massive decline to 1500 breweries in the U.S. in 1910.

Lady Sailors Marching for an End to Prohibition

By 1912, nine states were dry due to prohibition. Four years later, the number of dry states rose to 23. When national prohibition went into effect in 1920, breweries increased production of “near-beer”, which is essentially beer with an extremely low ABV, to 300 million gallons. Neither near-beer nor prohibition were very well accepted during this time. Eventually lawlessness, crime, corruption, and entitled crankiness led to the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. #Winning.

Within a year of the prohibition repeal, 756 brewers were back in operation. At the height of World War II, fifteen percent of the production at American breweries had to be allocated for military use. For several years after the war, brewery closures and many mergers again reduced the number of active breweries in the United States. Eleven years later, the number of U.S. breweries dropped to 230, but only 140 of those were being independently run. In 1978, there were only 89 breweries operating in

Historic GRBC Bottling Depot.

America and controlling most of the beer market, nearly all of them were mega commercial brewers that we know all too well: Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Adolph Coors, Stroh’s, and G. Heilman.

Among those 89 breweries, was New Albion Brewing Company in Sonoma, CA which opened it’s doors and hearts in 1977. New Albion produced its own ale and became the first modern micro/craft brewery, thus dawning a new age of breweries in America. The trend that would soon sweep the nation started very slowly, however. The first brew pubs didn’t begin selling their own beer and food until 1982 in Yakima, WA. In 1983, only 80 breweries existed in America, and the top six mega-brewers controlled 92% of all U.S. beer production. It doesn’t seem like very long ago when folks couldn’t walk into their local pub and get snacks paired with their favorite sudsy beverage. Because it wasn’t. The craft beer industry has made and continues to make remarkable strides in culture, appeal, and education.


The residual effects of a long winded fight to preserve an American’s right to wholeheartedly enjoy their beer still ripple throughout the country, with more and more breweries opening every year.


So, what’s next for the American beer market? Time will only tell, but something tells me prohibition and near-beer won’t be making a comeback any time soon.


Thanks to for their incredibly comprehensive history of American beer, only small parts of which could be included above.

(c) Copyright, Creston Brewery, 2016

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