Most of us have seen a graphic showing the number of breweries in America from the 1800’s to today. It tells a story we’ve all heard before – America had a lively brewing scene up until Prohibition, when nearly two thousand breweries were wiped off the map, most never to be seen again. The number of breweries in America stayed low until the craft beer movement took off in the 1990’s.
Well, I just came across a new (to me) infographic which overlays a key bit of info onto this old chestnut. It’s from the book Beer Craft: A Simple Guide to Making Great Beer by William Bostick and Jessi Rymil, and it adds production volume to the mix. It’s cool to see these two pieces of information together, and it allows us to draw an interesting conclusion…
Prohibition aside, 1980 was the worst year in the history of American beer. The sidebar on the graphic above calls these “the darkest days for beer” and I couldn’t agree more. Blondie topped the charts, Empire Strikes Back ruled the box office with an iron fist, and fizzy yellow beer flowed through the streets.
In 1980, there were just 44 breweries in America, and they produced around 187 million barrels of beer – that’s over five and a half BILLION gallons. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that most of that beer was mass-produced swill. I was only a little kid back then, and thank god – I can’t imagine how hard it was to get a decent beer. I guess that’s why folks started brewing their own at home, which later led to some of them starting up their own breweries, which was the birth of the robust craft beer scene we enjoy today.
We have yet to know if the craft beer scene we all love has passed its peak, but we’re certainly far better off than our fathers when it comes to the selection, variety and quality of the beers we can enjoy. 80’s fashion might be coming back into style (god help us all), but I’m happy to report that the marketplace dominance by a few mega breweries continues to erode.
Since 1980, production has leveled off at around 200 million barrels, but the number of breweries has swelled to over 1,500 and continues to climb. Good beer is available most everywhere, and the industry continues to grow as new folks discover the pleasure of drinking brews crafted with love.