The first Californian-produced beers were largely from a Germanic tradition; Lagerbier had become popular as early as the 1850s. German immigration to America, and as far west as California, brought the skills that expatriates were long familiar with, especially brewing. In the national history of brewing, the lagers were a relatively new invention by the 1840s, but by the 1860s, it had come to dominate the global brewing climate, accompanying an incredible growth in the overall number of breweries in the nation. By 1850, America held 431 breweries but, by 1860, that number jumped to 1,269. This is not to say that ale-styled beers had completely vanished from American consumption in the mid-19th century. A complete substitution of lagers over ales would take much longer to complete. Beers as dark as Guinness Irish Stout found their way to boomtowns during the California Gold Rush in 1849, and India Pale Ales found their way to the Port of San Francisco in 1850. The lack of temperature control, long travel time, and lack of artificial carbonation meant these beers were more likely flat and sour by the time they reached the lips of Californians, tasting nothing like they would today. It is hard to imagine if beer in 19th century California tasted anything like their modern equivalents. The effect of yeast cells in the brewing process was not understood until Louis Pasteur’s Études sur la Bière in 1876; beer could not be made to keep well in hotter temperatures, even with a grasp of the science of fermentation and an isolated brewer’s yeast available by the 1880s from the Carlsberg Breweries in Copenhagen. There were few styles of beer in the 19th century adapted to the climate of the Southwestern United States. By modern standards of measurement, the early brews of California would not sit well with our twentieth century palate, but for a citizen of 1850s San Francisco, or 1870s Los Angeles, the beer that you drank was the beer that was available.
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), 20-21.