No, beer isn’t a “man’s drink,” and craft beer isn’t new.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - By Theresa McCulla Twit­ter: @there­sam­ccu Theresa McCulla is the his­to­rian of the Amer­i­can Brew­ing His­tory Ini­tia­tive at the Smith­so­nian’s Na­tional Mu­seum of Amer­i­can His­tory.

Sum­mer for Amer­i­cans is a time of back­yard bar­be­cues, base­ball and beer. Memo­rial Day week­end is a per­fect chance to sit out­side with the sea­son’s first sixer, and the va­ri­eties of beer you can pick up at the lo­cal gro­cer have mul­ti­plied. “This is a golden age for beer lovers,” as The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported in 2016. Yet the sheer num­ber of op­tions could con­fuse even the most en­thu­si­as­tic con­sumer. No won­der myths about beer’s past and present abound. Here are five.

Amer­i­can beer is a prod­uct of the Mid­west.

Beer calls to mind the great cities of the Amer­i­can heart­land, where 19th-cen­tury work­ers slaugh­tered pork, pro­cessed grain and brewed. They cre­ated iconic brands with stay­ing power, such as An­heuser-Busch, Miller, Pabst and Sch­litz. For sev­eral months last year, St. Louis’s An­heuser-Busch even re­named Bud­weiser “Amer­ica,” mak­ing the coun­try’s most-con­sumed beer brand syn­ony­mous with the na­tion it­self. Bud­weiser is “an icon of core Amer­i­can val­ues like op­ti­mism and cel­e­bra­tion,” its mak­ers tout.

Yet Amer­i­can beer has a much longer and more geo­graph­i­cally di­verse his­tory. Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ev­i­dence in­di­cates that in­dige­nous peo­ples in North and South Amer­ica pro­duced fer­mented bev­er­ages from corn, fruits and other plants long be­fore Euro­peans ar­rived. The con­ti­nent’s first com­mer­cial brew­ery opened in what’s now Man­hat­tan in 1612. Bar­rels of English ale sup­plied hy­dra­tion and nu­tri­tion to the Pil­grims as they sailed west in 1620. In the late 1700s, hops grew at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton’s Mount Ver­non. When Gold Rush hope­fuls and rail­road builders looked west in the 1800s, Ger­man im­mi­grants brewed for them in New Or­leans, Den­ver and San Fran­cisco. As the na­tion grew, beer went with it.

But when Pro­hi­bi­tion be­gan in 1920, it shut­tered Amer­i­can brew­eries. Only a few big pro­duc­ers, most in the Mid­west (plus Colorado’s Coors), sur­vived. Their size al­lowed them to adapt, redi­rect­ing fac­to­ries and re­frig­er­ated trucks to­ward the pro­duc­tion of soft drinks, ice cream and even ce­ram­ics dur­ing years when they couldn’t brew. They would come to dom­i­nate the mar­ket and shape Amer­i­cans’ palates. In these ways, ties be­tween the Mid­west and Amer­i­can beer are prod­ucts of a more re­cent past.

Beer is a man’s drink.

In 19th-cen­tury Amer­ica, men brewed in mod­ern­iz­ing fac­to­ries and drank in rowdy sa­loons, be­com­ing the pub­lic face of beer pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion. In print and on TV, 20th-cen­tury ads broad­cast beer’s mas­cu­line im­age to a wide au­di­ence. By 2016, 74 per­cent of Amer­i­can men drank beer each week, whereas only 26 per­cent of women did.

Nev­er­the­less, his­tory shows that beer has al­ways been a woman’s drink, too. In colo­nial and early repub­lic Amer­ica, women and en­slaved peo­ple brewed beer as a do­mes­tic task. Martha Bal­lard, a Maine mid­wife, wrote in her diary on May 18, 1786: “A Clear day. we Brewd a barll & 1/2 Beer.” Nine­teenth-cen­tury women, es­pe­cially wid­ows, op­er­ated board­ing houses where they served beer and food to trav­el­ers. And, as women en­tered wageearn­ing jobs at the turn of the 20th cen­tury, they, too, came to pa­tron­ize ur­ban sa­loons. Soon, how­ever, ad­ver­tis­ers’ nearly exclusive fo­cus on male drinkers re­duced its pop­u­lar­ity among women. Petite bot­tles, low-calo­rie styles and Miller’s dec­la­ra­tion that it was the “cham­pagne” of beers sought to bring women back into the fold. Yet their con­sump­tion never equaled men’s.

Con­tem­po­rary beer cul­ture of­fers a slowly chang­ing story. In 1983, the Amer­i­can Home­brew­ers As­so­ci­a­tion tapped a woman, Nancy Vine­yard, as its Home­brewer of the Year (a feat not re­peated un­til 2013). Since 2008, the Pink Boots So­ci­ety, a char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tion with 50 chap­ters in 10 coun­tries, has awarded ed­u­ca­tional schol­ar­ships to women in the in­dus­try. An in­creas­ing num­ber of women are study­ing brew­ing and found­ing brew­eries.

Amer­i­can women’s re­la­tion­ship to beer has been equally, if not more, long-last­ing than men’s ties to the drink. It has just been more likely to oc­cur out of the pub­lic eye.

Craft brew­eries are small brew­eries.

What is craft beer? The Ox­ford English Dic­tionary de­fines it as “a beer made in a tra­di­tional or non-mech­a­nized way by a small brew­ery.” Mer­riam-Web­ster says it’s “a spe­cialty beer pro­duced in lim­ited quan­ti­ties.” Sim­i­larly, the Brew­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (BA), the not-for-profit trade as­so­ci­a­tion that pro­motes craft beer, des­ig­nates a craft brew­ery as “small, in­de­pen­dent and tra­di­tional.” Size seems key. Yet the BA also con­sid­ers eight of the 15 largest beer com­pa­nies in Amer­ica to be “craft.” What’s go­ing on?

Ac­cord­ing to the BA’s def­i­ni­tion, a craft brewer pro­duces 6 mil­lion or fewer bar­rels of beer ev­ery year. Six mil­lion sounds like a lot, es­pe­cially in con­trast to early mi­cro-brew­eries that typ­i­cally made a few thou­sand bar­rels, at most. Yet de­spite the suc­cess of big craft com­pa­nies such as Yuengling, Bos­ton Beer and Sierra Ne­vada, their sales vol­ume counts for a drop, or a few, in the prover­bial bucket. Ac­cord­ing to the BA’s math, even the largest craft brewer pro­duces no more than 3 per­cent of the vol­ume of beer sold to Amer­i­cans in a year. In 2016, craft beer counted for 12 per­cent of the to­tal Amer­i­can beer mar­ket, by vol­ume. The take­away is not that some craft brew­eries are very small and oth­ers less small, but that com­pa­nies on top of the beer mar­ket — An­heuser-Busch, MillerCoors and Pabst — are ex­tremely, gi­gan­ti­cally big.

Ask con­sumers to de­fine craft beer, and they’ll name a va­ri­ety of fac­tors other than size that ap­peal to them. The brew­ers of­ten con­coct new styles that let drinkers ex­per­i­ment; they run tap­rooms where cus­tomers can relax with their friends and neigh­bors; they build ties to their lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. Some craft brew­eries are ac­tive in phi­lan­thropy, oth­ers em­pha­size en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity, still oth­ers em­ploy in­no­va­tive man­age­ment prac­tices such as em­ployee stock own­er­ship plans, and many pur­sue col­le­gial, col­lab­o­ra­tive ties with other brew­eries. Mar­ket share, ul­ti­mately, is the wrong way to de­fine a beer.

Craft beer is a re­cent in­ven­tion.

The ex­plo­sive pace of brew­ery open­ings and eclec­tic new of­fer­ings could con­vince any­one that craft beer is a 21st-cen­tury in­no­va­tion. Be­tween 2006 and 2016, the num­ber of Amer­i­can brew­eries, most of them craft, leapt from 1,460 to 5,301, ex­ceed­ing the pre-Pro­hi­bi­tion to­tal. As of early 2017, two new Amer­i­can brew­eries were open­ing each day. Craft beer’s surge fits with con­sumers’ en­thu­si­asm for ar­ti­san foods and the in­cli­na­tion to “re­vi­tal­ize” for­merly in­dus­trial neigh­bor­hoods across the na­tion.

Yet Amer­i­can craft beer is much older than that nanobrew­ery down the block. Loose col­lec­tives of home brew­ers be­gan to tin­ker in West Coast base­ments in the 1960s and early 1970s, when home brew­ing was still il­le­gal. Bored by light lagers, they found in­spi­ra­tion in English, Bel­gian and Ger­man styles dur­ing mil­i­tary or ed­u­ca­tional trav­els abroad. Mo­ti­va­tion came, too, from the Cal­i­for­nia wine in­dus­try, Fritz May­tag’s re­born An­chor Brew­ing Com­pany in San Fran­cisco (1965) and Jack McAuliffe’s New Al­bion Brew­ing Com­pany in Sonoma County, Calif. (1976). Brew­ing-sci­ence classes at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Davis trained peo­ple who would tran­si­tion from home brew­ing to pro­fes­sional, start­ing a craft beer rev­o­lu­tion.

Early craft brew­ers el­bowed their way into a mar­ket dom­i­nated by big beer. They changed con­sumers’ palates by in­tro­duc­ing porters, stouts and hoppy styles, like Sierra Ne­vada’s iconic pale ale. Ini­tial gen­er­a­tions’ suc­cess paved the way for to­day’s brew­ers, who find ea­ger in­vestors and con­sumers as they ex­per­i­ment with wild yeasts, bar­rel ag­ing and more.

Wine is for ag­ing. Beer is for drink­ing fresh.

Cool cel­lars evoke im­ages of dusty wine bot­tles, their con­tents mel­low­ing and grow­ing in value the longer they sit. Beer, on the other hand, should be con­sumed fresh, right? There’s even an iPhone app that cal­cu­lates a beer’s age, us­ing codes printed on the bot­tle or can, lest the drinker be fooled by some­thing that has been sit­ting on the shelf too long.

For many beers, fresh is bet­ter. Cer­tain styles, such as pil­sners and most saisons, should be en­joyed close to the date of pro­duc­tion. Oth­ers, es­pe­cially hop-for­ward beers like IPAs, re­quire un­in­ter­rupted re­frig­er­a­tion and timely con­sump­tion to pre­serve the volatile fla­vors of hops. Nev­er­the­less, cer­tain beers im­prove in char­ac­ter if aged and cel­lared. Amer­i­can brew­ers have long ex­per­i­mented with hold­ing beers in wine and liquor bar­rels, ag­ing them be­fore they reach the con­sumer. High-al­co­holby-vol­ume styles, such as bar­ley­wines, ben­e­fit es­pe­cially from cel­lar­ing at home. Ag­ing a beer soft­ens the high-al­co­hol edge and al­lows a com­plex set of char­ac­ter­is­tics and fla­vors (tof­fee, straw, wood, wine) to emerge.

So how should a con­sumer cel­lar beer? First, choose the right styles. If you be­gin with a six-pack, drink one bot­tle fresh to un­der­stand its ini­tial fla­vor pro­file. Keep the beer in a cool, dark space. Store it stand­ing up or on its side; con­flict­ing opin­ions abound. Sam­ple ag­ing beers reg­u­larly, per­haps once a year, to catch a brew that threat­ens to age past its peak. When it’s time to en­joy it, serve it in the cor­rect glass­ware and at the proper tem­per­a­ture. Cheers.


An­heuser-Busch and other large Mid­west­ern brew­eries sur­vived Pro­hi­bi­tion and went on to dom­i­nate the mar­ket. But the his­tory of Amer­i­can beer ex­tends be­yond the heart­land.

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