It is official. The three largest producers of American beers are no longer owned and operated in the United States. Anheuser Busch was purchased by the Belgium company, Inbev. Miller-Coors is owned by SAB or South American Brewing. Now Pabst Blue Ribbon; makers of PBR, Old Milwaukee, Schlitz, and Colt 45, have been purchased by the Russian company Oasis Beverages. It looks like beer in America has officially come full circle since Prohibition.
During Prohibition in the United States nearly 700 breweries were forced to close their doors and were never able to re-open. After the production and sale of alcohol were once again legal, only about 300 breweries still existed. That number decreased to 50 by 1982.
As a response to the limited selection of beers produced, a group of people known as home brewers began making their own beers in their houses and backyards in the 1970s. With the development of computers and the internet, the group was able to spread their recipes and grow the hobby into a nationwide phenomenon. By the early 1980s, a number of small microbreweries began to open around the country. This led to what has come to be known as the Craft Beer Revolution in the United States.
The Craft Beer Revolution is the term given to the period of time, the late 1980s to the present, where American consumers began to turn away from typical American beers such as Budweiser and Miller Lite and began developing a taste for craft beers. This trend of buying craft beers and home brewing are at the height of its popularity today. Each year thousands of people come together to compete in the Great American Beer Festival hosted by the Brewer’s Association, the trade organization for microbreweries and home brewers.
Now that the three major American beer companies are now owned by companies outside of the United States, the Craft Beer Revolution looks like it has won this war. Most of the best selling beer companies in the United States are actually craft beers. Most of them started out as a simple beer recipe made by a home brewer simply doing what he loved.
10. Harpoon Brewery
Harpoon Brewery was founded in 1986. It was the first company that gained the legal right to sell alcohol following the abolition of a 25-year-old law in Massachusetts outlawing the sale of beer, wine, or liquor. The brewery was founded just in time for the beginning of the Craft Beer Revolution. The company already had all the infrastructure and equipment necessary to produce a large amount of beer. This allowed them to get ahead of other breweries specializing in craft beer early on. While other breweries were struggling to sell beer within their own town, Harpoon was producing over 100,000 barrels of beer a year and selling it throughout New England. Today the brewery sells about 193,000 barrels a year. Their flagship product is Harpoon India Pale Ale.
9. Stone Brewing Company
The Stone Brewing Company has gained popularity quickly due to its production of beers with high alcohol contents and use of larger amounts of hops which make for bitter, flavorful beers. The company was founded in San Marcos, California in 1996. Today the company is headquartered in Escondido, California. The company’s flagship beers are Stone Pale Ale and Arrogant Bastard Ale. Stone Brewing sold 213,277 barrels of beer in 2013.
8. Brooklyn Brewery
The Brooklyn Brewery was founded in 1987 by Tom Potter and Steve Hindy. The two actually gained a huge following of home brewers when they published their book Beer School: Bottling Success At The Brooklyn Brewery. Today the company sells about 220,000 barrels of beer a year. The flagship brand is Brooklyn Lager. The company does produce a number of other products mostly centered on the art of carbonating beer through the process of lagering.
7. Bell’s Brewery Inc.
Bell’s Brewery Inc. was started by Larry Bell. Originally, Bell owned a small home brewer’s store in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Eventually, he began selling his homemade beer out of his store. His beers were a success and he quickly needed to have the space to produce more of his product. Today Bell’s Brewery Inc. is headquartered in Galesburg, Michigan and produces about 250,000 barrels of beer a year. The company’s flagship brand is its IPA style Two Hearted Ale. This beer was named the second best beer in America in 2011 by the American Home Brewer’s Association.
6. Deschutes Brewery
Deschutes Brewery produced 252,000 barrels of beer in 2013. The company was founded and is headquartered in Bend, Oregon. Its founder Gary Fish originally ran a small public house that contained a small microbrewery. Deschutes’ flagship products are Mirror Pond Ale and Black Butte Porter. Mirror Pond Ale won a gold medal at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival and Black Butte Porter is the best selling porter-style beer in the United States.
5. Lagunitas Brewing Company
Lagunitas Brewing Company is almost as famous for its strange bottles as it is for its beers. The company sells strangely interpreted styles of standard beers such as IPAs or brown ales. Then they put their products in bottles with labels with mildly inappropriate yet comical phrases on them. The flagship beer is Little Sumpin’ IPA. They sold 401,420 barrels of beer in 2013.
4. New Belgium Brewing Company
The New Belgium Brewing Company is headquartered in Fort Collins, Colorado. It was founded in 1991 by home brewer Jeff Lebesch. The flagship product is the Fat Tire amber ale. Aside from selling 712,000 barrels of its product, the company is known for two other things. New Belgium brewing is one of the most environmentally friendly and energy efficient companies in America. They are also completely employee owned. In 2000, Jeff Lebesch put an employee ownership plan in place that would give the company’s employees full ownership in January of 2013.
3. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
The Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is the standard to which all home brewers hold their beers. It was found in 1980 by two friends who brewed beer out of their houses, Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi. The company is based in Chico, California and sold 786,000 barrels of beer last year. The flagship product is the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. This beer was the best selling pale ale in the country in 2012. It has won the gold medal for pale ales at the Great American Beer Festival six times. Staying true to the company’s home brewing roots, all Sierra Nevada beers are bottle conditioned. Bottle condition is the art of carbonating beer within the bottle by adding corn sugar to the fermented brew.
T1. D.G. Yuengling and Son Inc.
D.G. Yuengling and Son Inc. is the only beer company on this list that does not produce craft beer. In order to produce a craft beer, there are standards set by the Brewer’s Association that must be met. Yuengling’s products, while still very good, do not meet these criteria. D.G. Yuengling and Son Inc. in based in Pottsville, Pennslyvania. Founded in 1929, it is the oldest brewery in the United States. If you travel through the northeastern region of the United States and ask for a lager, you will be served a Yuengling Traditional Lager. This beer is based on an old lager recipe that was used prior to Prohibition in the United States. The company produces about 2.5 million barrels of beer each year.
T1. The Boston Beer Company
The Boston Beer Company is better known as Samuel Adams. The company was founded in 1984 by Jim Koch. Koch named his beer Samuel Adams Boston Lager as a nod to the Craft Beer Revolution that was just getting started in the United States. The company has gained wide notoriety for its large selection of many different styles of beer. The Boston Beer Company makes over 50 different styles of Samuel Adams. Many of their products are only released seasonally because the recipes call for many different types of grains and hops that are specific to different times of the year. The company sold about 2.5 million barrels of beer in 2013 and is growing at a rapid pace. The Brewer’s Association has actually changed one of the criteria required to be a craft beer to allow The Boston Beer Company to maintain its right to call its beer craft beer. Originally, any company that produced over two million barrels could not be considered a craft beer maker. However, the Brewer’s Association recognized that Samuel Adams produces so many different kinds of beer that it becomes difficult to say the company does not produce craft beer. The standard figure has since been adjusted to six million barrels.