Beer’s Roots

By KEVIN ENNERS

MARIETTA, Ga. – Since its humble beginning, beer has evolved from ale to lager to specialty brew, spawning the explosion of the craft beer industry.

American history is brimming with tales of beer and its place in the growth of a nation. Journals found on the Mayflower indicate the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock because they were out of beer and needed to make more.

The first permanent structure to be built in the new world was a brewery and Americans have been brewing beer ever since – even during Prohibition.

Georgia’s Hoppy History

Georgia’s brewing history began in 1738, six years after the state became the last of the 13 colonies. Originally, the Peach State was a colony of debtors. Yup, debtors. James Oglethorpe, a British general and member of Parliament, had a good friend who died of smallpox in a debtor’s prison in England. After the Prison Reform Act of 1729, spearheaded by Oglethorpe, many debtors were released from prison adding to the unemployed throngs in England.

Oglethorpe approached King George II with a proposal to establish a colony for debtors between the Spanish in Florida and the English in South Carolina. In his proposal, Oglethorpe explained that debtors would work off their debts, the unemployed would have work and there would be a military buffer between Florida and South Carolina. The king granted permission.

A major hurdle in the new colony of Georgia was hydration. Initially, there was a ban on alcohol (as well as gambling, slavery, lawyers and Catholics) so the only source of hydration was the water supply. Colonists began dying of dysentery. While Oglethorpe left for England to ask the king’s permission to change the “no alcohol” rule, Major William Horton took control of the helm and eliminated the ban after a bloodless revolution by the colonists.

When Oglethorpe returned, he was furious but realized no one was dying. For saving the lives of those remaining, Horton was lauded a hero and given control of Jekyll Island. Horton established a farm that grew crops to supply the troops at Fort Frederica. Two of his crops were barley and hops – the key ingredients in beer making.

In 1738, Horton founded the South’s first brewery on Jekyll Island. Thus, beer became integrated into the colonial way of life in Georgia.

Prohibition

With the advent of commercial refrigeration in 1860, automatic bottling, pasteurization in 1876 and railroad distribution, the modern era of brewing began. In the latter part of the 19th century, brewing was a big business. Beer surpassed distilled spirits in 1890 and became the main source of alcoholic beverage in America.

The U.S. beer industry continued to grow into thousands of breweries until Prohibition in 1920. The 18th Amendment prohibited the making, transporting, and selling of alcoholic beverages. Advocates believed that alcohol was harmful and caused many social problems including crime and corruption. Breweries either closed their doors, converted to soft drink factories or turned their manufacturing process to malt extract, advertising it as a product for “bread making”. The real reason people bought it, though, was to make their own beer known as homebrew.

In 1933, the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition. After 13 years, 10 months, 19 days, 17 hours, and 32 minutes, Prohibition ended with Franklin Delano Roosevelt commenting, “What America needs now is a drink.”

Birth of Craft Beer

By the late 1970s, marketing campaigns had changed America’s beer preference to light, low-calorie lager beers. The traditions and styles brought over by immigrants from around the world were disappearing. Enter homebrewing.

The homebrewing hobby took off because it was the only way a person in the United States could experience the beer traditions and styles of different countries.

“I think it (craft beer) became popular because people were sick of the same five choices for decades and decades,” said Zack Mulazzi at Total Wine & More in Kennesaw. “After the big uprising of craft beer in the mid- to late-‘90s, it became a fight to see who could brew the best tasting beer.”

From these roots sprouted the craft brewing industry.

By definition, an American craft brewer is small, independent and innovative. Craft beer is generally made with traditional ingredients as well as non-traditional ingredients allowing each brewer to put their own twist and signature spin on their product.

Craft Brewing in Georgia

total wine pic
Georgia’s craft beer takes up four sections at Total Wine & More. Photo by Claudette Enners

Georgia’s first craft brewer, Red Brick Brewing, was founded in 1993. Originally called Atlanta Brewing Co., their trademark ale was going to be named after the long-time brew master John J. Bips. Instead, the brewery elected to use its own name for Red Brick Ale in 2010.

The Red Brick name was derived from a speech given by Atlanta’s mayor in the disastrous wake of General Sherman’s march through Atlanta, stating the city would be rebuilt “one red brick at a time.”

Today, the craft beer industry is thriving. Statistics gathered by the Brewers Association indicate that in 2016 there were a total of 5,301 U.S. breweries, of which 5,234 are categorized as craft breweries. Craft breweries include regional craft breweries, microbreweries and brew pubs. Georgia has a total of 58 craft beer breweries.

Restaurants statewide offer local and national craft beers. Moxie Burger, with three locations in northwest Georgia, is one of them. Co-founder Jordan Pearl believes the industry is very competitive based on the variety of craft beers available.

“I think people like to drink and people like new things,” said Pearl. “This relatively new market has a cult following because there is constant change and improvement in the quality and selection available.”

“People like to boast that they have had something that their peers have not. A lot of the seasonal beers are made in small batches that are hard to get. This drives demand and word of mouth marketing. Although that specific beer isn’t always available, the brewery is.”

Economic Impact

As of 2016, Georgia’s craft breweries produced 392,000 barrels of beer contributing to positive economic growth in the state. Overall figures from 2014 indicate small, independent craft brewers contributed $55.7 billion to the U.S. economy.

moxie burger
The original Moxie Burger is at Paper Mill Village in East Cobb. Photo by Claudette Enners

Many factors contribute to calculating economic impact. The most obvious is the direct impact craft brewers have on employment but indirect impacts are included in the calculations. Some examples include: suppliers who provide raw materials and equipment to make beer, construction companies who build the facilities, distributors and wholesalers who provide their services, as well as indirect sales on food and merchandise in restaurants and brew pubs.

 

The bottom line is more employment means more disposable income which means more spending which positively impacts economic growth.

In his article, How Beer Single-Handedly Saved the State of Georgia, Michael Lundmark concluded that because beer saved Georgia (referencing the hydration dilemma colonists faced) we should honor Georgia’s history with a commitment to consuming beer for our health. With the majority of Americans living within 10 miles of a brewery, that shouldn’t be too hard.

 


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