The Fourth of July and American Craft Beer
It’s almost the Fourth of July so it’s time to wax patriotic and espouse our love of this great land via the context of craft beer.
Only a few decades ago, America was the butt of the international brewing joke, derided for its lackluster, watered-down suds. Indeed, there’s a certain off-color pun concerning the similarities between American brews and the act of making love in a canoe. You probably know the punchline but, if not, do an internet search on it—it’s not for polite company or polite blogging.
There’s a reason our country’s beer received such derision. Frankly, we deserved it. While we boasted a fairly admirable brewing culture prior to 1920, Prohibition really did a number on us. Some breweries managed to survive The Noble Experiment by switching over to non-alcoholic but less-profitable endeavors such as ice cream, dyes, and ceramics. These substitute products were enough to keep the company afloat but not much more than that. Once the 21st Amendment passed, those brewery survivors faced a major deficit having operated in the red for 13 years. They needed to make back their bucks quickly and, unfortunately, that usually meant cutting corners: fewer premium ingredients, more cheap adjuncts.
It wasn’t entirely the fault of the breweries that America was suddenly inundated with fizzy, flavorless beer, the public was to blame, too. Throughout Prohibition, Americans lost their love of hops and became accustomed to sweet drinks. Drinks like sodas and virgin cocktails for law-abiding citizens and, for the speakeasy crowds, normal cocktails. Sweet was in and anything even remotely bitter was out. Scarcely-hopped, Post-Prohibition domestic lagers gave the people what they wanted—easy-drinking, non-confrontational, but ultimately boring beer. And that was pretty much all America brewed until the late 1970s.
Seeing the state of American beer and deeming it unfit to represent the Land of the Free, the earliest craft brewers, instead of complaining about the situation, did something about it. They fixed the problem. They began brewing bigger, bolder, more flavorful beers and they began using higher-quality ingredients, an artisanal approach, and a lot more passion. Because of the sweat of these early pioneers, we have the booming craft beer industry that we enjoy today. Maybe America doesn’t always get things right the first time, maybe we brew sub-par beer for a few decades, but we have the awareness, the motivation, and the know-how to fix our own problems.
As far as our international brewing reputation goes, the only countries deriding American beer now are those living in the past, those that conveniently overlook the strides American brewers have made in the past 40 or so years. They choose to remember us for what we were and not for who we are. These countries are also probably a little ticked-off that America, once the lowest of the low in terms of beer, has now surpassed them. Because we have. America makes the best beer in the world.
A bold claim? Perhaps, but it’s also the truth. All due respect to Old World brewers, we couldn’t have done what we’ve done without them paving the way for us, without their history guiding our future. However, we’ve taken the ball from them and ran with it like they could never have imagined. We took the English IPA that’s been around since the late 1700s and, since the late 1970s, have been brewing the Americanized version that’s swept the world and is currently the most popular style of craft beer. Belgium, a country oft touted for expertly crafted and centuries-old beer styles, has shaken off the dust of tradition and is beginning to toy with American-style brewing e.g. brewing with our assertive American hops. The country that put beer on the map, Germany, is suffering an identity crisis; young Germans don’t like beer because they view it as old-hat, it’s their grandparents’ drink, it’s boring. How does one get Germany interested in beer again? By sending them interesting beer. Stone Brewing Co. is building a new Berlin facility and intends to revive Deutschland’s floundering beer industry with innovative, out-of-the-box U.S. craft beer. America isn’t so much being influenced by other countries anymore; we’re the ones doing the influencing.
So, getting back to that old, tired joke about American beer and consummating a relationship in some form of watercraft: yes, even today the two are similar. They’re both fun, they’re both edgy, they’re both unorthodox, they both catch people’s attention, and they both make waves. Hoist your American beer high on Independence Day for it is truly something to be proud of!
Factotum will be open on the Fourth of July. Remember that we have free grills and propane for you to use; bring your meats and sides and have a good ol’ fashioned American BBQ on our patio.