Three Cheers for the History of Beer!

A Chronicle of how craft beer spread across this great country in the past 30-odd years from Off The Grid's Alex Logan

Alex Logan here, Jesse Ventura’s Vigilant Producer for Off The Grid on Ora TV. Since the Governor isn’t much of a drinker, I’ll gladly take the (Silver) Bullet and imbibe on his behalf. I couldn’t be more excited for Ora’s new series Beer Geeks! And since we’re all history geeks at OTG, we should take a moment to chronicle how craft brews were able to spread across this great country in the past 30-odd years.

Love him or hate him (The Simpsons called him “history’s greatest monster”), President Jimmy Carter signed the bill, H.R. 1337, into law in October 1978, which allowed Americans to legally brew beer at home for the first time since Prohibition (the darkest age in U.S. history—at least for us, alcohol advocates).

In honor of the Carter Family’s achievements in beer and beer drinking, Falls City Brewing Company introduced Billy Beer in 1977, named for Jimmy’s hapless, everyman brother, Billy, with the slogan, “Brewed expressly for and with the personal approval of one of America’s all-time great beer drinkers – Billy Carter.” Billy Beer has become the White Whale of beer can collecting, although most real antiquers will tell you they’re worthless. Until you’ve tasted for yourself the 35-year-old lager brewed as a political joke, I don’t think you are allowed to make that claim.

Now, the Carters were merely stepping-stones in the path of craft beer toppling the Miller, Coors and Anheuser-Busch monopoly in America, because although you could now brew at home, you couldn’t sell that delicious handcrafted beer to others. That all changed in 1982 when brewpubs were legalized in California and Washington, and in 1983 in Oregon. Now, we could create our own perfect pints and sell them to the masses!

Fritz Maytag, Anchor Brewing Co. (Anchor Steam) beer baron. Photo: Pete Breinig, The Chronicle

Another hero of this tale is Fritz Maytag, who purchased a controlling interest in the ailing ale-maker, Anchor Brewery in 1965, because it was his favorite beer at the local bar (now that’s dedication)! He brought back forgotten varieties of beers, showing America that they craved craft, not chug-ability. Without Mr. Maytag, the United States could have been dominated by lagers. So, all of you fans of Belgians, Kolschs, Stouts, Barley Wines, and even Saisons (yuck), you should say a silent prayer for the Godfather of Variety, Fritz Maytag.

Today, there are 2,768 craft breweries in the United States, and it’s a $14.3 billion industry, bringing in over 14% of the entire beer industry. And business is booming and blooming all over. When I bought my first beer, I remembered having my choice of either regular or light crap in a can—today, any gastropub worth its salt has a beer list as long as its food menu. And the best brewpubs will have an IPA list lengthier than both combined.

So everyone raise a frosty mug of your favorite beer (mine’s Blind Pig from Russian River Brewing) in a toast to the Carter Brothers, Fritz Maytag, Master Brewer Michael Ferguson, and the entire Beer Geeks crew at Ora TV! Without you, we’d all be choking down Bud Lights out of rusty cans. Thank you for keeping America great (and drunk)!


The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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