From 1870 to 1919, during the Golden Age of American brewing, American brewers competed valiantly with their European competitors both in the varieties of brews made, and in the number of breweries operating.
In the year 1890, Philadelphia alone touted ninety-four breweries. New York followed with seventy-seven, and Brooklyn (at that time a city independent of New York) boasted thirty-eight. Chicago, which became infamous during the violent Prohibition years, had forty-one totally functional breweries. Many other cities (Cincinnati, Albany, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Louisville, San Francisco, to name just a few) also employed thousands of workers in the brewing/bottling/serving/transportation industries.
Most of the breweries specialized in one or two kinds of beer, but offered secondary choices, as well. With that many sources, competition was keen as consumers had so much to choose from. And the choices were made more enormous by the fact that American brewers had learned special recipes, ingredients and traditions from their foreign counterparts – especially from nations in Central Europe and in Great Britain. More beer variety was available here in the United States than in any other country in the world.
Yes, Americans were enjoying beer’s Golden Age, but the decline started on October 18, 1919 with the passage of the Volstead Act. The manufacture, sale, import or export of alcohol throughout the country was prohibited by the Eighteenth Amendment, adopted in 1920. Many breweries turned to producing sodas, malted milk products, etc., trying to keep their doors open. The law proved to be unenforceable, frequently evaded thanks to bootleggers, corrupt police and politicians, and the Speakeasies. By the time of repeal in 1933, the industry was nearly broken. The fight to regain lost ground continues, and our Beer of the Month Club is proud to do its part!