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 When the "noble experiment" was repealed in 1933, beer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 fewer 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
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.