#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

Small Talk with Scott: Beer Style Guidelines featuring Synthesizer

Picture this:


The year is 1538. You’re a beer-conscious, yet weary soldier travelling in what is today rural Belgium. In the distance, you smell the familiar scent of beer being brewed at a local monastery and decide to head that way for some much needed respite.

You’re greeted by monks that welcome you with a glass of their freshly-brewed beer from a large oak cask. It’s dark in color, has a towering frothy head, and looks to be the perfect meal in a glass. All of the illustrious ingredients come from the monastery’s grounds, the grains malted and roasted to perfection onsite. Only recently were the hops hand-harvested.

The imagined monks featured in this story…


While you glance at the glorious brew, one smiling monk saunters over, “Great crop this year!” You thank them and ask the smiling monk, “What do you call this divine beverage?”


“Ale. Our traditional monastic offering to God who, despite these dark times, gives us the glory of ale,” a monk replies.


“No, like, what style of ale is it?” you question.


The monks look puzzled as you sit there, refusing to take a sip until they answer your simple question. Another monk proudly states, “This has been brewed according to the recipe passed down generation after generation, with a single one of us knowing the recipe at a time.”

You’ve had every style of beer ever known. You’re beginning to get a little impatient with these beer novices. Inquiring further, you ask again, “Is it a Dubbel? Abbey Ale? Quadrupel? Brown? Stout? Barley wine? What are the IBUs?”  

“Sir, I do apologize but we don’t know what any of that means. This is our monastery’s Traditional Ale,” the still smiling monk replies after conferring with his colleagues. Incredibly frustrated, you get up to leave. “A brewer should know their styles” is the advice you part with.


The full beer sits alone on the table as you begrudgingly exit the monastery, still thirsty.  




Old Belgian Beer Casks

Sure, I’ll bite. Our latest seasonal beer, Synthesizer, could be called a Belgian American Double India Pale Ale. It’s 8.21% alcohol by volume, has 76 International Bitterness Units, is brewed with Pacific NW Simcoe and Mosaic hops, and fermented with our seasonal Belgian yeast.


However, it’s brewed with oats, rye, and wheat in the mash, boiled long with late addition hops, then it’s dry hopped twice, all leading to a natural haziness common to en vogue New England Style India Pale Ales. So, you could call it a New England Style Belgian American Multigrain Double India Pale Ale and you’d be a bit closer to defining the beer in the glass.


So, a particularly good question from someone who just ordered this lovely brew would be: “Well, what is an India Pale Ale then?”

“Oh, I kind of glossed over that part, didn’t I?” I’d say. “Well, you see, during colonial times, the British used to send casks of beer brewed in Great Britain to their troops in India. To survive the long journey by boat, the brewers would use more malt and hops in the brew to preserve the beer, thus creating the India Pale Ale style.” I go on more about the specific characteristics of British hops, malts, and yeast before I’m cut off.

“Wait, I’m confused. What’s a Pale Ale then?”

“Damn. I guess I kinda glossed over that part too, huh? A Pale Ale is a traditional British beer style that’s made from pale malts, English hops, and is lower in alcohol and bitterness than its India Pale Ale counterpart.” I go on about the historical similarities of the style, the famous brands that fit these style guidelines, and launch into the history of India pale ales vs. pale ales vs. milds and bitters before I’m cut off.

“So why doesn’t it say British India Pale Ale in the style? Also, what makes it double? And American, for that matter?”

Pandora’s box has been opened. Modern American styles have completely decimated our understanding of traditional styles – so how do I explain this concisely?

We’re not even close to the end of this discussion and the glass of beer that I poured has now lost its head. It’s warmed up a good 15 degrees, losing many of its fresh hop flavors and its carbonation. It’s a totally different beer now than what was fresh poured. This, sadly, is not my intent as a brewer.

And, finally, we arrive at my point: beer styles do not matter. I would argue that historically they have never mattered. They have always been in flux. Styles have always been snapshots in time, informed by the past and looking to the future – and that’s only referring to when beer became categorized into styles in the past few centuries. The moment a new trend comes along in brewing, so too do new styles that branch off into new trends, to new styles, to new trends, to new styles ad infantum. Our concept of beer is ever-evolving and it’s the brewer’s task to be pushing boundaries to find characteristics not yet found in other beers – and thus potentially the entire history of beer.

To categorize a beer brewed today while encompassing the past styles that influenced it gets us into a history lesson that, while interesting, doesn’t actually encompass the flavor, ingredients, and intent of the Brewer who made it today. For instance, the modern American IPA is laughably unsimilar to the original IPA, and is easily the most diverse beer in appearance, flavor, and aroma across the world’s brewers who make it. Yet we carry on the 3 letter moniker despite its irrelevance in defining the beer in the glass.

To keep it PG, I just say phooey to all that nonsense. Hence our beer menu – I want you to define our beers by tasting them, no matter your beer knowledge.

So, sure, you can call our newest brew a New England Style Belgian American Multigrain Double India Style British Pale Ale and you’d be close to defining it, if you care to know what all those words mean.





just call it Synthesizer.


Lastly, and most importantly: I really hope you enjoy it. That’s why I brewed it!




Due to COVID-19 we are temporarily closed. Please check back here as well as on social media for updates. We look forward to serving you again soon!