For the first time in two centuries, the number of American breweries has finally reached pre-Civil War levels. There are 3,040 breweries currently churning out beer in the U.S. The last time we saw this many breweries, the transcontinental railroad had just been completed and there were only 37 stars on the U.S. flag.
According to a new brewery report by the Brewers Association:
The American brewing industry reached another milestone at the end of June, with more than 3,000 breweries operating for all or part of the month (3,040 to be precise). Although precise numbers from the 19th century are difficult to confirm, this is likely the first time the United States has crossed the 3,000 brewery barrier since the 1870s.
As the study acknowledges, industry details are sketchier back then (as well as the definition of a "brewery," which might have easily been someone's bathtub), but according to the book American Breweries II by Dale P. Van Wieren, in 1880 the Internal Revenue Department counted 2,830 "ale and lager breweries in operation." This was actually not the most breweries that the U.S. had ever seen: The highest number of breweries in operation in the U.S. ever was 4,131, back in 1873.
What's interesting to note is that according to the 1870 U.S. census—which was the first to accurately count the African-American population—there were only 38,555,983 people (living in 37 present-day states). That's 9,333 people per brewery! If we wanted to see beer production reach 1870 levels on a per-capita basis, we'd need about 30,000 breweries today. Come on, craft brewers, step it up. WE CAN DO THIS.
More good news: 99 percent of the breweries in operation today are independent. Now that doesn't mean that 99 percent of the beer produced in the U.S. is from independent breweries, but it's definitely a marked change from the past few decades. As recently as 1983 there were only 80 breweries operating in the U.S., more than half of them operated by large beer conglomerates. [Brewers Association via City Lab]
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Top image: Production is hopping in 1880 at the Waldruff Brewery in Lawrence, Kansas, via The Western Brewer