Beer has had a turbulent history in the United States. While all cities experienced a period of drought during Prohibition, some never recovered. Others rebounded with the proliferation of microbreweries. Several cities with the longest beer histories are major players in the brewery industry today.

Denver

Denver has a deep history with beer, having first started brewing since the city’s founding in 1859, according to the Denver Microbrew Tour. The first city’s government was formed in a saloon that still stands today. Denver Microbrew Tour Coors Brewery came to Golden, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, in 1873. “Miner’s Banquet,” the nickname for a special recipe from the 44 neighboring Rocky Mountain springs. It became one of the most popular drinks of the time. Colorado enacted Prohibition before the rest of the nation in 1916. Coors survived by manufacturing malted milk. With its current breweries and microbreweries, Denver produces more beer than any other American city. Their beer-making tradition is celebrated through the fall annual Great American Beer Festival which hosts over 50,000 beer aficionados.

San Diego

An Austrian by the name of Conrad Doblier is credited with brewing the first San Diego beer in 1868, modeling it after the European style beverage he knew. In the same year, San Diego Brewing Company and Mission Brewery were founded. Prohibition almost completely suppressed San Diego brewing. The breweries who survived were those that could adapt and produce non-alcoholic beverages. 

Once Prohibition ended, San Diego, along with much of California, relied heavily on Mexican breweries to supply their beer demands. Even in the 1950s when beer production should have resumed in San Diego, local breweries were overpowered by national companies like Anheuser Busch and Miller Brewing. The legalization of craft brewing and restaurant sales of beer in California revived San Diego’s brewer interest. The Karl Strauss Brewing Company, founded in 1989, was responsible for the explosion of craft brewing in San Diego. Many brewers would spawn from the Strauss enterprise. Jump to the present, and San Diego boasts more than 150 breweries.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia officially started producing beer in 1685. Early brews were comprised of molasses and sassafras or malt for the wealthy. William Frampton started a major business, which was a brewery, bakery and tavern rolled into one, and it continued until 1709. 

Brewerytown provided water for brewing and ice for refrigeration in Philadelphia. It supplied over half of Philadelphia’s beer in 1900, and one of the top brewery houses was Bergner & Engel. Founded by Otto C. Wolf, Brewrytown contributed many of the 700 breweries that were operable in Philadelphia in that era. Actions surrounding Prohibition caused it to go bankrupt in 1928. Philadelphia has regained its place in the nation as an authority on brewing beers, ranked in the top five best beer cities by both GQ and Wine Enthusiasts recently.

Seattle

The Rainier Brewery began major brewing in Seattle in the late 19th century. It remained open until 1999 when Pabst purchased and closed it. The Rainier Brewery had the best-selling beer in the Northwest until well into the 1930s. Redhook was the first microbrewery to open in Seattle in 1981. In 1982, Seattle had a resurgence of their passion for beers when a new India-style ale with a hoppier flavor was introduced from Yakima. The Pike Brewing Company furthered microbrewing with contributions from owner Charles Finkel and his flourishing beer and wine imports. His import contacts brought Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout among others to Seattle and the United States.

Milwaukee

Milwaukee was unique in that it had a great product to sell, beer, and not many to sell it to. Therefore, Milwaukee beer sales became nationalized from the outset, giving Milwaukee elite status as a beer hub almost overnight. Milwaukee had a few factors going for it. One of its greatest resources was the German immigration population who brought brewing talents like Frederick Miller and Joseph Schlitz. Each of them leased breweries in 1856 joined by two more huge breweries, Pabst and Blatz, in 1966. The misfortune of The Great Fire in Chicago in 1871 was a boon for Milwaukee brewing. They started by shipping beer free but forever made their mark on the region. After the fire, over 50 percent of Milwaukee’s beer was being exported. Problems in product quality and worker discontent forced Schlitz to close in Milwaukee in 1981. Pabst moved out in 1996.

Boston

Boston has a longstanding and rich beer history. The first brewery was founded in 1796 at a public house run by Andrew Dunlop. The Boston Beer Co. in 1828 became the first fully operational brewery in the United States. Massachusetts passed a state-wide Prohibition in 1852 which it did not repeal until 1868. A few breweries sprang up during this time like H&J Plaff Brewing Co. in 1857. Massachusetts once again enacted Prohibition in 1869 which lasted until 1875. A country-wide Prohibition shut down Boston brewing until 1933, but when Hafenreffer closed in 1964, there were no more breweries in Boston. Homebrewing was legalized in 1978 and Jim Koch introduced Samuel Adams Lager. The Commonwealth Fish & Beer Co. became the first brewpub in Boston, opening in 1986.

Portland, OR

Henry Saxer, an immigrant from Germany, opened the first brewery in Portland, Liberty Brewery, in 1852. Between Saxer, nationally recognized brewer Weinhard, and other local brewers, handcrafted beer featured unique recipes of local hops, yeast, and malt. Brewing did not take off again in Portland until homebrewing became legalized. Cartwright Brewing Company opened in 1980 but was a flop. Oregon’s first brewpub was Hillsdale Brewery & Public House which offered seasonal beers and specialty brews. The Oregon Brewers Festival began in 1988.

Cities with extensive histories of crafting beer before Prohibition in the United States did not necessarily come out on the other side unscathed. Those who could not keep up with large breweries had to wait for the explosion in microbreweries.

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