Beer is a popular alcoholic drink that has existed for a long time. Stretching from a time as ancient as the prehistoric era, beer is a favorite among people from different walks of life. No matter where it is all over the world, beer is one drink that has never lost its popularity among the masses.
Of course, with the amount of interest that beer has attracted for centuries, the development of different techniques and methods for producing beer is definitely expected. Throughout the time that has passed since beer became the worldwide staple that it is now famously known for today, a lot of styles have also been born from beer-related experimentation.
One of these types of beer is craft beer. In the general sense, craft beers are beers made in craft breweries or small independent beer makers that produce beer in a different style as compared to large-scale breweries, which manufacture their beer products through mechanical processes.
Craft beers are perceived by people to have higher attention to detail and quality. Since these types of beer come from smaller companies, the reputation for better tasting and a unique variety of flavors and techniques is something expected from craft beers.
Contrary to the centuries-old history of beer in general, craft beer has actually been around for a shorter time. But even with its relatively new existence, craft beer quickly grew to become a beloved type of drink, especially among beer lovers. Read on for the history of craft beer from its conception all the way up to today.
While the term ‘craft beer’ was not yet coined at the time, the brewing company D. G. Yuengling & Son, founded in 1829, is considered to be not only the oldest brewery in the United States but also one of the oldest craft breweries all over the world.
Soon after, other breweries followed the example of Yuengling, such as the August Schell Brewing Company, which is also included in the list of the earliest craft breweries to have started their operations in history.
While these are the only documented breweries, the description of craft breweries being a small-scale beer business makes it more generic. This means that a lot of small beer companies have popped up here and there throughout the early days of the craft beer industry.
At around July 1942, the Small Brewers Committee (which would eventually be known as the Brewers Association of America), meets for the first time in Chicago to discuss the common problems among small breweries.
One of the issues that were first addressed by the organization was a petition for an allocation of tin used to create caps for sealing beer bottles from the War Production Board agency.
At the time, most of the metal supply in the United States was being used for the war efforts, and during a time of relevant shortage in supplies, the small brewery owners back then had formed a committee in order to petition for a more fair setup.
After the war had ended, one of the most significant outcomes that happened to the United States was when American soldiers came back home to the country, bringing along with them a refreshed appreciation for beer.
In particular, soldiers who were stationed in Europe were eager to go home to America for an experience of the type of beer that had been out of their reach for a very long time. When the troops arrived back in the nation, large beer companies were the dominating force in the market.
With the same level of quality and taste, the former fighters were looking for another way to satisfy their cravings for a beer that was made the right way. And the solution to this dilemma was none other than homebrewing. Unfortunately, at the time, this practice was illegal.
Beginning of the Movement
The Craft Beer Movement took a huge step forward when it gained a lot of attention in the United States. While the general meaning of craft breweries had been floating around for quite some time, it was in the 1960s that the popularity of craft beer soon began to spike all over the nation.
Anchor Brewing Company
The Anchor Brewing Company had been running its operations since 1896. However, the growing beer industry in the United States was a big challenge for the struggling company. People had started to choose the light lagers produced by mega breweries over the specialty drinks brewed in smaller businesses.
At the risk of permanently closing down, the business was saved in 1965 by Fritz Maytag when he bought a stake worth 51% in the company. A descendant of a home appliances businessman and the son of a farmer, Fritz not only had the resources to make a business run, but he also had the valuable knowledge an entrepreneur needed in order to make sure a business venture ran smoothly.
As soon as he got his hands on the company. Fritz started working on expanding Anchor Brewing’s product line. Despite the demand for mass-produced beers, Fritz stuck to the classic and unique formula of Anchor Brewing.
In the years that followed, the Anchor Brewing Company had a portfolio of unique flavors and tastes that focused on quality rather than quantity. And so, the Anchor Brewing Company became one of the first official craft breweries that existed.
Small Brewers Excise Tax Differential
In 1976, the Small Brewers Excise Tax Differential was passed into law. The declaration of this law was a huge relief for small breweries in America at the time. Taxes for all breweries would be the same regardless of the number of barrels that were being manufactured.
The Brewers Association of America was at the frontline in the fight to have this law put into effect. Smaller breweries that produced over 2 million barrels or less would only pay up to $7 per barrel for the first 60,000 barrels that they make in the same year.
This means that craft breweries would greatly benefit from the smaller tax payments and that larger beer companies would still have to pay the standard rate of $9 per barrel.
Homebrewing Made Legal
In 1979, homebrewing was finally made legal by President Jimmy Carter when he signed H.R. 1337. This bill lifted the restrictions and other penalties imposed on amateur brewers who would create their drinks from home.
This move from the government allowed more people to try out their luck in the beer industry. And more brewers were given a chance to follow in the footsteps of Fritz Maytag and his craft brewery.
The announcement of this bill being put into effect was a long time coming, especially when homebrewing has been struggling to be completely legalized as far back as during the era of Prohibition in the United States.
Ever since several laws were implemented to support craft breweries, the industry has never stopped growing in size. Since the law was on the side of beer makers and more people were given the freedom to experiment with different formulas and recipes for beer, the market for craft beer grew more competitive as the years went on.
During the 1990s, the beer industry was at its highest in recent times. Thanks to the growing acceptance of alcohol among the people, combined with the high demand for more types of beer, the market was booming in sales.
With interest in beer at an all-time high, many beer-makers noticed the trend, and during this period in beer history, a lot of small breweries began setting up their operations all over the country.
Craft beer has been on the rise ever since the law started to loosen up its restrictions concerning home brewing. Businesses that were involved in the beer industry were experiencing one of their best sales during this period.
A Decline in the Market
Of course, in the business world, for every good thing — there is a high chance that there is a risk involved with it. The same trend occurred in the market during the late 90s when the beer industry was beginning to get crowded with businesses, both small and large.
While it was good business for breweries who wanted to take a shot with their own unique beers, there would eventually come the point where quality would be the standard rather than quantity.
Since the market was filled with producers trying to make the biggest profit out of their beers, many breweries prioritized speed over the quality of their drinks. This trend led to a domino effect in the industry, many of the breweries that lost customers due to lack of quality had to shut down.
Since a lot of breweries were starting to close their doors, the chance to build new ones was also becoming more difficult. Sales in the market were starting to slow down, and the beer industry as a whole began to decline in terms of overall dominance.
Beer Gets Creative
Since the ‘bust’ of the beer industry, the breweries which were left behind were obviously producing drinks that had good quality and excellent standards. While the breweries that were making poor-quality drinks were removed from the picture — the competition in the industry remained.
The demand for true “American” beer was beginning to be the general trend among craft beer makers nationwide. People were starting to look for beers that were unique and uncommon — and the craft breweries present during this period certainly delivered.
Experimentation of weird and extreme tastes was being explored in craft beer. Spices and other unusual ingredients were being added to beer formulas for added taste and exoticness. It was not long that collectors of these witty beer drinks or ‘beer geeks’ would show up. Indeed, beer had just entered a period of creativity.
21st Century Times
The 21st century is generally defined as an era of change and transformation in society. Since businesses were competitive enough in the modern era, more attention was being placed on marketing and advertising efforts instead.
Craft breweries began doubling down on their identity as being diverse and high-quality — a characteristic that larger beer companies seemed to lack. Craft beer was appreciated more for its attention to taste and generally being a refreshing change from the dull feel of beer that was mass-produced.
While large breweries obviously cover a bigger portion of the market, craft beer has been able to make its presence known in a more unique and genuine way in the 21st century. And the influence small breweries have is still felt to this day.
In recent times, the beer industry as a whole has definitely become a competitive environment. This includes not only the craft breweries that have been talked about in this article but also the large companies that are beginning to see craft beer as a capable area of the industry that can easily compete with their sales.
People had started to move away from the belief that beer produced by large companies was the only reliable product in the market. In terms of statistics, craft beer was also on a hot streak — in the late 80s, craft beer only accounted for around 0.1% of the total beer market sales. However, this number has skyrocketed to around the 20% mark.
Large beer companies had either introduced more small-scale product lines that imitated the creative and unique feel of authentic craft beer — or they would acquire these small breweries, such as the beer giant Anheuser-Busch acquiring the craft brewery Redhook Ale in 1994.
Indeed, craft beer is here to stay — and for quite a long time at that. Due to not only the rapidly changing economy nowadays but also the evolving tastes of beer drinkers all over the world, craft beer has boldly made its presence known despite the huge competition that it faces in the form of large beer companies.
It just goes to show that while the beer industry moves towards modernizing its operations at a very fast pace, people still love a good drink made the old-fashioned way. And the popularity of craft beer is just the right outlet for artistic breweries to show off their skills to a community that would gladly enjoy their drinks made out of love.
I am a passionate beer connoisseur with a deep appreciation for the art and science of brewing. With years of experience tasting and evaluating various beers, I love to share my opinions and insights with others and I am always eager to engage in lively discussions about my favorite beverage.