Friday, April 6, 2012

Happy Brew Year's Eve—Celebrating Since 1933

America's craft brewers and beer lovers across the country will be celebrating Brew Year's Eve with a craft beer in hand on April 7.

Brew Year's Eve celebrates the eve of the modification of the Volstead Act, which raised the legal alcohol percentage of beverages from .05 percent to 3.2 percent, allowing some beers to be legal once again on April 7, 1933. Over 1.5 million barrels of beer were consumed during the first 24-hours after the modification of the act!

Eight months later, the 21st Amendment was ratified, ending Prohibition after nearly 13 years. Only half of America's breweries survived to see the end of Prohibition, which came on December 5, 1933.

Learn more about the history of craft beer in "The American Story" by Stan Hieronymus. (SEE BELOW)

American Craft Beer Today

Craft beer has certainly made a serious rebound since the days of Prohibition. According to the Brewers Association, publishers of, craft beer now represents more than 5 percent of the total beer market in the U.S. In 2011,

American craft brewers produced nearly 11.5 million barrels of beer representing $8.7 billion in sales.

“We saw rapid growth in brewery openings last year [2011], particularly with microbrewery start-ups, and these numbers are poised to rise even more in 2012,” said Paul Gatza, Director of the Brewers Association. “In February 2012, we already topped 2,000 operating breweries—a truly remarkable milestone. We look forward to even more success and the continued expansion of the craft beer market.”

Popular Brew Year's Eve Celebrations

Public House Brewery | Rolla, Missouri
Prohibition Repeal Celebration - period costumes encouraged!

Schlafly Bottleworks | Maplewood, Missouri
Repeal of Prohibition Beer Festival

Each year Schlafly celebrates the Repeal of Prohibition with a festival that features Schlafly beers and beers from one state that doesn't currently distribute in St. Louis—this year, it's Texas. Schlafly welcomes back Drew Huerter, a former Schlafly brewer, who is now head brewer for a start-up in Dallas, Deep Ellum, and the owners from Rahr and Sons in Ft. Worth and Real Ale in Blanco. "We host the festival on the Saturday after the 7, that way we start the party on Brew Year's Eve and then end our week of celebration on the 14," said Dan Kopman, co-founder of Schlafly Beer.

Carver Brewing Co. | Durango, Colorado
Durango Bootleggers Spring Tonic Speakeasy Party

Join Carver’s, Durango Brewing, Ska and Steamworks at the release party for Spring Tonic, brewed from a Pre-Prohibition Brew recipe. Go back in time as Carver’s Brewing is set up like a speakeasy where you must know the “password” to get inside. Duane Smith, local historian will take us back in time with his talk on the early days in Durango and some of the brewing history. Along with that there will be beer-themed movies showing throughout the restaurant and live music from local favorites Waiting on Trial. Folks are encouraged to dress in prohibition-era attire and proceeds from the beer sales will go to the Animas Museum.

How will you be celebrating Brew Year's Eve?

"The American Story" by Stan Hieronymus

Native Americans made a corn beer long before Europeans found their way to America, bringing with them their own version of beer. Although most of that was brewed in the home during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a fledgling industry began to develop from 1612, when the first known New World brewery opened in New Amsterdam (now Manhattan).

Our "modern era" began in the nineteenth century. In 1810 only 132 breweries operated and per capita consumption of commercially brewed beer amounted to less than a gallon. By 1873 the country had 4131 breweries, a high water mark, and in 1914 per capita consumption had grown to 20 gallons (compared to about 21.5 today). Then came national Prohibition.

American beer was already changing before Prohibition. When German immigrants began arriving in the middle of the nineteenth century they brought with them a thirst for all-malt lagers and the knowledge to brew them. But by the end of the century a) drinkers showed a preference for lighter-tasting lagers, ones that included corn or rice in the recipe, and b) consolidation began to eliminate many small, independently operated breweries. In 1918 the country had only one quarter the number of brewers that operated 45 years before.

National Prohibition (individual states had prohibition as early as 1848) began January 16, 1920 when the 18th amendment, also known as the Volstead Act, went into effect. It effectively ended in April of 1933 with the return of 3.2% beer, and in December the 21st amendment officially repealed the 18th. Within a year 756 breweries were making beer, but the biggest companies remained intent on expansion, using production efficiencies and marketing to squeeze out smaller breweries.

The number of breweries shrunk quickly, to 407 in 1950 and 230 in 1961. By 1983 one source counted 80 breweries, run by only 51 independent companies, made beer. As British beer writer Michael Jackson observed at the time, most produced the same style: "They are pale lager beers vaguely of the pilsener style but lighter in body, notably lacking hop character, and generally bland in palate. They do not all taste exactly the same but the differences between them are often of minor consequence."

Making History

Something else was happening as regional breweries closed. Not only were Northern Californians nurturing the rise of "California cuisine" and local wineries but also small breweries so new people didn't know what to call them. What started when Fritz Maytag bought Anchor Brewing in 1965 continued when Jack McAuliffe opened the short-lived New Albion Brewing Company in 1976. This is an example of an entrepreneurial act repeated a thousand times over and in every state in the country.

By the end of the century more breweries operated in the United States than any country in the world, the number climbing past 1,500 in 2009. Taking inspiration from brewing cultures around the world Americans also brew a wider variety of beer than anywhere. "I have no doubt that America is the best place to be a brewer because we don't have the burden of having to carry on a long brewing tradition," explains Phil Markowski, brewmaster at Southampton Public House. "We have more freedom to be creative and can gather influences from all over."

In turn Americans provided inspiration for like-minded brewers in other countries. "For me the innovation in brewing in the USA…has been by far the most exciting thing to happen in brewing, possibly ever," said James Watt, co-founder of upstart BrewDog in Scotland.

As American beer enthusiasts are fond of saying, there may never have been a better time to be a beer drinker, at least until tomorrow.

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