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Thank Immigration for That Delicious Beer


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Americans drink a lot of beer; we also make a lot of beer. Recent years have seen an explosion in the craft beer industry as more and more small brewers enter the market to compete for America’s taste buds. Our taste for beer, along with American interest in making it – and improving on it – did not spontaneously erupt from U.S. culture like Kim Kardashian. Rather, like Kardashian, our love for beer is the product of immigration from a few generations ago.
 
In one form or another, beer has always been around in the United States. Typically brewed at home for personal or family use by early Americans, it was not until the 19th century arrival of German immigrants with names like Busch, Coors and Anheuser that commercial mass production emerged. The U.S. beer industry continued to grow until it hit an economic bump with ratification of the 18th Amendment and passage of the Volstead Act, which ushered in more than a decade of Prohibition. With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, however, beer production and sales took off once again, growing like gangbusters.
 
Several decades of post-Depression growth led to mass consolidation in the beer sector, leaving American consumers little choice in the domestic market. Consumers, seeking more beer options, began to look toward imports in order to expand their range of choices. Like the founders of the big American breweries, beer, itself, was immigrating.
 
By the end of the 20th Century, however, as the economy became more globalized, even popular imported beers were eventually owned by the same small group of conglomerates that, largely, controlled the domestic brewing industry. It was in the atmosphere of consolidation and gargantuan homogeneity that small, craft brewers began to pop up in the U.S.
 
As more and more consumer latched on to the notion of craft and micro-brewed beers, greater numbers of such beer makers emerged. Not surprisingly, immigrants have, once again, risen to the forefront of the craft beer movement. Surly, for example, based in Minnesota – somewhat ironically, as the Volstead Act was named for a Senator from the state – is one of the fastest-growing beer makers in the country, having just opened a facility that more than tripled its annual brewing capacity. Surly’s founder is the son of immigrants from Pakistan who settled in Minnesota via Illinois and Ohio.
 
We have a tendency to think of immigrant ingenuity in the form of science or technology, but immigration goes a long way in defining and creating American tastes, from beer to salsa. So, this Sunday, as you knock back a Surly Furious, watching a Super Bowl ad for Budweiser, dipping your Tostito into a dish of pico de gallo, give a little chin nod to immigration: it’s kept the U.S. interesting for centuries.

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