Why does American Beer taste Like Water?

Here in America we sure like our beer. Were ranked 2nd in the world for overall beer consumption. An honor we’ve earned by tossing back roughly 51 billion pints every single year. And although there are a lot of options to choose from. The style of beer we drink the most by far is the traditional light American lager. Of course, not everyone else in the world loves American beer.

Germans have a saying that malt is the soul of a beer. And there’s not that much malt in these beers. So how did a style of beer that’s drinkable and refreshing yet has no soul get to be so popular?

If you are in the mood to brew check our How to brew American Light Lager.

Two beer mugs with American light lager beer.
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Main reasons why American Light lager taste like water

There are five reasons to be exact

  • German immigrants
  • Prohibition
  • Brewing Tehnology
  • World War II
  • Post War Consumer Packaged Goods Economy

It really has to do with brewing technology and the migration of German-speaking immigrants coming to the US. Between 1850 and 1900 millions of German-speaking immigrants migrated to the US. Prior to that British-style ales dominates the beer industry. But the Germans wanted something different. They wanted to make a nice golden clear pale beer because that was the style of beer in Germany at the time.

American barley that grows here in the US is different than the barley that grows in Europe. And they couldn’t make a clear beer with American barley because it has a high protein content. So they figured out if they took a low protein grain like corn or rice and mix it into the recipe. They get a lower protein content in the finished beer. And the beer would turn out clear. That was the original reason.

A small sack of white rice spilling on the table.
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The Golden age of Golden lager

Breweries began popping up all over the place. Many of which were owned and operated by German immigrants. The brewing industry in America flourished. By 1873 the country had over 4000 breweries. However, this golden age of golden lager would not last long. the boom in the beer industry was accompanied by a boom in other things associated with beer, like public drunkenness and domestic violence.

Something happened in America that set the brewing industry back a few decades. When the 18th Amendment passed in 1919 prohibition in the US had officially begun. The production, transport, and sale of alcohol became illegal. And the beer industry all but ceased to exist with the exception of a few industrious entrepreneurs.

When prohibition was finally repealed in 1933 only a fraction of the beer manufacturers from the late 1800s remained. And that number continued to drop every year.

Strict state laws combined with heavy government regulation made it difficult for the smaller beer companies to survive. Not to mention the fact that homebrewing was still illegal. During WW II grain was rationed in the US. Forcing beer makers to rely more heavily on adjuncts like corn and rice. This slowed the reemergence of smaller breweries but allowed bigger, established breweries to flourish. After the war ended, America didn’t need to ration anymore. And we began to adopt a more liberal approach to consumption.

The rise of the Craft beer movement

Two brown beer bottles in a wooden box with craft beer written on it with chalk and a glass of beer.
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Throughout the second half of the 20th century, the number of independent breweries dwindled. As beer manufacturers merged and large companies continued to grow. America’s beer got even more watered down when the big beer companies devised a brilliant strategy to sell more beer, light beer. But then a small miracle happened. .

In 1977 Congress passed a small brewer tax credit. And in 1978 a bill was signed into law. That finally made homebrewing legal throughout the country. Homebrewing really drove the craft brewing movement.

It started slowly at first. But over the years the number of small craft breweries began to steadily increase. Brewers can now experiment with a variety of styles and flavors. Creating new recipes and borrowing from old traditions as well. In 2015 the number of breweries in America reached an all-time high at 4269 surpassing pre-prohibition numbers. Although big beer companies continue to dominate it doesn’t seem to be slowing down craft beer. And we have more options for beer consumption than ever before. Cheers.

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