If you know what Amber Ale, Pale Ale, IPA, Porters, and Stouts are then chances are you are a craft beer lover. Thanks to the innovative beer lovers of America, we get to enjoy a vast array of different craft beers. The brewing game itself has been steady since “Hymn to Ninkasi,” the Sumerian goddess of beer, is inscribed on a tablet, about 4,000 years after men first leave evidence of brewing activity. More recently, in the US, craft brewing has been an American tradition dating back to our original founding father, George Washington.
Recipe for Small Beer
America’s first president had a military notebook that he kept while serving as a colonel in the Virginia militia in 1758. Washington recorded his recipe for “Small Beer.” You can see this page at the New York Public Library. Blue Point Brewing in Long Island recreated this recipe as close as possible. Their recreation became a 3.6 percent alcohol by volume beer called Colonial Ale. In addition to the “Small Beer,” he kept a generous supply of porters at Mount Vernon.
It didn’t stop with George Washington. Like many traditions he started, many other presidents (and Americans) shortly followed. Thomas Jefferson, once a wine lover, turned beer fan, then creator also jumped in the crafting game. After finishing his presidency, he owned a private brewhouse he built in 1814.
James Madison took it one step further and wanted to form a national beer brewery. In 1809 he proposed a plan to create one and to appoint a Secretary of Beer to the presidential cabinet. His goal was to protect domestic beers to avoid consumption of favorite foreign beer and liquor. Unfortunately, Congress didn’t agree.
Presidential Poker Nights
Even during the Prohibition, Warren Harding, who was president during the early Prohibition years of 1921 to 1923, held bi-weekly, semi-secret, booze-filled poker nights in the White House. Not to mention the rest of America (not just the rich, mafias, and gangsters) were steering makeshift alcohol in their bathtub and bottling it up to “secretly” sell in their neighborhood. Nevertheless, Prohibition put a strain on alcohol consumption. Then Franklin Roosevelt came to save our American tradition. “I think this would be a good time for beer,” Roosevelt famously said on March 12, 1933, just months after taking office. He quickly signed a Beer-Wine Revenue Act to allow 3.2 percent beer and wine in April of 1933. Then in December, helped push through the 21st Amendment that once again made it legal to drink.
The casual beer drinking buddy has played well for many presidents. Prior to Prohibition, some presidents started sharing their wealth of beer by gently “persuading” voters with free beer and hard cider. What a way to win votes! Ronald Reagan, on a quick trip to a Boston-area pub in 1983, re-connected with voters by sitting down with a few Democrats at the Eire Pub. He later recreated a replica of a beer pub he visited in Ireland, at his Presidential Library.
President Obama is another president that is not shy about his love for craft beer. After a couple of years in office, in 2011, Obama purchased a homebrewing kit with former White House chef Sam Kass. They sought the knowledge of local homebrew stores as well as fellow homebrewers in the White House. The result was a House Honey Ale, and a House Honey Porter made with honey from the White House’s South Lawn beer hive. In 2012, a citizen filed a Freedom of Information Act request forcing the release of the White House’s top-secret beer.
In 1978 Jimmy Carter Federally legalized homebrewing. Prohibition banned homebrewing, and even though it ended long before 1978, they kept the ban on homebrewing. The reversing of this ban took a little over three decades to finally apply to all the states. Alabama and Mississippi did not follow suit until 2013.
Proliferation of Craft Beer
Unfortunately, the lift on the homebrewing banned created a struggling industry. Experts refuse to recognize their existence. Perhaps they were a little jealous and afraid of the competition. Through extraordinarily tricky market conditions, the microbreweries and brewpubs of the 1980s struggled to establish the foundation for what was to become the proliferation of craft beer in America.
For the United States, there’s never been a better time in beer. Moreover, while craft beer shelves can get crowded and options can feel overwhelming, more is always better. In 2016 the number there are 5,000 registered breweries. California is now home to more craft breweries than any state in the nation. With nearly 92 percent of the state’s 39.5 million residents living within 10 miles of a brewery. In 2016, California’s craft breweries produced a fantastic 3,295,221 barrels of beer. Now in 2018, the number grew to over 6,000 registered breweries.