Hi-wire brewing craft brewery

A Hoppy Tale: The History of Craft Beer

From the early risk-taking trailblazers to today’s innovative brew masterminds, beer has come a long way. While this beloved beverage has roots that span all the way back to Mesopotamia, American craft beer has really only exploded over the past 40 years — a short time in beer’s long 7,000 year history. And it continues to steam roll ahead in popularity and creativity, breaking barriers with new ingredients and styles.

Hoppy, citrusy, fruity, chocolatey, think of a flavor and you can probably find a craft beer to match. But how did this now billion dollar industry come to be the mecca it is? And with so many craft breweries and beers popping up in cities across America and taking over beer aisles in grocery stores? Well you’re in for a treat. Grab a brew and take a seat while we run you through a little history lesson on the greatest beverage ever invented — craft beer. 

History of craft beer hi-wire brewing

When Was Craft Beer Invented?

We take you back to the 1960s to San Francisco, California, to meet one of the foundational pioneers of modern craft beer. 

Fritz Maytag, budding entrepreneur and Stanford graduate, was on the hunt for a business venture and industry to make his mark. He decided to purchase the Anchor Brewing Co., which, at the time, was facing a pending closure after 60 years in business. After purchasing 51% of the company’s shares, Maytag focused his attention on running the company and selling more beer to get the company back on track. In an effort to enhance beer quality, Maytag started using new beer brewing innovations that led to more diverse beer styles. The Anchor Porter, introduced in 1972, was the first porter brewed after Prohibition and, at the time, was the only dark beer available. 

In 1975, Maytag introduced the Liberty Ale (what’s considered to be America’s first modern India Pale Ale) with a hop forward profile that was leaps and bounds ahead of its time. Later that year, Maytag developed another innovation that’s now a craft beer staple: a seasonal release (which he named the Anchor Christmas Ale). And while seasonal releases are now big drivers for many craft breweries, the idea was a novelty when it first appeared.

Hi-wire brewing craft brewery

A Force to be Reckoned With: How Craft Beer Rose to Popularity  

A decade after Fritz Maytag got his start, Jimmy Carter signed H.R. 1337, legalizing homebrewing in 1978. The bill lifted restrictions and other penalties imposed on beer brewing hobbyists who where secretly brewing in their basements. But with this government decision also came a new wave of folks who took the opportunity to try their luck in the beer industry. 

By the mid-90s, good beer was a hot commodity, and microbreweries were popping up left and right, but booming growth also often brought disappointing products. 

By 1997, there were 1,396 breweries in America, but let’s just say that not all these breweries were brewing beer that you’d really want to drink. Some of it was downright awful.

Over the next ten years, many breweries closed, few new ones opened, and beer sales started declining. 

So how did craft beer get to where it is today? Well, it’s a story of triumph and creativity.

What do they call it craft beer hi wire brewing

The breweries that remained and succeeded were the ones reinventing the wheel for what American beer could be. Brewers started brewing beers that were incredibly hoppy, boozy or packed with intriguing, uncommon ingredients. For example, Dogfish Head, a brewery making a name for itself at the time, used ingredients like apricots, algae, herbs and spices — something that really hadn’t been done before in the beer industry. 

With this turn in innovation and creativity, the mold was broken, craft beer took off, and the American beer scene would never be the same.

Craft Beer Goes BIG

We’re at the modern point in our story where craft beer takes the spotlight. After rejecting the “lite” lagers that dominated American beer, craft beer finally found its time to shine. 

In 1987, craft beer only contributed 0.1% of total beer sales, but today, craft beer accounts for almost 20% of the beer industry’s 100 billion dollar market. 

In 2022, the number of craft breweries in the US hit an all time high, totaling 9,552. Craft beer is so beloved and successful that we’ve seen numerous craft breweries – like Goose Island and Ballast Point – sell for millions and billions of dollars. And it doesn’t seem like this upward growth and demand for craft beer is stopping anytime soon.

craft beer at hi wire asheville craft brewery

Why is Craft Beer Called “Craft Beer”?

Craft beer has become a staple of American culture. It’s the center of conversation amongst beer connoisseurs, printed on beer labels, and seen on bar and restaurant menus everywhere. But what exactly does ‘craft’ refer to and where did the term come from?

For years, the term “micro-brewery” dominated the narrative for how to describe small batch, specialty breweries. But in 1985, Vince Cottone, a beer columnist from Seattle, starting throwing around the term “craft beer” and “craft brewery”. The term popped up in his columns for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, in trade publications, and in a 1986 beer guide to breweries in the Northeast. 

Cottone seems to have picked the term “craft” because it best describes how and why these small batch, specialty beers are made. In an excerpt from his 1986 guide, Cottone wrote, “I use the term Craft Brewery to describe a small brewery using traditional methods and ingredients to produce a handcrafted, uncompromised beer that is marketed locally.”

So, there you have it — the launch of the term craft beer. And it’s here to stay. 

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Discover Craft Beer at Hi-Wire Brewing 

Whether you like your beer hoppy or you’re all about discovering new flavors, here at Hi-Wire Brewing, we have a little something for everyone. Visit one of our taprooms to enjoy a fresh pour with friends or check out our beer finder to see what’s available near you.