17. The Explosion of Beer Consumption in Nineteenth Century America
Beer is America’s most popular alcoholic beverage nowadays, but until well into the nineteenth century, it had been liquor. In 1850, Americans drank about 36 million gallons of beer. By 1890, the country’s population had tripled, but its beer consumption had increased twenty four fold, to 855 million gallons. That was brought about by Irish, and even more so German, immigrants. The Germans brought good beer, the know how to brew it, and the savvy to market it as something it was not.
As early as 1866, the recently created United States Brewers Association set out to differentiate beer from liquor. The hard stuff, the Brewers Association declared, brought about: “domestic misery, pauperism, disease, and crime“. Beer on the other hand was depicted as a healthy and wholesome beverage that just happened to have some alcohol in it, and that was more a type of “liquid bread” than booze. As early as 1870, there were about 100,000 saloons in America. By 1900, that figure had tripled to roughly 300,000.