History of American Beer


The United States of America is considered to be the brewery capital of the world. Even if China beats it in beer production in volume, America has the title for most breweries in one country. Having more than 3,000 breweries from industry giants, brewpubs to microbreweries. The United States of America reportedly produced a total of 196 million barrels of beer in 2012 alone.

According to the reports, Americans consumes about 28 US gallons of beer per capita annually. It is pretty obvious that Americans love brewing and drinking beer. But before they enjoyed brewing and drinking beer, the beer industry in America has gone through a few ups and downs over the years and almost came so close to losing it all together but thankfully, that did not happen. So let us know the great story of how beer became America’s favorite drink.

The Beginnings of Beer in America

In 1587, before European settlers arrived in the United States, Native Americans were already brewing their own beer but they did not use barley, instead, their recipe was composed of corn, water, and birch sap. On 1612, the first commercial brewery in the United States was established in Lower Manhattan on Brewers Street by Adrian Block and Hans Christiansen.

In 1810, the modern era of American beer began and there are a total of 132 breweries in operation throughout the country. But the per capita consumption of the commercially produced beer is low with less than one gallon per year.

In the middle of the 19th century, there are a total of 4,131 breweries that were operating in America with an increase of 3,000 percent since 1810. And this was because of continued immigration from beer drinking countries, urbanization, industrialization, and technological advancements. During that time, the British-style ales dominated the American beer brewing. But this changed when the German immigrants introduced the all-malt lager beer which has a longer shelf-life and is more profitable for large-scale shipping and manufacturing. This is because the hops that are in the lager beer had preservative qualities compared to the hops used in local ales at that time which quickly turned sour. German-style lagers took the place of British ales as the most popular beer in America.

By 1918, the per capita beer consumption has risen to 20 gallons each year. But the consolidation in the American beer industry has removed most of the independent brewers which gave the corporate giants like Pabst Brewing Company, Miller Brewing, and Anheuser-Busch a chance to dominate the brewing scene. And by that time, there were only around 1,000 breweries that remained in operation.


January 16, 1919, was a dark day for the American beer industry because this was the day when the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed into law and the Prohibition era began where sales, production, and transportation of alcoholic beverages became illegal. Only a few breweries remained and most of them are the large manufacturers which were able to stay in the business by manufacturing malt syrup, near beer and other non-alcohol grain products such as colas and root beers.

The American prohibition was canceled by degrees. The Volstead Act was amended in April 1933 by the Cullen-Harrison Act which stated that beer with a strength up to 3.2 percent was not intoxicating and should not be prohibited. And in just 24 hours after the legalization, 1.5 million barrels of ABW beer with 3.2 percent of alcohol was sold. And in December of 1933, the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution canceled the prohibition in general but the production of alcoholic beverages was heavily monitored and regulated by federal, state, and local authorities. These regulations also impost a three-tier distribution system wherein a manufacturer must go through a wholesale distributor instead of selling to retailers.

After the Prohibition

Even after the Twenty-First Amendment allowed the brewers to legally produce alcoholic beverages, there are many states who failed to cancel the prohibition that is why it slowed down the rebirth of the American brewing industry. And before the brewing industry was fully re-established, World War II began which made it harder for the small breweries to maintain their businesses because of the grain supply was rationed and they were forced to use corn and rice with the barley which is used in the traditional brewing. This gave the prohibitionist an opportunity to suppress the efforts of the remaining breweries. They insisted that commercial brewing of beer uses manpower, grains, fuel, and cargo space that should be given to the war effort overseas. But brewers fought back by saying that the brewer’s yeast has some amazing benefits on human health such as their high content of Vitamin B and Thiamine which increases the soldiers and factory workers’ performance in the battlefield.

From 1941 to 1945, the beer production in America increased by over 40 percent even if there were only a few active breweries. But the war gave way for large breweries such as Pabst, Anheuser-Busch, and Valentin Blatz Brewing to dominate the American market for almost fifty years. And in 1965, Frederick Maytag III buys the failing Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco and it turns out to be a profitable business. And modern brewers saw this as a turning point and thus the American craft beer revival.

Even if the Prohibition ended, it was still illegal for individual citizens to brew their own alcoholic beverages with more than 0.5 percent of alcohol. That’s why in 1978, the Congress and President Jimmy Carter changed the face of American beer by signing the bill H.R 1337 which made home brewing of beer and wine legal for any adult.

At the beginning of the new millennium, there are more breweries that are operating in the United States than in any other country with over 1,500 breweries and rising every year. And by 2013, the number of breweries nearly doubled.

On 2015, the American brewing industry hit an all-time high because there are almost 4,114 breweries that were operating throughout the country which surpassed the record number from 1873. And 99 percent of this is small, independent, and craft breweries.

American Beer Styles

  • American Indian Pale Ale – This has a moderate to moderately strong (5.5-7.5%) alcohol content. it has a piney, fruity, and citrusy taste. It is one of the most recognizable flavors of beer in the world.
  • American Pale Ale – This beer has a low to moderate alcohol content (4.5-6.2%). The American Pale Ale has a piney and citrusy flavor like the American IPA but the Pale Ale has a more floral hoppiness and a more noticeable malty backbone.
  • Cream Ale – This beer has a low to moderate alcohol content (4.2-5.6%). The Cream Ale has a light and crisp taste. It is suitable for people who just want to chill and watch Netflix.
  • California Common Beer – This beer has a low-moderate to moderate alcohol content (4.5-5.5%). The California Common Beer or also known as the Steam Beer has a well-balanced maltiness that creates a dry and clean flavor.
  • American Brown Ale – This beer has a low to moderate alcohol content (4.30-6.2%). This is a malt-driven beer and the increased chocolate notes and the aroma of the American hops creates a fruity taste.
  • American Barleywine – This beer has a strong to super strong alcohol content (8-12%). The American Barleywine exhibits both hop and malt profiles that creates mild fruit notes, palpable alcoholic warmth with a bitter finish.

The First Breweries in America

  • Yuengling –  D.G Yuengling & Son is America’s oldest brewery it was founded in 1829 by a German immigrant in Pottsville Pennsylvania. Yuengling is the fourth largest distributor of beer in America. And they are still operating in the same building they’ve been since 1831. However, Yuengling beer are somewhat hard to find because they only distribute it to fourteen states. If you taste their traditional lager is like taking a sip of American history.
  • Anheuser-Busch – This brewery was founded in St. Louis, Missouri in 1852. They are the makers of the famous Budweiser beer. They are also the one who are responsible for the invention of refrigerated railcars. They also figured out a way on how to increase a beer’s shelf life through pasteurization.
  • Minhas Craft Brewery – Minhas Craft Brewery has been operating for almost 171 years. And they are still operating in their Southern Wisconsin facility since 1845 and the facility has grown to a span of three city blocks since then.
  • Pabst Brewing Company – Pabst was founded in 1844 in Wisconsin. Throughout their existence, Pabst has gone through several name changes. It was first known as the Empire Brewery then Best & Sons, and when the sons left to start their own brewing company and Phillip Best passed away, he left the brewery to his daughter’s husband Frederick Pabst which changed the company’s name into Pabst Brewing Company.
  • F&M Schaefer Brewing Company – F&M Schaefer Brewing Company was founded in 1842. They are still in operation until today but they are now owned by Pabst. Schaefer’s is home to the oldest American lager beer.

American beer and creative local brewers have definitely come a long way before attaining its well-deserved popularity. It’s delicious, crisp taste is continuing to evolve throughout the years and today is a great time to create, taste, and enjoy a great American beer.

You may also read our article about the Origins of the Oldest Beers Brewed in America for additional information.

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