In 1994, there were 537 craft breweries in America. Now there are 2,768. Thank you, Jimmy Carter?

Cool profile on NPR this morning about the rise in craft brewing — although this has been covered for a few years now, it’s great to see stories of this ilk. I almost always order craft, and I can’t tell you how many phone searches I have that are basically “craft beer bar + city I am in at present.” It’s gotta be over 100, honestly. Here’s the infographic treatment on the ‘craft revolution.’


One of the best stats is the one I put in the title. 20 years ago, there were a total — a total — of 537 craft breweries in America. Now there’s over 2,700. That’s fairly insane, no? Now, of course it’s much easier to get a Bud Light in America than a craft beer — often you can only get a lot of those 2700 breweries’ products in the local market, or maybe 1-2 states over — but still, the rise is excellent. If you asked 100 Americans what one word best defines the nation, most would probably say something about “freedom” or “choice.” Craft beer honestly embodies both of those, in a less-melodramatic way than I’m probably coming off.

There is a belief that craft beer could never have taken off without Jimmy Carter, notably because:

“When prohibition was lifted, government tightly regulated the market, and small scale producers were essentially shut out of the beer market altogether. Regulations imposed at the time greatly benefited the large beer makers. In 1979, Carter deregulated the beer industry, opening  back up to craft brewers. … You can see how the large brewers continued to consolidate and grow and absorb more and more market share right up to the point where Carter deregulated the industry.”

There is a flip side to that argument, though:

While I have immense admiration for President Carter, and would love to see him get the credit he deserves for all sorts of things (and who knows; now that Obama has officially supplanted him as History’s Greatest Monster, maybe he will), but E. D. Kain’s claim that Carter “deregulated the beer industry” (in Kain’s words) is grossly inaccurate. What Carter did sign was HR 1337, which legalized homebrewing “for personal or family use, and not for sale”–‘deregulating’ individual, not commercial, behavior. The legalization of homebrewing did contribute to the growth of the craft beer industry (according to Charlie Papazian, 90% of the pioneer craft brewers started out making homebrew), so President Carter certainly deserves credit for that…but it just as certainly isn’t “beer industry” deregulation.

IMO, the step that really touched off the craft beer explosion was the legalization of brewpubs in various states–WA and CA in 1982, OR in 1983, with others following shortly thereafter. This is consistent with the graph, which shows a leap in numbers from 1979 to 1989 (meaning the growth could have started at any point during that decade); according to the American Brewers Association, the low point was 1982, meaning the turnaround actually began in 1983 (not 1979). Also: of the 1500 breweries in existence today, 2/3 are or began as brewpubs.

This could be contextual arguing over the semantics of “deregulation,” but there are clearly two sides here — was it the homebrew stuff and the deregulation, or the opening of brewpubs? Here’s the original post that got all this going, complete with “boom period chart.”

Regardless of whether you want to assign the credit to Carter or not, hopefully we can all be glad that legitimate choices do exist in the American beer market right now — and quite often flavorful ones, to boot.

Ted Bauer