A recent book on beer and homebrewing, entitled Beer Craft appears to include the clever use of graphics, and in particular infographics, the best of which which are able to convey a great deal of information in a economical amount of space. Written by William Bostwick and Jessi Rymill, one of their charts was chosen by Fast Company’s Co.Design as the Infographic of the Day a few days ago. The infographic shows the number of breweries in America, along with total beer production, from 1800-2010.
At the beginning (of the timeline, at least) there were only around 200 breweries. Rum, and other spirits, were king, and the U.S. boasted 14,000 distilleries. The advent of pilsner in 1842, along with a wave of German and European immigration, helped along by the industrial revolution, saw the number of breweries steadily increase until around 1850, when all hell broke loose. At that point, the rise of breweries in America can only be described as meteoric. When the dust settled two decades later, the number of breweries peaked in 1873 at 4,131. Consolidation, and other facts, cut the number in half by 1900 and another score of years later the number was zero, thanks to the anti-alcohol zealots who pushed through Prohibition in 1919.
Even once Prohibition ended thirteen years later, the brewing scene never recovered to anything approaching its glory days of the late 19th century. Both the business world and the world in general had changed considerably — especially after World War II — and anti-alcohol factions never admitted defeat, but merely changed tactics and continued to attack alcohol using different strategies that continue right through to the present day.
The low point is around 1980, when a mere 44 breweries made a staggering amount of beer, most of it tasting exactly the same. Since that time, total production of beer has risen only slightly, but more promisingly, the number of breweries has exploded with the microbrewery revolution that began in 1976 (and which had its origins in 1965 San Francisco). Today, we’re at nearly 1,800 breweries, the largest number since the turn of the last century. And according to the Brewers Association’s crack brewery detective, Erin Fay Glass, there are roughly 600 new breweries in various stages of their start-up phases. At the rate things are going, we should hit 2,000 breweries in America pretty soon, and quite possibly before the end of next year. Yea, beer!