In honor of October and the Great American Beer Festival hosted in Denver. We in the Republican Liberty Caucus of Colorado would like to set the record straight on the concept of freedom and great beer. The two are inseparable. Regulation and Government involvement result in inferior product and fewer choices. Our Vice-Chairman, Jason Upchurch, explains why:
My favorite brewery’s motto is: “Five ingredients to great beer: Malt, Hops, Water, Yeast, and Friends.” This catchy and inherently true statement is the core of the Pikes Peak Brewery. Malt, hops, water, and yeast make beer. Yet, you need friends to make great beer. Friends are a critical ingredient, not just the emotional experience of enjoying beer with others, but because practical feedback from beer lovers results in great beer and better brewers.
US Beer Before the Fall
In 1870, there were 3286 breweries in the United States. Nearly all beer was brewed and sold locally in wooden casks. The industrialization of the US lead to shipping breweries (Pabst, Anheuser-Busch) which reduced the number of breweries to approximately 1500. One could enjoy a production beer from a shipping brewery alongside a local brew. Local markets that produced hooch didn’t survive and regular competition created better beer. This would be the golden age of beer in the United States for nearly 100 years.
The Brewing Dark Ages
The drive to create a moral society through immoral legislation destroyed the beer market (and all other legal alcohol markets) with the passage of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Following this disastrous 13 year ban of beer, the 21st Amendment legalized alcohol; however, the result was a Frankenstein product, reanimated but monstrous.
A three-tier system was created, which separated manufacture, distribution, and sales of alcohol, resulting in monopolies in manufacturing and distribution. Under the new rules no one could brew beer and sell it in the same location. Brewing and Selling onsite had been the business model for more than a thousand breweries prior to prohibition.
Under this system new breweries were rare. The high cost and high risk of creating a shipping brewery from the ground up kept innovation at bay, creating a soft prohibition. Beer variety continued to stagnate and breweries continued to consolidate. Regulations sold to the public as protection from the immoral saloon, had created large corporations thriving in this crony capitalist environment.
By 1978; five breweries controlled 75% of beer sales. Ten breweries controlled 93%! Selection of beer styles was limited to American Lager. Beer sales declined rapidly and product innovation was non-existent by today’s standards.
US Beer Renaissance and the Fifth Ingredient to Beer
The decline of beer to the thin American Lager of the 70’s and early 80’s had little to do with skill. Home brewers and professionals reading this know that an American Lager is one of the most difficult beers to brew. Major commercial breweries consistently produce the defacto standard for this beer in millions of barrels year after year.
Brewing skills are not at issue. What is missing from the mix is customer feedback. I am not talking about customer satisfaction cards and surveys. I am not talking about focus groups and taste tests. I am speaking of the fifth ingredient to beer, friends.
Two major deregulations built the modern craftbrew. First federal restrictions on home brewing were removed in1978. Early home brew was mostly really bad beer. Quality ingredients were not easily obtained; after all, brewing had been unlawful for nearly 60 years. What’s more a three generation gap led to the loss of the family beer recipe and firsthand brewing knowhow.
In those early days intrepid home brewers depended on willing friends to suffer through trial and error as the process improved. Enthusiasts started sharing the less bad beer and, based on personal feedback, they derived better beer. Some of the better brewers wrote books. Some created clubs and competitions. Some created breweries!!!
Second, in the early 80’s, states began creating exceptions to the Federal three-tier distribution system. These “brewpub” exceptions allowed for breweries that not only created beer from the first four ingredients, but constantly innovate beer with the fifth. Brewers in microbreweries, having been home brewers to start, embraced experimentation. They would take the best of their own recipes or the recipes of others and tweak them with innovative ideas, like adding coffee or fruit, or adding late or dry hops, or any number of changes that would create the styles popular today.
By restoring onsite brewing and consumption, we can test these innovations in batches that don’t break the bank. With government out of the way, brewers and beer lovers are free to choose their favorites and the innovations of the future.
Today there are nearly 2400 breweries in the United States. Micro-breweries are the fastest growing segment of the beer industry. There are more than a million home brewers and great beers are being invented every day. Friends and the freedom to associate, share, and trade with them without interference from government are essential to beer and all other aspects of life. I’ll drink to that!
About the author:
Jason Upchurch is the Vice Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Colorado. He is a subject matter expert in the area of security. He served as a sworn law enforcement officer for seven years prior to taking a leadership position within the DoD Computer Forensics Laboratory. He has led investigations in the US Senate, Multi-National Banking, Payment Card industry, national infrastructure, as well as several fortune 100 companies. He is currently the Lead Research Scientist at the Center of Innovation Anti-Malware Laboratory at the US Air Force Academy and is in pursuit of his PhD in Security at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. More importantly, he is an avid home brewer and beer snob.
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