Recently 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 When the "noble experiment" was repealed in 1933, beer lovers rejoiced, and the beer industry staggered back to its feet.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.

For iPod and HD versions, related articles, and other videos, go here.

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  • SIV||

    Today, although mainstream beers still dominate the market

    With good reason.I don't understand why people pay nearly $10 a 6-pack for lousy homebrew style beer.

  • ed||

    Maybe they like it?

  • ||

    The post makes a good point about how legalizing home brewing led to a thriving industry and improvement of standard of living. But I didn't see that in the video. The video just seemed to be a craft beer good, Budweiser bad, piece

  • ||

    I don't understand why people pay nearly $10 a 6-pack for lousy homebrew style beer.

    Let's see. Bud Light has an alcohol content of 4.2% and tastes like shit. A Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA has an alcohol content of 9% and tastes fucking great. So I get twice the booze for twice the price, making it worthwhile, plus I get vastly superior taste.

    Understand now?

  • kinnath||

    Deja Vu

  • TofuSushi||

    Why is reason complaining about legalizing beer? Ashamed that Big Beer could not quash backyard brew?

  • robc||

    Why a new thread? Not that I ever oppose beer threads.

  • robc||

    SIV,

    WTF is lousy homebrew style? My homebrew kicks the ass of many commercial beers (sometimes). I have competitive scores to back that up too (not that I trust beer judges any more than any other "expert". I have judged before, I know better).

  • robc||

    TofuSushi,

    complaining? they are celebrating.

  • ||

    Good evening. Tonight on "It's the Mind", we examine the phenomenon of déjà vu. That strange feeling we sometimes get that we've lived through something before, that what is happening now has already happened.

    Tonight on "It's the Mind", we examine the phenomenon of déjà vu, that strange feeling we sometimes get that we've. . . (looks puzzled for a moment). Anyway, tonight on "It's the Mind", we examine the phenomenon of déjà vu, that strange. . . .

  • TofuSushi||

    robc,

    Guess I could not wait for the "supporting Bush's failed policies" crowd to show up and jumped the gun.

    Allow me to try again.

    We should try this end to prohabition thing with the weed and tax the hell out of it, like with alcohol. Then we can pay for more social programs.

  • SIV||

    If homebrew tastes good to you make it yourself.
    There is the added benefit of denying taxes to the State.

  • ||

    Is Cass Sunstein the most dangerous man in America?


    Forget steaks, hamburgers, hotdogs, lamb chops, pork, chicken, quail, venison. Wipe out the Oklahoma cattle industry, the pig industry, the poultry industry, the hunting industry. Eliminate horse racing. Radical thoughts, you ask? Not so to this Barack Obama confidant, whose animal rights views would overturn all of human history and destroy the world economy.

  • Taktix®||

    Perhaps, instead of reposting these videos all the time, Reason should create a website where they could post and archive all the videos in one place.

    Oh, wait...

  • ||

    Mainstream beers dominate the market because mainstream Americans have no taste. For the same reason bland copycat restaurants survive, Americanized Chinese food is popular, and Starbucks is so popular, most Americans drink piss for beer and think it is good. The ads on TV say Bud and Coors are good, so they must be! Homebrew and Microbrews cater to people who care what beer tastes like, who appreciate diversity in beer, and who pay a premium for it.

  • TofuSushi||

    Right on onefrnk!

    Big Marketing is brainwashing America and needs to be stopped.

  • Matt Moore||

    Where is this clerical error in the 21st amendment? Wikipedia (and other sites) speak of the words "and/or beer" missing from a clause that made homemade wine legal, but the amendment doesn't address making wine at all.

  • Matt Moore||

    If homebrew tastes good to you make it yourself.
    There is the added benefit of denying taxes to the State.

    I don't like making beer. I like drinking it. So I pay someone else to make it for me.

  • Taktix®||

    Where is this clerical error in the 21st amendment? Wikipedia (and other sites) speak of the words "and/or beer" missing from a clause that made homemade wine legal, but the amendment doesn't address making wine at all.

    I suppose home wine-making is not as popular, likely because you can't do better than a $12 bottle unless you want to wait 20 years, and you still have a pretty good chance of opening a bottle of vinegar after that time...

  • robc||

    SIV,

    I do homebrew. I also buy commercial beer. There is no "homebrew taste" (this btw, is a common argument on homebrew websites too) that craft beer is emulating or whatever.

    What some call "homebrew twang" (that is the technical term) is a sign of crappy brewers not using good techniques or ingredients - I havent had it in over 5 years, because I improved my practices.

    Using old extract
    Underpitching yeast
    Poor temperature control

    Primary reasons for said twang. Good homebrewers dont get it.

  • Nittany Cat||

    "With good reason.I don't understand why people pay nearly $10 a 6-pack for lousy homebrew style beer."

    Incuding tax, a six-pack of Guinness costs $9.00 and it's worth every penny.

  • Taktix®||

    Incuding tax, a six-pack of Guinness costs $9.00 and it's worth every penny.

    Bah! Guinness not from a tap is sacrilege, especially so close to St. Patty's. That widget does nothing!

  • Tym||

    Beer, it's what's for dinner.

  • Tym||

    Mainstream beers dominate the market because mainstream Americans have no taste.

    True, and most Americans like weak tasting coffee too.

  • ||

    Just to clarify my comments, everyone has some category of goods or services where they choose to pay a premium. Cable TV, coffee, cheese, wine, tobacco, the other tobacco, etc. So, each of us is a snob in some category of goods. For me, beer and coffee are worth the extra money. We are all snobs somewhere!

  • robc||

    Beer and bourbon.

    Not mixed, those are the categories I pay for quality.

    Also, OJ and toilet paper.

  • kinnath||

    I suppose home wine-making is not as popular, likely because you can't do better than a $12 bottle unless you want to wait 20 years, and you still have a pretty good chance of opening a bottle of vinegar after that time...

    Such ignorance on display here.

    Leaving kit brewing off the table, making wine from whole fruit is actually easier than making beer from grain. And the higher alcohol content makes long term storage easier as well.

    Most people that fuck up a home brew do so because they tried to cut corners or costs. It's easy to make a home brew that beats a $10 per pack beer or a $20 a bottle wine.

    The only limiting factor with wine is snobbery about the use of vineferous grapes and the limited areas that they grow. I have a dry black currant mead that beats the shit out of almost any red wine that doesn't come from a high-end premium wine maker.

  • ||

    Glad to see the Lagunitas guys featured so prominently. Look up their little run in with the California ABC a few years back: undercover agents attended their weekly 420 parties at the brewery for several weeks trying to score some special hops. Basically ended up shutting them down over some technicality involving a live music permit. They appealed it to only be closed for two weeks, during which they installed a new bottling line, then released an "Undercover Shutdown Ale" with a big libertarian rant/middle finger to the ABC on the label. Good guys.

  • SxCx||

    This was great. Thank you Nick and all involved. I've been screaming this shit for years, that Americans are keeping beer interesting. There's much resistance and disbelief up here in Canada, where people just chortle the same vapid slogans about how "we know our beer", when our macros are just as pissy as anything down south.

  • ||

    The only limiting factor with wine is snobbery about the use of vineferous grapes and the limited areas that they grow. I have a dry black currant mead that beats the shit out of almost any red wine that doesn't come from a high-end premium wine maker.

    kinnath,
    I have sampled homemade wine from, oh around a dozen people. I have never, ever tasted anything remotely palatable (save one batch of Muscadine that had a stuck fermentation. An excellent aperitif that couldn't be duplicated). In addition I have lived near scores of small vineyards in three states. Very few of them produce anything better than fair and nothing better than, say Kendal Jackson.

  • kinnath||

    kinnath,
    I have sampled homemade wine from, oh around a dozen people. I have never, ever tasted anything remotely palatable (save one batch of Muscadine that had a stuck fermentation. An excellent aperitif that couldn't be duplicated). In addition I have lived near scores of small vineyards in three states. Very few of them produce anything better than fair and nothing better than, say Kendal Jackson.


    There are many, many brewers whose sole focus in life is making lots of cheap booze that is just palatable enough to allow onself to get blitz quickly, cheaply, and regularly.

    However, it's not actually very hard to make good product. Some aptitude is required, but the real issue is whether or not someone wants to be an amateur craft brewer or someone only wants to make cheap booze.

  • deluded1||

    However, it's not actually very hard to make good product. Some aptitude is required, but the real issue is whether or not someone wants to be an amateur craft brewer or someone only wants to make cheap booze.

    Can't I do both?

  • kinnath||

    Can't I do both?

    Absolutely! An amateur can produce product as good or better than a commercial brewer while still being substantially cheaper.

  • ||

    I'm a taste first guy. If it tastes like crap, I won't drink enough of it to get blitzed.

  • deluded1||

    I was just being facetious.

    I tend to produce around 10 gallons for around $25-30. What with yeast reuse, bulk grain, and second runnings. That's about 4 cases

    If you've got time for the hobby, and the energy to learn it correctly, it's not difficult to supply yourself cheap, good tasting beer.

  • jester||

    I am drinking Oaked Arrogant Bastard right now. It goes for over $10 a six-pack and is worth every bit of fiat paper I slapped down for it.

    It will also account for incoherent posting fairly soon. 7.2% it is. At least beer is listing alc. % now.

    contains no sulfites or msg

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