The craft brewing industry was created in California. Craft beer was possible because of California’s unique cultural and business atmosphere. The term “craft” requires some analysis, and while the Brewers Association of America has a current working definition I would like to put forth addenda to their description. Craft brewing is the antithesis to the trajectory the American brewing industry took from the 1850s to 1965. In California, the brewing industry took longer to develop than its historic homes in Milwaukee, New York or St. Louis; but it developed according to similar patterns. The first pattern was the switch to primarily lager beers; due to immigration from Germany and quality issues with ale-styled beers in the 19th century. The second pattern was growth; breweries increased their output as the industry emerged as a profitable fast-moving consumer goods market. The final pattern was evident only after the repeal of Prohibition, the switch from public to in-home consumption of beer. These patterns flowed from East to West, solidifying in California after becoming common practice in the historic brewing regions. When the first small breweries started to develop in California in the 1960/70s, they had to stand against what the brewing industry had become. Ingenuity in brewing and interest in beer alone did not rebuke the status quo of the industry. The pioneering craft brewers navigated uncharted legal territory and carved out new business models for their industry. They also found a kindred spirit with the California cuisine movement, which created the demand for products that were small batch, locally produced, and artisanal. From its beginnings in Northern California, the movement spread from West to East, leading to an exponential growth in the number of breweries in the nation.
While these first microbreweries were nowhere near the size of the Anheuser Busch or Pabst breweries, they operated on a much smaller economy of scale that allowed them not only to survive but grow into a formidable market segment. Craft brewing in California revived old styles of beer and created completely new styles, often leading to trends that spread throughout the nation and overseas. The craft brewers of California also restored a cultural dignity that had been long lost to beer consumption in America. Wine once was the sole beverage of social prestige, discriminating taste, and refined class. Beer now stands alongside wine, but with a more democratic following, and far less of the snobbery of oenophiles.
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), 47-48.