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The western United States, where craft beer found its feet


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Beer festivals, such as this one hosted by Pyramid Breweries in Berkeley, California, have been instrumental in fueling the growth of craft beer in the western United States and well beyond.

By: Stephen Beaumont


The western states of the USA have always been fertile grounds for pioneers, and in this regard the history of craft brewing in the U.S. is no different. This is where what used to be known as microbrewery beer was born and raised, and from whence much of the developing beer world has drawn its inspiration.


First off the mark was Fritz Maytag, scion of the appliance manufacturing family, who in 1965 bought an interest in the steeply declining Anchor Brewing Company of San Francisco, eventually taking full control in 1969. Several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, he made the frankly audacious move of releasing an IPA and a barley wine in 1975, when big money American beer was growing lighter, less flavourful and much more image-driven.

Anchor is today a legend in craft beer circles, and although he sold the brewery in 2011, Maytag remains very much an industry icon.


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One by-product of the craft beer movement has been a somewhat irreverent approach to traditional beer styles, resulting in “black” and “white” versions of the India pale ale.

Following to a degree Maytag’s lead, fellow Californian-transplant Jack McAuliffe opened what is generally regarded as the original microbrewery, Sonoma’s New Albion Brewing Company, in 1976. Although the brewery didn’t survive long – McAuliffe was forced to close it in 1982 – it helped to inspire other early craft brewers and did much to cement the legitimacy of early “microbrews” in California and the Pacific Northwest.


Others followed, in California and beyond: Sierra Nevada Brewing in Chico, California; Bridgeport Brewing of Portland, Oregon; Hart (now Pyramid Breweries) in Kalama, Washington; Red Hook of Seattle, Washington; and many, many others, some surviving still and others consigned to the annals of history.

In 1982, the west’s pioneering spirit resurfaced in another transplant, Scottish-Canadian brewer Bert Grant, who opened the Yakima Brewing and Malting Company in the heart of Washington state hop-growing country, the first modern brewpub in the U.S. (Some will tell you it was the first such brewpub in North America, but it was not. That honour falls to British Columbia’s Horsehoe Bay Brewing Company.) Bill Owens followed very shortly thereafter in Hayward, California, with his Buffalo Bill’s Brewpub.

As the teens years of the twenty-first century get well underway, four of the top five U.S. states in terms of brewery count are in the west, as are seven of the top ten in terms of breweries per 100,000 citizens. The west, it seems, in addition to having been a hotbed for pioneering breweries, remains fertile ground for craft brewery development.


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