Now at Reason.tv: Beer—An American Revolution

In 1920, the National Prohibition Act destroyed the beer industry in the United States, putting some 1,500 breweries out of business. When the "noble experiment" was repealed in 1933, beer lovers rejoiced, and the beer industry staggered back to its feet. The industry had lost much of its diversity, however, and the emergence of national brands in the 1950s and 1960s led to industry consolidation and fewer choices for American beer drinkers. By 1980, there were less than 50 breweries in the U.S. 

By the 1980s, American beer had an international reputation as weak and watery as a case of Hamm's. Most breweries only produced American-style lagers, a light and inexpensive style of beer typically made with rice or corn adjuncts in addition to barley, hops, yeast and water. 

What American beer lovers didn't know at the time was that a revolution was imminent. In 1979, a clerical error in the 21st Amendment was corrected, and for the first time in nearly 50 years it became legal to brew small batches of beer at home. Home brewers who had little interest in cutting costs or making beer with mass appeal began brewing big, flavorful beers in a wide range of styles. Many of these home brewers decided to turn their passion into small businesses, and microbreweries began popping up all over the country.

Today, although mainstream beers still dominate the market, more than 1,400 breweries in the U.S. produce more styles of beer than anywhere else in the world, and American beers routinely dominate international beer competitions. 

So the next time you're at your favorite brewpub, hold your glass up high and celebrate the American beer revolution.

"Beer: An American Revolution" was written and produced by Paul Feine. Alex Manning was the director of photography and Nick Gillespie is the narrator. Approximately seven minutes.

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  • ||

    I homebrewed back in the day. Really enjoyed it, but I was really in it so I could get first-rate beer.

    Now, I can get that at the store, and I've shifted my drinking down in frequency/quantity and over to single malt scotch, so I haven't homebrewed in years.

  • robc||

    Hooray beer!

    Unfortunately dont have all day to spend on this thread today. :(

    Just want to point out that American Craft Brewers arent feeling too much of the effects of the economy. Their growth is still strong. Some have suggested it is due to wine drinkers finding craft beer cheaper.

    In the macro lager segment of the market, however, drinkers are shifting down to the cheaper products. Keystone is enjoying it.

  • robc||

    RC Dean,

    Kegged a batch of Schwarzbier last night.

  • ||

    Some have suggested it is due to wine drinkers finding craft beer cheaper.

    Whaaa? A six-pack of the good shit can run 9-12 bucks. A minimally acceptable bottle of wine costs the same. So they're pretty similar.

  • robc||

    Epi,

    Many six packs of good shit run 7-8 bucks. Goose Island products just went up to $7.49 at my store, for example.

    Similar quality of wines often run $15 to 20 or more. I drink a lot of $12 wine, I dont know enough to know the differences between it and a $20 bottle, but they are there supposedly.

  • robc||

    Epi,

    Also, notice your comparison. You dont shift from "minimally acceptable" to "good shit". You shift from "good shit" to "good shit".

  • Subject-Verb Agreement||

    and American beers routinely dominates international beer competitions.

    Hello. I believe we haven't met...

  • ||

    I suppose, rob. If you want to go really cheap, though, Popov is there, waiting for you. Accusing you of wasting money.

  • Eric S.||

    Epi,

    Poor analogy. Pick a top shelf DIPA, like Bell's Hopslam, which costs $17/six pack. A top shelf California Cabernet costs well over $100 (if not twice that) and is virtually impossible to get.

  • ed||

    drinkers are shifting down to the cheaper products. Keystone is enjoying it.

    I hear that. It's the Official Beer of the Unemployed. $2.19 for a 4-pack of 16-ounce Ice. Chill it to the point of freezing and forget your worries for an hour or two.

  • ||

    I've developed a beer liqueur called Drambrewski.

    He who controls the beer controls commerce.

  • ||

  • Warty||

    It's the Official Beer of the Unemployed.

    Who makes Steel Reserve? I'd better buy some stock of theirs.

  • That Guy||

    I'm surprised the video didn't mention the fact that part of the reason home brewing took off during the 80's is because of the easing of regulation that occurred under Carter.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Anyone here brew cider? I'm sick of paying $8 for a six pack of Strongbow.

  • ||

    Who makes Steel Reserve? I'd better buy some stock of theirs.

    Warty, I pictured you as more of a King Cobra guy.

  • ||

    The one thing I might brew again would be mead. For several years I would do up a batch of sparkling cranberry mead, let it age for a year, and then take it to holiday parties.

    Awesome stuff. Four ingredients: dry champagne yeast, honey, water, cranberries. Nice red color. Sneaky alcohol, with the cranberries adding just the right dry note.

  • kinnath||

    A top shelf California Cabernet costs well over $100 (if not twice that) and is virtually impossible to get.

    A damn fine wine can be had for $75 (Altmura 2005 Cab was rated by Parker at 95 points).

    Anything more than that and you're just buying a name.

  • robc||

    I havent tried a mead yet. Down the road from me I have a supply of local honey. If I can find a local blackberry supplier I would make an all local blackberry mead.

  • kinnath||

    Anyone here brew cider? I'm sick of paying $8 for a six pack of Strongbow.

    I've done one batch and was very happy with it. I mostly do mead, and have just started acquiring local grapes and making wine.

  • ed||

    Mead was a fad when I was in college. I took a wineskin (another fad) full of it to a Kinks concert. Openly. Those were the days. Fewer Nazis as I recall.

  • kinnath||

    I havent tried a mead yet. Down the road from me I have a supply of local honey. If I can find a local blackberry supplier I would make an all local blackberry mead.

    Go for it.

  • kinnath||

    If you use plastic primaries, you should use seperate primaries for beer and mead/wine. Otherwise, flavors can carry over from one to the other.

    Glass carboys can be used for anything.

  • ||

    My bees survived the winter, so I'm looking at maybe 60 lbs of honey by fall.

    R C, how much honey and cranberries for a 5 gallon batch?

  • ||

    R C, how much honey and cranberries for a 5 gallon batch?

    I wish I remembered; its been over a dozen years.

    I want to say it was a gallon of honey; I used a standard mead recipe, so whatever is normal. I don't think the cranberries put enough sugar into the mix to worry about.

    For the cranberries, I used actual cranberries, crushed a little, not cranberry juice. I put them in with the hot wort to try to keep them from contaminating the fermentation with whatever lives on cranberries; they got strained out as the wort was carboyed for fermentation. I want to say 3 - 4 pounds?

    I let it ferment all the way, then bottled it like it was beer and let it sit for a year.

    Definitely google around on this, Maurkov - don't take my word for it. kinnath, know any good sources?

  • kinnath||

    In general, one gallon of honey with four gallons of water will produce 12% alcohol mead.

    Berries add color, aroma, and flavor, but not much sugar. 10 to 12 pounds of most berries will do the job, but be careful with cranberries -- I'm guessing 5 lbs to 10 lbs fresh fruit at most.

    Got Mead? dot com is the best place to start for a rookie. They cover everything from getting started to advanced topics.

    There are a bunch of great books, but I can't recall the titles off hand (that's ageing for you). I think Got Mead will probably provide a lot of great references and links to other sites.

  • robc||

    I put them in with the hot wort to try to keep them from contaminating the fermentation with whatever lives on cranberries

    Wuss. :)

    At the worst, you would have ended up with a nice mead/lambic combo.

  • kinnath||

    I put them in with the hot wort to try to keep them from contaminating the fermentation with whatever lives on cranberries

    By the way, one of the best cabs in my cellar was fermented with naturally occuring yeast. They crush the grapes and let it go. This is a common practice with premium wines in France.

    Of course, none of that is directly relevant to what little beasties may thrive on fresh cranberries.

  • robc||

    in completely unrelated food news - Kaelin's, the home of the cheeseburger, has closed.

    I think there were 3 places in the US that claimed to be the originator of the cheeseburger, but since Kaelin's had menus with cheeseburgers listed on them older than 1 of the places, it had no real claim. The other at least existed long enough but had no evidence that their cheeseburger predated Kaelin's.

    Alas, I guess it doesnt matter now. Maybe the state of KY will put up a historical marker.

  • Warty||

    Warty, I pictured you as more of a King Cobra guy.

    When the first of my friends turned 21, we made him load a shopping cart full of King Cobras. Apparently checkout was deliciously humiliating.

  • fyodor||

    Y'know, while I hate to admit it, one factor that has led to increased consumer choice in beer, at least here in Colorado, has been legal restrictions on corporate retail outlets.

    To be more specific, no one is allowed to own more than one liquor store in Colorado.

    I've heard that we have much more consumer choice here as a result because what tends to happen elsewhere is that supermarkets sell so much beer that there's little market left for the little liquor stores that make a lot of their money off of ye olde craft beers, whereas the supermarkets don't have the space, need or desire to sell those.

    If someone can disprove that, I'd be much obliged. It's hard to argue for the principle of lifting this restriction thinking that it might actually limit the availability of good beer!

    (States without this restriction DO have much CHEAPER liquor prices!)

    (Also, I should make clear that I'm not saying craft beers are IMPOSSIBLE to get in states without this kind of restriction, only that they're a lot less common and available, ie, you might have to go way out of your way for a store that stocks them, whereas I have TWO stores within walking distance of my house that have a PLETHORA of the good shit!!)

  • ||

    one factor that has led to increased consumer choice in beer, at least here in Colorado, has been legal restrictions on corporate retail outlets.

    I kind of doubt that.

    (1) Increased consumer choice in books has been enhanced, IMO, by "big box" bookstores.

    (2) The best beer selections I have ever seen on a shelf have been in "chain" liquor stores that have more than one location. The worst beer selection, outside of convenience stores, have been in small shops.

    I think what's going on is that bigger stores are more likely to be able to afford to keep bigger inventories. They can carry low turnover/high margin stuff that a smaller store can't.

  • robc||

    fyodor,

    I havent seen it in KY. While we arent Colorado in terms of craft, we have had a boom. And, like Dean said, it is the chain liquor stores that tend to carry wide selections of craft. The indies either dont carry them or charge too much. And we have pretty loose grocery store and convenice store sales. None of those silly cant sell cold beer at the gas station laws. We do have about 90 dry counties, but Im not referring to those areas.

    Many of the groceries now carry some craft beers too, but not that great a selection, I still hit my local mini-chain.

  • BakedPenguin||

    kinnath, did you use champagne yeast for the cider? Where did you get your recipe? I'd be looking to make a dry cider.

  • robc||

    Some people argue the manditory 3-tier system is good for craft beer too. While that may be true in some aspects, the states that allow some self-distribution tend to have more craft breweries. It allows small breweries to establish a base of customers without relying on the whims of a distributor.

    Not to mention states, like Illinois, with their "distributor for life" laws.

  • BakedPenguin||

    fyodor, even the Publixes (supermarkets) here in FL. have a small selection of craft beers. Walgreens liquors is mediocre. The ABC Liquors chain has a pretty good selection, and Whole Foods probably has the best.

  • ||

    Speaking of Florida, I recommend Tampa's World of Beer.

  • kinnath||

    kinnath, did you use champagne yeast for the cider? Where did you get your recipe? I'd be looking to make a dry cider.

    I do not use champagne yeast. I use Lalvin L2056 and Lalvin IVC-GRE. I buy directly from Scott labs and pay $50 for a 1/2 kilo pack that keeps in the fridge for 3 to 4 years without problem.

    I have made dry cyser at about 13% alcohol using 50 lbs fresh pressed apples, 10 lbs of bing cherries (also pressed for juice), 6 quarts of honey, and the L2056. This was a 6 gallon batch that turned out lovely.

    I have also made a slighty-sweet cider with 5 gallons pasteurized, un-filtered apple juice (with no preservatives) and about 2 quarts honey. I used Lalvin Wyndsor Ale yeast. I let it ferment to dryness (about 8-9% alcohol), then added another gallon of un-filtered apple juice that did have a preservative in it. This was kegged and pressurized with CO2. Also very nice.

  • ||

    Pro Libertate

    Where is that?

    I hate websites thast do not have a prominent "locations" button.

  • BakedPenguin||

    kinnath - thx. I'll bookmark this thread to refer to if / when I follow up. That apple / cherry cider sounds great.

    And since this thread is almost dead, I'll go ahead and link again to an interesting site on home distillation, which is legal in New Zealand. (one more reason to look into emigration).

    A MI congressman introduced a bill to legalize home distillation in 2002, but it went nowhere.

  • robc||

    Hit the liquor store just now on the way home. Bigfoot 2009 ($10.49 for a 6 pack). Just poured it into a Dogfish Head glass.

  • ||

    Isaac,

    It is here, in northwest Tampa.

  • ||

    Thanks, PL. Might check it out if I'm over that way.

  • ||

    It's right next to a Tijuana Flats, so you can mix brew with Mexican food--always a good idea.

  • ||

    R C, was it still or carbonated, and how dry was it?

    After a little poking around, I think I'll try this:

    Reason Cranberry Mead
    5 gal water
    18 lbs honey
    5 lbs cranberries
    2 tsp pectic enzyme
    1 packet Champaign yeast

    Freeze, coarsely chop, and thaw cranberries. Add pectic enzyme and refrigerate for 24 hours.

    Boil water and remove from heat.
    Dissolve honey, skimming any congealed proteins.
    Add cranberry slurry.
    Let stand for 15 minutes, then chill.
    Transfer to primary and pitch yeast.
    After 10 days, strain and rack to a secondary fermentor.
    Rack again in a month, topping off with water to minimize head space.
    Bottle some day.

  • kinnath||

    Remember kiddies . . . Sparkling products go in beer bottles or champagne bottles. We don't want any bottle bombs, now do we?

  • Some distiller||

    Distilling for the win! $1.84/.75l 90 proof of neutral spirits. Good as middle low shelf vodka with copious amounts of activated carbon filtering.

  • ||

    PL sez He who controls the beer controls commerce.

    The beer must flow!

  • ||

    OK, so I've been a teetotaler all my life, never really wanted to drink alcohol that badly. BUT I always hear folks talking about beer as if it's the nectar of the gods. I've tasted Guinness, and it's definitely better than the swill Budweiser sells (which I've also tasted - unfortunately), but I think it's a little too much for my underdeveloped taste buds. So can anyone out there in Beertopia recommend a "starter" beer? Something that isn't too boozy which will let me get my feet wet so to speak?

  • ||

    Bruce,
    Head over to http://www.draftmag.com and poke around- the folks over there usually have some good starter recommendations for getting into good beer...

  • ||

    This fall, drive out to the countryside and look for roadside stands selling unpasteurized cider. Simply leave it out on the countertop for a week, and it'll naturally ferment.

    Or as previously mentioned, you can "de-pasteurize" cider by pitching it with champagne yeast.

  • ||

    RE: Earlier thread comments on wine (I got on late) For Gold Medal wines @ $10 + or -, why not rely mainly on the expert judges on juries in the big wine comps. Biggest/best of the comps in the USA is the San Francisco Int'l Wine Competition (search). You'll find a few 'cheap' wines beating out $50-100 snob appealers in most varietals. Huge contest: 500 vineyards, 4000 wines, 20 odd countrys. I print out only the Gold Medals and keep it in the car. (I love finding Golds under $10.) Heh!

    Thanks for the beer tread! Prosit!

  • ||

    Bruce,
    Having had a delicate palate at one time myself I found Hefeweizen to be a good starter. You might also try some different blondes or ambers to start. They're not too heavy and can have delicious flavor.

  • ||

    Bruce Anderson:

    Try some Belgian fruit beers like a nice Kriek or Framboise. It's best on draft, but can be hard to find.

    I've poured at shows and often beer fans will bring dates who say they don't like beer and ask for a soda. These are what I recommend they try, and by the end of the evening, those folks discover that in fact they DO like beer, after all.

  • ||

    "Many six packs of good shit run 7-8 bucks. Goose Island products just went up to $7.49 at my store, for example."

    One word, dude: "Costco."

  • Micajah||

    "In 1979, a clerical error in the 21st Amendment was corrected,...."

    Were the beers you drank before writing that line home-brew or store-bought? ;-)

  • ||

    Thanks to Alex, Kate and Chester for the suggestions. I've seen lambics at a local indie grocery store, as well as Hefeweizen. It's an embarrassment of riches, really.

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