Craft Brewing Is Reborn: A Brief History of Craft Beer

Small-scale, entrepreneurial craft brewing is among the hottest trends in the United States today, but small, localized beer-making operations have been an integral part of American society for hundreds of years. Craft brewing is one of the oldest arts in America. e

Woven Into The Fabric of Society

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The first English and Dutch settlers who colonized the New World brought the European art of beer-making with them. By the mid-1600s, personal and commercial breweries already dotted the colonial American landscape. Dutch colonists found the climate, water and rich soils of New Amsterdam (soon to be New York) exceptional for the production of beer. This was simply a great environment to grow malt and hops.

By the year 1660, historians say at least 26 breweries have been identified on old maps. Most of these small operations coincided with a public ale house or tavern. Back then, just about all bars made and served their own “house brand.’

Two Centuries of Status Quo

For the next 200 years, it’s safe to say that just about all beer in America was craft brewed. It wasn’t until after the Civil War ended in 1865 that beer began to emerge as a mass-produced product that started to serve a widespread and ever-growing customer base.

An Industry Transformed

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Fast forward to the 1960s. Beer in America had evolved almost entirely away from the small craft brewing model to a bona fide mass-production industry. Furthermore, beer itself had changed. It had become lighter. Old World beer was dark and grainy. Modern beer was light. At this point in history, light lagers began their domination. By the end of the 1970, there were 44 brewing companies in America.


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The Re-Emergence of Craft Brewing

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In 1965 a man named Fritz Maytag purchased a San Francisco-based beer operation called Anchor Brewing Company. Fritz was the great-great grandson of Frederick Louis Maytag, founder of the iconic home appliance company. 

Fritz wanted to strike out on his own and make something of himself outside the famous appliance empire of his family. He opted to revitalize the Anchor Brewing Company – but he wanted to do things differently.

Fritz Maytag was perhaps the first person to embrace the craft brewing concept. He wanted to fashion a brew that resembled the robust, heady and darker beer styles of the Old World. In short, he sought to make a specialty beer that was a distinct.

Craft Brewing Hobby Catches On


In the 1970s something else happened – thousands of people began to adopt the hobby of home brewing. Most people made beer for personal consumption, but some entrepreneurial-minded folks saw an opportunity to launch an exciting start-up business. It is also important to note that home brewing was about more than taking up a hobby starting a profitable business. 

The Man Who Broke Through

It was in 1976 that a highly significant development occurred in the history of craft brewing. It was the establishment of the New Albion Brewery in Sonoma, California, by Jack McAuliffe

While serving in the U.S. Navy, McAuliffe traveled the world and tasted exotic beers in far-away lands. While stationed in Scotland, he became enamored with the robust beers favored by the Scots. It inspired him to establish his own brewery after his stint with the Navy. Beer historians agree that New Albion was the first true microbrewery of the modern era – and the model for the thousand of craft brew brands today.

New Albion survived just six years, but the craft beer genie was out of the bottle. Hundreds of people were inspired by what Jack McAuliffe had accomplished. After his operation closed in the early 1980s, the next decade saw the launch of dozens of new microbreweries. The craft beer trend was about to become a major force in America.

Craft Brewing Comes Full Circle

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This began a period of experimentation and innovation as dozens of start-up craft brewers worked diligently to find a formula for success. Many microbreweries achieved considerable profitability while many others disappeared.

By the 1990s a firm foundation was established under the concept of craft brewing. Entrepreneurs learned more about brewing, but just as important, developed marketing strategies that allowed small, local beer makers to turn a profit. 

After a lot of “re-inventing of the wheel,” a clear-cut road map became available for other brewers to follow. The volume of craft beer manufacturing grew from 35 percent in 1991 to 58 percent in 1995.

After a slump in production between 1997 and 2003, craft brewing launched into the stratosphere. There were just eight craft brewers in 1980 but 537 by 1994. Today, there are an astounding 6,000 as of the end of 2017. The craft beer segment has grown from six to 12 percent almost every year since 2003 – but 2016 saw a 16.6 percent growth rate.

Today craft brew brands have captured 12 percent of the U.S. beer market.