If you stop into Oliver’s (or really any market) and head to the beer section, you’ll find a vast assortment of craft beers, each produced with care and artistry from field to package. While we at Oliver’s like to think we were some of the first to hop on the craft beer bandwagon, the story behind the craft brewing movement stretches back over a hundred years in America and further back still in other parts of the world. Despite this long history, craft brewers in the States faced an uphill battle to be recognized as more than just mad scientists stirring up trouble in basement breweries; nevertheless, if there’s one thing we can learn from human history, it’s that people will go to incredible lengths for the perfect beer, and we sure are glad they did. Indeed, craft beer has quickly become the hot ticket to creative freedom, artistic expression, and darn tasty beer in beer-drinking countries the world over, bringing variety to a once homogenous market and encouraging small-scale, local-centric production. In the US, we pay homage to these industrious artisans’ contributions to American culture with the annual American Craft Beer Week, and this year, Oliver’s is getting in on the action!
Join us as we salute the OG’s of craft brewing, and learn more about the real impact made by these titans of beer as well as what it really took to start a craft brewing revolution. Crack open a cold one and strap on your beer goggles – we’re diving into craft brewing, baby!
In the Beginning, There Was Beer
Like many other alcoholic beverages, the brewing of beer enjoys a legacy that runs virtually parallel to the development of human civilization. The earliest known evidence of intentional beermaking and consumption by humans comes from three stone vessels discovered in Raqefet Cave in Israel, a former burial site used by the ancient Natufian society. The scientists who made the discovery were able both date their findings to around 13,000 years ago – predating the previously accepted earliest evidence of beermaking found in China by about 5,000 years – and confirm that the pottery was used in the production of a kind of proto-beer by recreating the beer themselves. Though it was in a form virtually unrecognizable to the beer we enjoy today, this proto-beer would set the stage for a millennia-long love affair with brewing across the world, with ancient cultures from Ireland to the African Continent to far East dedicating entire deities to the art. Even the early Christians got in on the action, with a host of patron saints dedicated to the protection of both beer and brewer.
Over time, beer would go from a diet staple that had to be brewed almost daily and was generally in the home to a standardized, well-preserved product that quickly diversified into the regional styles we’d be familiar with today. Brewing outside of the home had several advantages: first, brewing in the home was hazardous, and it was not uncommon for accidents to occur involving fire and/or boiling liquid. Second, the establishment of a brewery or tavern helped to entice other settlers to a particular area, and having a brewery in town was a very real way to encourage economic growth and prosperity. The art of brewing eventually hopped the Atlantic and arrived in the Americas along with European colonists, and in early 1600’s, the first brewery had been established in what is now New York City by the Dutch West India Company. From that point on, where American settlers went, beer brewing followed, with breweries and taverns often among the first established businesses in frontier towns. By the 1800’s, Czech and German immigrants had introduced their own styles of beer to the market, bringing over the first lagers and an assortment of ales, culminating in numerous nationally-sold brands.
Throughout the 1800’s and into the early 1900’s, craft brewing grew steadily as an industry and likely would have continued expanding ad infinitum if not for the ratification of Prohibition in 1919. With alcohol production and sales completely banned, Prohibition nearly spelled disaster the beer industry in its entirety, and the beers that emerged following its repeal in 1933 were lack-luster at best, watery and flavorless at worst. WWII provided some hope as American G.I.’s were exposed to old-world beers for the first time, and many came home with a taste for European beers that simply couldn’t be quenched by the American market. So, what’s a recently-returned soldier with a thirst for good beer to do? Why, start homebrewing, of course! Only problem? Homebrewing anything over 0.5% ABV had been illegal since prohibition, making homebrewing stronger old-world beers virtually impossible. Nevertheless, WWII had lit an unmistakable spark in the hearts of American beer enthusiasts, one that would eventually fan into the flames of a craft brewing revolution!
Though the interest generated by returning soldiers generated a small surge in momentum for craft brewing, the industry continued to be dominated by cheaply-produced “lite” beers; by the 1960’s, the few craft breweries that had held out despite the odds were struggling to stay afloat. This included the historic Anchor Brewing Company here in the Bay Area, which by 1965 was deeply in debt and set to close. A longtime fan of Anchor, Fritz Maytag (yes, of the home appliance Maytags) purchased a major share in the company the same year with the initial intention of acting as a financial advisor. Fritz quickly realized that the extent Anchor’s debt went well beyond his estimates; he knew that if there was to be any hope of the saving the company, he had to start turning a profit and quickly. To this end, he got to work improving the quality of their product and diversifying their portfolio, adding a range of beer styles that hadn’t been seen in half a century or ever to the American market. It took nearly a decade for the beer-drinking public’s tastes to catch up with Fritz’s craft brewing, but for brewing die-hards, it was a revelation.
By 1978, Anchor was one of only 89 breweries still active in the US, and yet it was during this bleakest of years that the act making homebrewing illegal was finally repealed! Suddenly, anyone could practice brewing beer in their own home, and with the publication of books like The Complete Joy of Homebrewing offering step-by-instructions on getting started, it became practical for small-scale operations to spring up around the country. Like Fritz, these brewers focused on exploring the many styles of old-world beer, creating small batches of quality and style-focused beer that stood in stark contrast to the industry standard. This ultra-small-scale production method in turn led to the coining of a new term to describe such breweries – microbreweries. Though they were small in scale, microbreweries like Sam Adams and Anchor proved that beer had the power to revitalize entire communities and turn ordinary people into millionaires overnight, and their high profitability proved to be a powerful draw. Eventually, it resulted in a proliferation of microbrewers who were no longer in it for the beer and instead were only looking to get rich quick; by the 1990’s, the microbrew market had become saturated with low-quality beer, and people were growing bored. The market needed something new, but what?
Like what grunge did for rock-n-roll or what Versace did for fashion, craft brewing in the 1990’s was in for some serious shock therapy. Adventurous breweries like Stone and Dogfish Head began taking what had become old-school recipes and flipping them on their heads, pushing the boundaries of style and flavor in directions they had never gone before. Brewers began emphasizing local production as well as local ingredients, and with microbreweries like Russian River and Lagunitas at the forefront, beer-drinkers began to seek out the unique beers that were quintessential of hyper-local brewing. Along with the emphasis on local, brewers began experimenting with new technology and the addition of new ingredients to create beers that had literally never been seen before. Others took the opposite route and instead began reviving styles that had yet to be seen in the American mainstream, generating new interest robust and funky flavors of beer. Meanwhile, other established craft breweries continued to flourish, growing and adapting as the market changed without losing the commitment to quality that set them apart in the first place. Check out some of our Bay Area favorites below!
Est. in San Francisco, 1896
Like a noble ship upon the ocean, Anchor has weathered more than its fair share of storms, and yet it through it all, the foundation holding this incredible business together has held true. It was originally founded in 1896 when German brewers Ernst F. Baruth and Otto Schinkel, Jr. purchased an old San Francisco saloon-cum-brewery and renamed it Anchor (no one knows exactly why). The pair held the brewery for just ten years, with each dying suddenly in 1906 and 1907, respectively. From 1906 to 1965, Anchor saw several different owners and overcame hurdles including burning to the ground in the 1906 Earthquake and Prohibition. It wasn’t until the company was purchased by Fritz Maytag in 1965 that Anchor’s prospects began to take a turn for the better, though it would take them a further 10 years to be recognized for all the innovations we mentioned earlier. Today, Anchor continues to make their beers the way beers should be made: by hand, at home in their San Francisco brewery.
Est. in Santa Rosa, 1992
When Moonlight Brewing says “old-school brewing”, they’re not talking about some funky retro brew – they’re talking pre-technology techniques combined with old-world recipes, and since 1992, that’s exactly what they’ve been doing. Moonlight eschews computers in favor of their senses and a brewer’s instinct, a choice which requires more time but arguably produces a higher quality product. While every beer they produce comes rooted firmly in the soil of the North Bay, their seasonal beers are a celebration of brewing traditions around the world with a little Moonlight flair. On the subject of their founder Brian Hunt, Lou Bustamante of the SF Chronicles really put it best: “In the 26 years since founding Moonlight, Hunt has remained true to his way of doing things. That means a labor-intensive, small-batch brewing process without computers or shortcuts. He makes the beers that he likes to drink, aware of but unmoved by the styles that move in and out of popularity.” And thanks to a recent partnership with Lagunitas, we hope that Moonlight will continue doing just that for many years to come!
Est. in Lagunitas, 1993
Founded by Tony Magee in 1993, Lagunitas was something of a happy accident. After being kicked out of his home kitchen for one too many home-brew-related catastrophes, Magee moved his home-brew operation to a warehouse shed in Forest Knolls, CA, where he continued brewing and experimenting until he finally hit paydirt: India Pale Ale, or IPA. These adventures in home brewing gradually began to morph into a proper business, and over time, Lagunitas has expanded steadily, outgrowing its initial facility and the two facilities that came after to finally land where they remain today in Petaluma. Plus, in 2013, they opened their first facility outside of California right in the heart of Chicago, which has since been followed by locations in Seattle and Azusa! Lagunitas’ philosophy of coloring outside the lines and dancing to the beat of your own drum is reflected in their approach to beer, and while this unconventional take on traditional beer styles has garnered its share of critics over the years, it has also earned Lagunitas a legion of colorful and creative followers. Today, Lagunitas continues to expand their brewing and charitable operations globally, crafting delicious beer and remaining true to the passion that ruined a dinner all those years ago.
Est. in Healdsburg, 1995
First opened by the Norgrove family in 1995, Bear Republic is the truest expression of California beer culture. Original brewmaster and current brewery CEO/president Richard Norgrove first encountered the art brewing in the 80’s while serving a tour of duty in the army. Once out, he continued to explore his newly sparked interest in beer as a hobby, focusing instead on a career in graphic design. Gradually, his passion for the craft grew, and with the support of his wife and parents, he began selling homebrew kits as a small side business before eventually deciding to change careers altogether. After making some industry connections and following a somewhat uncomfortable stint with Moylan’s in Novato, the Norgrove’s decided it was time to go into business on their own, and Bear Republic was born. Since then, the Norgroves have taken care to ensure that every hand-crafted, unfiltered beer they produce is given the care and respect necessary to produce fantastic quality every time. Though they’ve since expanded significantly, many of the award-winning beers first crafted in their original Healdsburg brewhouse are still in their line-up today, and the majority of their new beers still start find their start in experimental homebrews. Bear Republic is also playing its part in the fight against climate change with sustainability efforts that range from clean solar and recycled energy to power their brewery to a partnership with Oak Ridge Angus providing feed for their herds in exchange for charitable donations of meat for families in need.
These days, craft brewing is a business of unending potential that is only limited by one’s imagination. Whether large or small, craft brewers have come to form a cornerstone of American culture, and the influence of American craft brewing can be felt both at home and around the world. Craft brewing has made beer personal again, and at Oliver’s, we understand that supporting your local craft brewers goes beyond the beer – it supports the entire community.
This week, we’ve paired some of our favorite craft brews with delicious gourmet cheeses and Oliver’s House-made Gourmet burger patties for the ultimate brew-pub experience at home! These bad-boys of brewing may already be some of your favorites, but with complex cheeses and rich burgers to pull out every nuance, you’ll be seeing them in a brand-new light. Check them out HERE, and stop into Oliver’s this American Craft Beer Week to brew up some fun!