Part I – Pre-prohibition

This is part one (of five) in a series of the Beer Wars in America (primarily 1970-1990) and some before and after history.  There are much better beer historians than me who would be far more accurate.  At the end of each piece, I am going to include how the period in question effected a local brewery to me, Falls City.  It adds a bit of individuality to a big picture story.  And now let us begin.

In the beginning of America there was beer, and it was good, but it wasn’t really an industry so I am going to ignore it.  The Mayflower had beer, Washington and Franklin brewed beer, some breweries existed on the Eastern Seaboard.  But the exciting stuff happened with a combination of the industrial revolution and the German invas…ummm, immigration wave in the 19th century.  This was followed by the commercial use of refrigeration and an industry was born.

Below is a not-so-random selection of mostly-German, mostly Midwest, breweries that were founded in the mid 19th century and would continue to play a major part in our story in the late 20th century.  This list is by no means complete, but it gives you a flavor of the Germanic character of the industry in these days.

Yuengling, 1829, Pottsville
Falstaff, 1838, St Louis
Ballantine, 1840, Newark
Schaefer, 1842, New York
Pabst 1844, Milwaukee
Schlitz 1849, Milwaukee
Stroh 1850, Detroit
Blatz, 1851, Milwaukee
Anheuser-Busch, 1852, St Louis
Christian Moerlein, 1853, Cincinnati
Leibmann, 1854, Brooklyn
Hudepohl, 1855, Cincinnati
Miller, 1855, Milwaukee
Jacob Schmidt, 1855, St Paul
Heileman, 1858, La Crosse
Christian Schmidt, 1860, Philadelphia
Hamm, 1865, St Paul
Coors, 1873, Golden
Sterling, 1880, Evansville
Pfeiffer, 1882, Detroit
Anchor, 1896, San Francisco

The Seibel Institute in Chicago taught brewing in German up until World War I.  The Brewmaster’s meetings at Budweiser were held in German up until about the 1960s.  The inability to speak German limited a brewer’s advancement in the company in the first half of the 20th century.

Prior to this time, American breweries were based in the English tradition and were primarily Ales.  Lager became King with the German influence.  In 1873 there were 4,131 breweries in America, a number that would not be topped until late 2015.  In the 60 years from 1865 to 1915, the amount of beer produced and the per capita drinking increased dramatically (from 3 to 18 gallons per capita per annum).  However, the number of breweries decreased as industrialization and refrigeration allowed for larger breweries.  See the chart below:


Year National Production (millions of barrels) Number of Breweries Average Brewery Size (barrels)
1865 3.7 2,252 1,643
1870 6.6 3,286 2,009
1875 9.5 2,783 3,414
1880 13.3 2,741 4,852
1885 19.2 2,230 8,610
1890 27.6 2,156 12,801
1895 33.6 1,771 18,972
1900 39.5 1,816 21,751
1905 49.5 1,847 26,800
1910 59.6 1,568 38,010
1915 59.8 1,345 44,461

Source: United States Brewers Association, 1979 Brewers Almanac, Washington DC: 12-13.

Of course, by the next line in the chart, the number was zero.  At least legally.  But that is a story for another post.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Central Consumers Company, an alliance of Louisville breweries, had many of the taverns in Louisville under contract as “tied houses.”  Basically, they had a monopoly and a contract to prevent the taverns from buying elsewhere.  Some independent taverns and grocery stores refused to sign on and instead created a cooperative brewery in 1905 – Falls City.  In 1911, Central Consumers tried to buy out Falls City, but the owners chose not to sell.  Falls City would continue to grow and succeed until a horrible shadow fell over the country with the 18th Amendment.

But there is a point to this part of the story – even in the face of monopoly, there isn’t a need for the government to fix the problem.  The plucky upstarts were able to succeed without subsidy and without selling out.  It’s a libertarian success story … for now.