You might think that’s a lot, but had you been around 150 years ago, there were more than double the number we have today, with well over 3,000 breweries in the U.S. in 1870. Reporting from a local perspective in the time period, one Brooklyn Daily Eagle journalist remarked that breweries were springing up everywhere in Brooklyn, “like mushrooms in the night,” and that within a fifteen mile radius of Brooklyn – including Staten Island, the Bronx, Manhattan, and parts of New Jersey - there were at least 125 lager beer breweries. It’s fanciful to imagine that breweries were popping up spontaneously like mushrooms, but of course it didn’t happen that way. Each brewer had a story that traced back to a person and a place, a family recipe and a farm – oftentimes back to Baden or Wurttemburg, Bavaria or Vienna.
Huge numbers of German-speaking immigrants arrived in the United States in the 19th century and brought with them a new malted innovation – lager beer. These people settled in cities like Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and, yes, New York City and Brooklyn, and began making and consuming the lager beer they knew and loved. Before their arrival, the American market was dominated by ales and porters – actually, most Americans didn’t drink beer at all, preferring whiskey and cider instead. But lager was here to stay; in the 50 years following the Civil War, Americans’ per capita beer consumption increased six-fold, and most of that increased consumption was of the new lager-style beers. 80% of the beer churned out by Brooklyn’s breweries was lager. Today, nearly every major national brand – such as Miller, Budweiser, and Coors – is a lager that traces its roots back to this period of German immigration.
For more on how German immigration changed the American taste for beer, stay tuned for future blog postings and join us for a Brewed in Brooklyn tour this fall!