The United States has a long history when it comes to alcohol. Most know of Prohibition, the period from 1920-1933 when the 18th Amendment banned the production, transport and sale of alcohol. However, less known is the history behind the number of US breweries.
Back in 1873 the US had over 3,700 breweries nationwide. These breweries mainly were focused on providing quality beer for their local constituents and were generally small entities. With the influx of immigrants from traditionally beer drinking countries (Germany, Britain, Ireland, etc) Americans consumption of beer had skyrocketed. In some areas demand quadrupled from previous measures.
However, as technology improved, consolidation within the industry began to occur. With the advent of refrigeration and iced rail cars breweries could now extend their reach further beyond their localities. It was difficult for small local breweries to compete with larger breweries that could produce quantities of beer at a much larger scale and offer lower prices.
Total Number of US Breweries by Year
This began a steady decline in the total number of US breweries. Prohibition was an obvious impact as well. Breweries could no longer sell beer or alcohol, so they either shut down, or had to make due selling other products. Even once Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the total number of breweries continued to decrease. At the low point in 1978 there were only 89 breweries in the entire nation.
Since then, breweries and beer drinkers are facing a sort of renaissance. Over the last 40 years the total number of breweries has grown exponentially to over 8,300. Beer drinkers have become more knowledgeable in recent years about breweries and beer styles and thus craft breweries have been answering the call by offering a variety of unique and creative flavors.
It remains to be seen whether the growth of small craft breweries can continue, though it is certainly a trend to monitor. The Yuengling company is the oldest brewery in the US. Continually operating since 1829, it survived Prohibition by selling ice cream and non-alcoholic beer. It currently is the 7th largest brewery in the US.
Source: Brewers Association