This is an important question for the homebrewer. Why do you brew? There are any number of reasons to do so. For me it has a lot to do with recapturing a part of my culture which was lost in the last century. With the National Prohibition Act and the subsequent shutting down of the neighborhood brewpub in the 1920s there was a good deal of the culture of beer that was destroyed. The recipes, the secrets, and so many traditions that were lost in a mere thirteen years that it has taken nearly a century come close to recapturing them.
The story of Prohibition is a bit of an odd one. In looking at the roots, you find a diverse entangling of people and groups which came together to form it. A few of the movement’s roots can be traced to the American west and the saloons that served as a center of a town’s political life. Believe it or not there was a group which called itself the “Anti-Saloon League” rooted in the 1850s which sought to eradicate these places. Then there are those groups whose reason for wanting to ban alcohol is rooted in anti-immigrant sentiment. Much like the “Reefer Madness” campaigns from the 1930s, there was more than one propaganda campaign which attempted to get a rise from the patriotic by linking the ownership and management of breweries to nebulous “foreign interests”.
And then there were the religious groups, largely Protestant and pietistic, who saw (and continue to do so today) imbibing alcohol as a personal sin.
Their success in 1919 meant more than just the banning of alcohol. It meant the loss of a culture. The closing of breweries, both local and national, did more than just send it underground. It killed a large part of that culture. Those employed as a brewmaster was now out of a job. Those who worked the pub and knew the regulars had to find different work. It is of little surprise that it was the small, neighborhood breweries that was the hardest hit and only recently have they begun to recover
At one time what we call the brewpub was the most common of places to find beer. As they do now, they brewed their because it was easiest way to get good, fresh beer. There was little choice in the matter. While there were national brands of beer and a factory for those brands in every major city, distribution of that beer was still somewhat troublesome. Troublesome in getting it to its destination without it being spoiled in some way or another.
So it was just simpler to make your own. Easier to make, easier to control, and much, much easier to transport since it didn’t have to go anywhere but upstairs.
Each one had their own recipes and their own methods for manufacture. These were passed down from generation to generation until one day there wasn’t a pub to brew for. Much of these were first done in their home, given to family and close friends to taste-test before being brought down to the pub. While Prohibition lasted all of 13 years the effects of this are still being felt today. The world was at the bottom of the Great Depression, meaning there was little, if any, chance that many of these pubs were able to secure the capital needed to reopen. The same goes for most of the regional breweries.
So it was that we lost a large part of our brewing history and culture. Who knows what wonderful brews you might have found around the corner from where you work or live?
I intend to find out.
That is why I brew.