Historic Structures

History of the Brewing Industry in the United States Pabst Brewing Company, Milwaukee Wisconsin

Brewing in early America was largely practiced in the household and tavern as a private endeavor as it had been in England. Although a commercial brewery was established in the 1630s in New Amsterdam (New York City), beer lacked the widespread popularity of inexpensive and easily obtainable distilled liquors. The beer that was produced was ale. This trend continued into the early nineteenth century, remaining unaltered until the arrival of a significant German immigrant population who brought their own brewing traditions in the form of lager beer.

Although its precise origins are unknown - it is first documented in Munich in 1420 - many brewing historians attribute the advent of lager production to Bavarian monasteries. Lager's traditional association and preference by those of German descent, however, was firmly established, contrasting it with the heavier, higher alcohol content ales, porters and stouts favored by British drinkers. First brewed in the United States in the 1840s, lager production followed German migration patterns and could be found in such cities as Philadelphia, New York, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago, and Milwaukee, which supported sufficiently large German communities. Lager, as a lighter-tasting beer generally served cold, quickly gained favor amongst the wider populace and supplanted ale as the preferred beverage. At the same time, brewing became an industry of consequence in the United States with the number of breweries increasing from 150 in 1810 (prior to significant German immigration), to 431 in 1850, and 2,252 in 1865. Through much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the American brewing industry was characterized by a declining number of breweries but increased production. In 1873, the number of breweries peaked at 4,131 with a total production of 9,633,323 barrels while, in 1917, 1,237 breweries produced 60,817,379 barrels of beer. By 1909, the brewing industry had grown to rank sixth nationally in terms of capital invested and seventeenth in terms of value of its product as measured by the 1910 federal census.

The primary ingredients and basic brewing process of malting, mashing, boiling, and fermenting has changed little throughout the history of lager beer production. Malting begins with steeping barley in water in order to stimulate germination. After a period of days, germination is then arrested by drying the grain. This process allows the barley starches to be converted into sugars during brewing and, following drying, the barley is referred to as malt. The malt is then ground, added to water and heated, and the resulting mixture, called "wort," is the liquid base for beer. During this mashing stage the malt sugars are dissolved and additives, such as corn or rice, may be added to produce a less heavy, lighter colored beer. Following mashing, the wort is transferred to a brew kettle and boiled, during which time hops are added. After a period of boiling, the hops and any remaining solid matter are removed from the wort, which is cooled prior to fermentation. The addition of yeast begins the fermentation process, which produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. Following fermentation, the beer is filtered and stored for ten days to several weeks at temperatures close to freezing for a secondary fermentation, after which it is ready for packaging or consumption.

Although the process has remained largely unchanged, the introduction of mechanical and scientific advancements in the late nineteenth century allowed for more control to be exerted during the production of beer, which resulted in increased output and greater consistency in the appearance and taste of the product. These advancements included new steep tanks that could be emptied quickly and evenly, and steel-wire kiln floors that ensured uniform drying of barley, which was formerly done by turning the barley over with shovels. Combating the problems of uneven steeping, germination, drying, and unwanted germination in the drying kiln resulted in uniformly high quality malt. Furthermore, the use of steam heat during the mashing and boiling stages allowed greater control of temperature than was possible with the use of direct flame. Artificial refrigeration had the same advantages during fermentation and storage when its use replaced ice. Scientifically, the introduction of pure yeast culture and pasteurization were important advancements that improved the consistency and uniformity of beer. The use of pure yeast culture entailed the isolation and utilization of only those strains more favorable to brewing, while pasteurization involved the heating of the packaged product, thereby killing all microorganisms in the beer and combating spoilage. These mechanical and scientific advancements prompted author Thomas Cochran to state that the period from 1873 to 1893 was, "the greatest, technologically speaking, in the thousands of years of brewing history."

This period has also been identified as the beginning of modern brewery architecture in the United States. Technological innovations and the resulting increases in production naturally necessitated changes in the physical structure of breweries. While early breweries - those with an annual output limited to tens or hundreds of barrels - could house all their operations in a single two- or three-story structure, multi-building complexes were required for the production of tens or hundreds of thousands of barrels. Buildings within the complex were devoted to each stage of the brewing process and its supporting facilities. This involved constructing malting houses, brewing houses, and stock houses, in addition to cooperages, stables, repair shops, and eventually, bottling houses. Production increases also demanded greater amounts of storage space for brewing grains and ice (prior to the widespread use of mechanical refrigeration in the 1880s). The prosperity of the largest brewers was reflected in the scale and appearance of their brewery complexes. Generally constructed of stone or brick, the buildings often featured architectural ornamentation in the form of rounded-arches, pilasters, belt courses and decorative corbeling. Beyond mere functionality, these structures displayed the pride and success of their owners as demonstrated by the widespread use of their lithographic images in company advertising and on business correspondence.

The thriving United States brewing industry of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was brought to a halt with the January 1919 passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution ratifying Prohibition. An American movement against intoxicating beverages dated back to the early nineteenth century, however, it originally targeted distilled liquors and focused on temperance, instead of outright prohibition. Passed that same year, the Volstead Act established that anything containing more than one-half percent alcohol by volume was an intoxicant, thus disabling the brewing industry. After it again became legal to produce beer in April 1933, the industry entered into a period characterized by consolidation, expansion and increased promotion. By 1940, production had approached pre-Prohibition levels, however, the number of brewing companies was less than half of what it had been in 1910. Output continued to increase throughout the twentieth century and, in order to expand capacity, brewers began opening subsidiary brewing plants either by construction or acquisition. Control of the brewing process had reached a point where the consistent appearance and taste of a company's product could be achieved at numerous locations. At the same time, the amount of money spent by brewing companies on promotion and advertising also grew. This resulted, in part, from the increased production of packaged (bottled and canned) beer. In 1934, packaged beer accounted for only 25% of beer sales however, by 1941, it was 52%, and has since grown consistently throughout the twentieth century. In this atmosphere, the appearance and ability of the consumer to recognize the packaging became important.