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Taverns on the green
Microbrews are not a new phenomenon — but that hardly means they’ve gone stale
A 12-pack of our favorites

• Allagash Brewing Company, Portland, Maine; www.allagash.com.

• Anchor Brewing Co., San Francisco, California; www.anchorbrewing.com.

• Bear Republic Brewing Co., Healdsburg, California; www.bearrepublic.com.

• Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; www.dogfish.com.

• D.L. Geary Brewing Co., Portland, Maine; www.gearybrewing.com.

• Harpoon Brewery, Boston; www.harpoonbrewery.com.

• Heavyweight Brewing, Ocean Township, New Jersey; www.heavyweight-brewing.com.

• Magic Hat Brewing Company, Burlington, Vermont; www.magichatbrewing.com.

• Rogue Ales, Newport, Oregon; www.rogue.com.

• Samuel Adams, Boston; www.samadams.com.

• Stone Brewing Co., San Diego, California; www.stonebrew.com.

• Victory Brewing Company, Downington, Pennsylvania; www.victorybeer.com.

— MM

Once upon a time, American beer drinkers were spoiled for choice. "Going back to the 19th century, breweries were as common in this country as bakeries," says Bill Yenne, author of The American Brewery: From Colonial Evolution to Microbrew Revolution (Motorbooks, 2003). "Every small town, every neighborhood, had its brewery. These were sort of indigenous, local things. The notion of national breweries hadn’t really developed."

But the 18th Amendment and the Second World War changed all that. "After Prohibition, it was really the stronger breweries that survived," Yenne says. "And after World War II, you had tremendous expansion in the country. The economy was booming, the transportation network had changed with the interstate highway system. So the bigs started getting bigger. And the bigger they got, they ran into this problem, from a product point of view, of consistency. So the idea became, instead of creating a quality product that tastes good, the mega breweries were creating a more flavor-neutral product. They wanted to create something that was as consistent and as flavor-neutral as possible. If you create something that’s flavor-neutral, fewer people will dislike it."

By the 1960s, there were barely more than three dozen American breweries. And beer drinkers who wanted to drink something tastier than a "vaguely beer-flavored beverage" were stuck in a purgatory of sorts. Some were lucky enough to live in enlightened burgs like San Francisco, near a company like Anchor Brewing, which first opened in 1896 and reopened after Prohibition’s repeal in 1933. "They were brewing a peculiar kind of regional beer [steam beer] that was the antithesis of the flavor-neutral mega-beer that the megabrewers were producing," Yenne says. But most beer lovers had to settle for a limited selection of European imports.

Slowly, though, that began to change. The New Albion Brewing Company, widely considered the first microbrewery, opened in California in 1976. (It would close seven years later.) And not long after Jimmy Carter legalized home brewing, in 1978, piquing interest in the brewer’s art, the floodgates started to open. Sierra Nevada Brewing was founded in the California college town of Chico in 1979. Redhook Ale Brewery opened in Seattle in 1981. "The breweries were so small, they couldn’t be called mini-breweries, they were even smaller than that," says Yenne. "They were microbreweries."

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Issue Date: October 22 - 28, 2004
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