“…the development of beer styles in America came to a uniform apex in the decades following Prohibition’s repeal. American beer was, in all practical senses, lager-styled”

Much like the developments in technology for storage and transportation, the development of beer styles in America came to a uniform apex in the decades following Prohibition’s repeal. American beer was, in all practical senses, lager-styled. The trend that [had] begun in the mid-19th century was omnipresent by the end of the Second World War. One would be hard pressed to find a pale ale, stout, or porter on market shelves. Beer in America had become the American Adjunct Lager, a derivative of the beers popularized by German brewers in America. The most ubiquitous incarnation[s] of lagers in the mid-20th century were pale yellow in color, effervescent, low in bitterness, and between three to six percent ABV. The term ‘adjunct’ comes from the grains utilized in the brewing process. Traditionally, modern beer is brewed with either all malted barley or wheat in the initial stages of preparation. The American Adjunct Lager, according to industry standards, utilizes rice, corn, or other sources of cereal grains to supplement the traditional use of barley. In the 1870s, these lagers stood as the pinnacle of American brewing, a triumph of industrialization over inconsistent, small batch ales. In 1878, Anheuser Busch won the Grand Prize of the Paris World Beer Exhibition for Budweiser, a brew that, to this day, proudly proclaims the rice used in the recipe on the front label of the bottle. Indeed, German brewers claimed that the American version of their nation’s beverage was sweeter and lighter bodied than their hearty homeland versions had been. But, in the post-Second World War era, the once finest lager in the world was a commercialized, mass-produced product that bore no distinctive characteristics from any of its market competitors. By the 1950s, the largest breweries in the nation saw California as the fertile soil beckoning for the seed of brewing. By the end of the war period, there were only nineteen breweries active in the entire state; by 1954, there only existed thirteen, including Anchor Brewing in San Francisco, Aztec in San Diego, and the Maier and Los Angeles Brew Co. plants in the city of angels. Of these breweries, only Anchor would remain in business after the takeover of the California brewing market by Anheuser Busch, Pabst, Schlitz, Miller, Falstaff, and other Eastern brewing powers. By the end of the 1950s, the largest breweries in California were no longer native to the state, and their primary product was the American Adjunct Lager.

With descriptors such as dry, mild, or less filling, American beer was indistinct; a victim to trends that befell all of American food and drink. What happened with beer also happened with spirits. Vodka, a clean and neutral flavored beverage that blended easily with juices, became the top-selling liquor in America; overcoming early allegations that it was the beverage of Communist Russia by associating the product as the drink of the Czars. Rum became lighter as well, as spiced and dark varieties fell out of flavor for the un-aged and colorless version. Light cigarettes, white breads, highly sugared sodas, drive-through fast food, and Salisbury steak TV dinners were all results of the ‘watering down’ of the American palate. For better or worse, the trends of speed, convenience, and inoffensive flavors became synonymous with American culinary culture. Ray Kroc purchased McDonald’s in 1955, thereby setting it on the path to becoming the franchise corporation that now dominates fast food around the globe. In 1959, Coca Cola was being bottled in over 1,700 facilities, based in over 100 countries. Wonderbread and other industrially-produced white breads accounted for 25 to 30 percent of American’s daily caloric intake, with consumption averaging a pound and a half per week from the late 1950s to the 1960s. It is undeniable that the American people gained from the developments of these now universal companies; but gains were chiefly restricted to convenience and affordability. The employment, capital, and revenue generated by these mass conglomerates no doubt contributed to the success of the national economy. The cultural costs of these developments, though, must also be acknowledged; for growth, profit, and standardization increasingly took precedence over community, individuality, and cooperation.

Eric Ortega, “The Golden State of Brewing; California’s Economic and Cultural Influence in the American Brewing Industry” (Master’s thesis, California State University, Fullerton, 2015), 40-42.