American Ale Part 2– Lager to Craft Ale
Prohibition had ended, but the brewing industry had not come out of it well and many states took a while to change from “dry.” Small breweries had no way to survive, and with war looming new hardships were coming. But eventually America would start a craft brewing revolution.
Although Americans could now legally buy beer again their options had become incredibly limited. The end to Prohibition meant that 31 breweries were set up by June of 1933, by 1934 it was 751. This seems like a lot, in fact the level of beer production was at pre-prohibition levels but there was big difference. Only half the number of breweries existed, meaning instead of a range of beers the market was being dominated by a few. This only got worse as by 1950 only 401 breweries were in operation, with barrel tax rising nearly yearly. By 1961 only 140 independent brewers existed.
With this came the rise of Lager, a style important from Europe that for a few reasons became the dominant style. Many have the misconception that snobby hopheads simply dislike all lager on principle, this isn’t really true but the bland mass produced lager about to dominate the American market is the type which caused people to think like this. Lager was already a light beer, but American Lager became even lighter. Adjunct grains, which are generally seen as lower quality for brewing were used instead of barely such as corn or rice. These were not only cheaper but because of World War II there were grain shortages, which with some temperance lobbying still existing meant high quality grain was hard to come by for brewers. These lagers generally lacked the range of flavours or smell that Pilsner lager has, though in a way this may have helped them grow a market as for many ales take a time to get used to. Another effect some suggest is that because of WWII women became a better market to target, who preferred these lighter drinks. So a variety of factors caused the market to grow but the variety and amount of brewers to shrink.
In 1978 a great change happened, homebrewing was made legal. This meant starting
up your own brewery was much easier, before you basically had to pay upfront and go all in on the venture but now you could build up. America was on the verge of micro brewers rising. It was 1976 a few years earlier that Jack McAuliffe opened his microbrewery in California, it did not last very long itself but the effect it had was much greater. It was in the 1980s we start to see a huge rising in breweries but also variety in beer once again.
In a very American way their styles became one of excess, as hoppy and alcoholic as reasonably possible. Like a child who hadn’t been allowed a sip of alcohol till they were of age American breweries went all in with triple or even quadruple IPAs. Many even say America saved the style of IPA, it had become unpopular for some time but this extremely hoppy style that they loved fit perfectly with what American craft brewers loved. But for many you could easily mistake their pale ales for IPA they are just that hoppy. This is not the only style though, they also produce some very dark yet hoppy ales which create an interesting blend of strong dark flavours yet intense hoppiness. Organisations like the American Homebrewers Association and Brewers Association have grown to help these small brewers and also organise events like the American Beer Festival. These are not simple little random sheds dotted everywhere but a community.
So from a complete ban, to lager dominating the market and then the boom of craft beers America has had a chaotic history of ale in a very short amount of time. If you would like to sample an American Ale you can try out our new kit Pioneer's Gold, done in the style of American beers.