American pale lager, the world's most ubiquitous beer style,
is produced at a rate of 180 million barrels per year and
commands a market share in the United States in excess of 97
percent! This amazing feat is not jusy the work of Madison Avenue
wizards but the result of over 500 years of evolution.
Records show that lager beer was first brewed by Bavarian
monks during the fifteenth century and could only be brewed in
the winter months. Large-scale production of lager beer did not
begin until 1840 in Munich and Vienna. Lagers, and beers in
general, were relatively dark in color because of the alkaline
nature of the waters in the brewing centers of the world -
Dublin, London, Burton-on-Trent, and Munich - and also because it
was not possible to produce a malt of both pale color and full
That situation changed in 1842. A brewery was built in Pilsen
( in Czechoslovakia) to produce traditional, dark Bavarian-style
lagers. The water of Pilsen proved to be too soft and too lacking
in alkalinity to produce a good dark beer. However, advancements
in the science of malting at that time allowed for the production
of well-kilned, flavorful malt of low color. This, coupled with
Pilsen's extremely soft water, allowed brewers in Pilsen to create
a new beer style. Beer from Pilsen proved to be so popular that
it was exported to Vienna in 1856, to Paris and London in 1862,
and even to America in 1873. Pilsner beer was soon copied by
breweries around the world. In fact, Budweiser and Michelob are
named for cities in Czechoslovakia known for good beer.
First brewed in the United States in the early 1840's, lager
beer did not take America by storm. Because of an entrenched ale
tradition, it would take nearly 40 years for lager to outsell
ale. In England the rise of lager has been slower, yet
significant. Market share for ales has dropped from 71 percent to
57 percent over the last eight years. American breweries during
the mid-nineteenth century were relatively small and numerous. In
1873 there were more than 4,000 breweries in the country. Market
size was dictated by the distance a horse-drawn cart could travel
in one day. Beer was always fresh, served from wooden kegs mainly
in local saloons. Rarely was beer bottled or shipped long
distances; shelf life was not a concern.
New American refrigeration technology made lager production
possible all year long. Advances in transportation (especially
refrigerated rail cars), bottling, and pasteurization allowed the
more successful brewers, willing to invest in the new technology,
to expand and to swallow smaller breweries. Many of the smaller
breweries produced inferior, inconsistent beers and therefore
could not compete.
As breweries expanded into bigger markets with bottled beers,
shelf stability became a major concern. Brewmeisters discovered
American six-row barley was not conducive to a stable all-malt
lager. Most brewers were German immigrants, and the pale lagers
of the Germany and Czechoslovakia were brewed using 100-percent
barley malt, mainly because of the Continent's plentiful supply
of low-protein barley well suited to that style. American
unblended six-row barley produced a darker, more satiating, and
less stable product.
The solution to the brewers' dilemma was in another very
American grain - corn. When it was blended with six-row barley, a
cleaner, crisper, more brilliant beer could be produced and
shipped over great distances.
The introduction of corn as a brewing ingredient was not taken
lightly by the brewers in the late nineteenth century. There were
many heated debates among American brewers. But, domestic raw
materials have always dictated the style of a region's beer.
Technological advances in farming and corn processing made good
corn accessible to the brewer, and developments in microbiology
gave brewers pure lager yeast.
New brewing technologies and the use of corn
or rice blended with
domestic high-protein barley permitted American brewers to
produce pale, clean, drinkable beer that has proved to be
immensely popular with American beer drinkers. Budweiser
exemplifies this beer style, and Anheuser-Busch has lowered the
bittering units over the last few years to accentuate its
According to a report in One Hundred Years of Brewing,
published in 1903, "many times the attempt has been made in
recent years to re-domesticate a kind of beer of Bavarian
character, but the national taste could not be controlled and
invariably returned to a beer . . . pale and lustrous, and the
brewer was compelled to satisfy it."
Important Dates in the Evolution of the American Pale Lager
1400s Bavarian monks brew first lager beer.
1612 Adrian Block
opens the New World's first brewery in New Amsterdam. (New York)
Two years later, the brewhouse serves as the delivery room for the first
European born in North America.
1620 The Mayflower
lands at Plymouth, partly out of concern over the dwindling supply of beer.
1775 Ethan Allen
launches his attack on Fort Ticonderoga after a planning session in the
Catamount Tavern on May 10. Enthusiastic American troops capture the
fort without firing a shot.
Washington, the country's richest man and one of the best brewers, becomes
the first President of the United States.
James Madison seriously considers a proposal to establish a national brewery
in Washington D.C. He asks former president Thomas Jefferson to study
The Klein-Schwechat Brewery near Vienna and the
Spaten Brewery in Munich commence large-scale production
of lager beer. Bavarian brewer Johann Wagner brings lager
yeast from Germany to Philadelphia.
1842 Pilsner-style beer introduced in Bohemia. Patrick
Stead acquires patent on a pneumatic malting system.
1844 A small
Wisconsin brewery is established by Jacob Best. In later years, both
Pabst and Miller brewing companies trace their roots to this same humble
immigrants in Chicago - protesting the city's closure of their beer gardens
- react in anger. The two days of violence are called the "Chicago
World's first brewery refrigeration machine
installed in Australia. Pasteur discovers role of yeast
in fermentation process. One of the first "big" brewers, Matthew Vassar
- founder of Vassar College - hits a production level of 30,000 barrels per
In an attempt
to finance the Civil War, the government places an excise tax on beer.
Brewers respond by forming the first brewers' association.
1869 America's first brewery refrigeration machine
installed in New Orleans brewery. 1870s Malting engineers Galland of Belgium and Saladin of France install
pneumatic malting system, thus offering more control and
consistency to the maltster.
1871 A barn blaze
ignites the Great Chicago Fire on October 8, destroyinh most of the young
city. Schlitz sends in trainloads of free beer to help Chicagoans cope
with a fouled water supply. The gesture earns Schlitz's beer the title
"the beer that made Milwaukee famous."
1878 St. Louis Refrigerator Car Company founded by August
Busch. The national railroad system had expanded fivefold
during the previous ten years, making large-scale
distribution of beer possible.
1881 Dr. J.E. Siebel describes modern American mashing
method using a blend of barley, malt, and corn.
1883 Emil Christian Hansen introduces a pure-yeast
culture system. First pure lager yeast is developed.
System is adopted by Schlitz Brewery in Milwaukee.
1892 The modern
bottle cap is invented. Before this date most beer was consumed on
draught. After the invention of the bottle cap, beer sales would never
be the same again.
Traveling pasteurizer is developed.
1905 German chemist applies ion-exchange process to
softening of water.
1910 Windisch reports on the deleterious effect of
alkaline water on the production of beer. Introduces
1920 January 17. Prohibition.
1923 New York
brewer Jacob Ruppert, known as "The Colonel," completes the largest private
construction project in the world at that time, when he builds Yankee
Stadium. Later he buys Babe Ruth from the Red Sox.
1933 April 7, Prohibition repealed.
On that evening, Americans consume nearly one million gallons of beer. Over 2,000 breweries fail to
1935 Canned beer introduced by Krueger Brewing Company
and the American Can Company on January 24.
1941 Packaged beer sales surpass draft beer sales for the
1942 War time
shortages of raw materials, particularly metal for bottle caps, spurs the
formation of the Small Brewers Committee - later the Brewers Association of
Brewing Company bottles its beer for the first time. For many, this
marks the beginning of the micro brewing movement.
becomes the first state to enact a bottle deposit law.
1979 During Jimmy
Carter's presidency, home brewing is legalized in the United States.
1981 Only 41
breweries are operating in the United States.
Yakima Brewing and Malting Company reintroduces the old configuration of a
brewing tavern to the American public. Fans of super premium beer soon
begin calling the small restaurant-breweries "brewpubs."
1983 U.S. micro
brewing establishes a tenuous foothold in the beer market. At the
time, the top six U.S. brewers (Anheuser Busch, Miller, G. Heileman, Stroh,
Coors and Pabst) control 92 percent of the U.S. beer market.
1996 For the first
time, the number of operating breweries in the United States exceeds those
2000 Nearly 2,000
breweries are open in the United States.