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April ScoutInsight Monthly Spotlight: A Glimpse into the History of the American Beer Industry

April 7 was National Beer Day and given the hardships that we are facing as a global community due to the COVID-19 crisis, our team at ScoutInsight wanted to focus…

April 7 was National Beer Day and given the hardships that we are facing as a global community due to the COVID-19 crisis, our team at ScoutInsight wanted to focus on an industry that is near and dear to our hearts…craft brewing! For the entire month of April, we will be celebrating our passion by sharing a new piece of content focused on women veterans and brewing. This week we take a closer look into the history of the American beer industry! 

A Glimpse into the History of the American Beer Industry

So, you might be interested in knowing who invented beer, right? This has been hard to track down, but archaeologists have done significant work to uncover the history of beer. The first written beer recipe is linked to 1800 B.C. in a hymn written for the Sumerian goddess of beer, Ninkasi. In fact, according to Courtney Iseman, a well-known writer for the food and beverage industry, the Sumerians were one of the first peoples who left us hard evidence of beer-drinking. Interestingly, archaeologists have placed the first fermented beverage consumption at roughly 9,000 years ago and the first signs of beer, specifically, about 4,000 years later. Many historians believe it was beer that propelled the shift from Paleolithic to Neolithic civilization when hunter-gatherers realized they’d have to settle in one place to reliably harvest grain. 

Just as important is the history of beer in Native populations. Historical records also reveal that Native peoples in North America had their own recipes for brewing beer-like beverages made out of corn, birch sap and water, but no barley–long before colonists arrived.

Too often, beer and brewing are viewed from a very male-centric lens and the historical contributions of women are easily overlooked. It’s important to note that in ancient civilizations, women brewed for their families and sold the excess to others nearby. In Ancient Egypt, beer was almost solely produced and sold by women. Brewing didn’t become a male dominated industry until the Industrial Revolution, when the potential business opportunities were realized and beer production moved out of the home. However, women are working to reclaim their space in the industry. The Pink Boots Society is an organization of  women in the brewing industry. It has grown from 16 members when it was founded in 2007 to about 2,400 today. 

So, how did the brewing industry get started in the U.S.? During the mid 1600s, the Dutch West India company opened the first commercial brewery in what is now lower Manhattan. As more pubs and taverns started cropping up and serving their own beers, the greater beer industry we know of now was born and the U.S. became the country with the most breweries.  Although George Washington is better known for operating the largest distillery in the U.S., a journal entry of a beer recipe leads us to believe he dabbled in homebrewing, too!

During the 1800’s, alongside the growing German population in the U.S., names we would come to know as industry giants such as Pabst Brewing Company and Anheuser-Busch InBev, currently one of the world’s largest producers of beer, sprouted. By the late 1870’s, over 4,000 breweries were operating across the U.S. This was a 50% production increase in about 6 years!

During the temperance movement in the early 1900’s, things started to rapidly change. Due to prohibition, the beer industry faced many challenges. In 1919, the 18th amendment was ratified and called for nationwide prohibition on the sale of alcoholic beverages. The beer industry took a major hit. Unlike spirits and wine, which could be used in markets for reasons other than recreational drinking – think religious uses or as cleaning solvents, production of beer for sale came to a near halt. The production and distribution of beverages with more than 0.5% alcohol by weight became illegal until the Cullen-Harrison Act on April 7, 1933, relegalizing beverages of up to 3.2% alcohol by weight and marking the first National Beer Day. The passing of that act brought along momentum that led to the 21st amendment, repealing prohibition altogether that same year.

In the 1960s, microbreweries saw a resurgence in California with the likes of Anchor Brewing Company and The New Albion Brewery setting the stage for the greater craft brewery revival. This was furthered by the passing of a bill in 1978 that made home brewing of beer and wine legal and tax-free for any adult, thus allowing individuals to more freely explore the industry and develop their own specialty crafts without fear of ramifications.  As a result, the U.S. experienced the rapid-fire takeover of the craft beer industry and microbreweries. Today, there are nearly 8,000 craft breweries all over the U.S. with permits constantly in the process of getting approval. 

Luckily, there is little worry about market saturation due to the mostly local markets that they serve. However, in such unprecedented times, concern is rising about the industry’s ability to survive if social distancing measures are prolonged for much longer and local breweries continue to see a steep decline in direct sales. As we spend more time at home, if you are a beer drinker, look into local breweries near you to see if they have pick up or delivery options and support their craft! Of course, even though you’ll be home, please drink responsibly. 


Spotlight on Trends:

When asked about any of her seasonal favorites, Torie Fisher from Backward Flag Brewing prefers to forego the notion that some drinks should stick to certain times. Fisher says she’s down to have a big stout in the Summer, a light lager in winter, or a complex sour whenever – it’s all about what you’re in the mood for! Fisher also mentioned that although hazy IPAs are still popular, they’re starting to get a bit tired and she’s been seeing a growing return of light, easy drinking beers. Turns out, it’s not always about the heaviest or most intense flavors at the expense of something that pairs easily with a meal! 

According to a report by the Brewers Association, the top five styles of 2019 were American IPA, Imperial IPA, American Lager, Other IPA and Blonde Ale. Check out more of the industry trends they found here

Since we’re all doing our part to flatten the curve by staying at home, if you can, perhaps now’s the time to explore different beer styles and find some new favorites. Here’s a list of other women-owned craft breweries to check out and put on your post stay-at-home itinerary.

We’ll be celebrating National Beer Day throughout the entire month of April! Each week, we’ll take a look into a different area of the craft brewing industry. Stay tuned for next week’s ScoutInsight Spotlight as we take a deeper look into the culture of the brewing industry.

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