Exploring the Fascinating Journey of Craft Beer in the United States

Brief History of Craft Beer

Craft beer, which is a small-scale entrepreneurial endeavor, has become one of the hottest trends worldwide. However, localized beer-making operations have been an integral part of society for centuries, making craft beer one of the oldest arts.

Woven Into The Fabric of Society

The European art of beer brewing was brought to the New World by the first English and Dutch settlers. By the mid-1600s, personal and commercial breweries had spread throughout the American colonies. The Dutch colonists found the climate, water, and fertile soil of New Amsterdam (soon to be New York) ideal for producing beer, creating a great environment for growing malt and hops.

Historians have identified at least 26 breweries on old maps by 1660, most of which were associated with pubs or taverns. During that time, almost all bars made and served their own ‘private label’ beer.

Two Centuries of Status Quo

For the next 200 years, it can be said that virtually all beer in America was brewed on a craft scale. It wasn’t until after the Civil War ended in 1865 that beer started being mass-produced to cater to a widespread and ever-growing customer base.

An Industry Transformed

Fast forward to the 1960s, and the beer industry in America had transitioned from small craft brewing to a full-fledged mass-production industry. Additionally, the nature of beer itself had changed, with modern beer being lighter compared to the dark and grainy Old World beer. Light lagers began dominating the market during this period, and by the end of the 1970s, there were 44 brewing companies in America.

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The Re-Emergence of Craft Brewing

In 1965, Fritz Maytag purchased the San Francisco-based Anchor Brewing Company. Fritz, who was the great-great-grandson of the founder of the iconic home appliance company, wanted to revitalize the brewery and do things differently.

Fritz Maytag was one of the pioneers of the craft brewing concept. He aimed to create specialty beer that resembled the robust and darker beer styles of the Old World. This marked the beginning of the re-emergence of craft brewing.

Craft Brewing Hobby Catches On

Another significant development occurred in the 1970s when thousands of people took up home brewing as a hobby. While most brewed beer for personal consumption, some recognized the opportunity to start their own craft breweries and turn their hobby into a profitable business.

The Man Who Broke Through

In 1976, Jack McAuliffe established the New Albion Brewery in Sonoma, California. McAuliffe, who had developed a taste for robust beers during his time in Scotland, became an inspiration for others looking to venture into craft brewing. New Albion is widely regarded as the first true modern microbrewery and served as a model for the craft brew brands that followed.

New Albion Brewery closed after six years, but its impact was significant. Numerous individuals were inspired by McAuliffe’s achievements, leading to the launch of many new microbreweries in the following decade. The craft beer trend was about to become a major force in America.

Craft Brewing Comes Full Circle

This period witnessed experimentation and innovation as start-up craft brewers worked toward finding the formula for success. While some microbreweries achieved considerable profitability, others faded away.

By the 1990s, a strong foundation had been established for craft brewing. Entrepreneurs gained more knowledge about brewing and developed marketing strategies that helped small, local breweries turn a profit.

After years of trial and error, a clear roadmap became available for other brewers to follow. The volume of craft beer production grew from 35 percent in 1991 to 58 percent in 1995.

After a slight decline between 1997 and 2003, craft brewing experienced exponential growth. From just eight craft brewers in 1980, the number rose to 537 by 1994. As of the end of 2017, there were an astonishing 6,000 craft breweries. Craft beer’s market share has grown from 6% to 12% almost every year since 2003, with a growth rate of 16.6% in 2016 alone.

Currently, craft brew brands hold a 12% share of the U.S. beer market.

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