temperance movement

Higher Zymurgical Education

In the early 2000s Maureen Ogle, a professor at the University of South Alabama, set out to write a history of American brewing. She was surprised by how little had been written about the subject. That has begun to change. The spread of craft beer has led a number of American universities to make brewing studies part of their course offerings.

Meanwhile, other professors are exploring beer’s relationship with American culture, economics, labor relations, and even gender.

Randolph College professor J. Nikol Beckham brewed beer before turning her scholarly attention to it. The only African American woman in her community of homebrewers and enthusiasts, Beckham became interested in the relationship between beer and race. She discovered that during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some temperance advocates used ugly stereotypes of German immigrants and African-Americans to attack saloon culture. Drinking was portrayed as an affront to America’s dominant culture: white, Protestant, and sober.

Beckham contends that after the repeal of Prohibition, scholars lost sight of the ties between beer and American history. That trend might be reversing itself. One example is the Smithsonian Institution’s search for a scholar. His or her job will include helping the National Museum of American History collect artifacts, and conducting field research for a project on brewing in the U.S., especially during the last 50 years.

Why Americans Are Fond of Bland Beer

Craft beer notwithstanding, national-brand lagers still dominate the American beer market. It’s an enigma that economist Ranjit Dighe decided to figure out. What he discovered is that Americans’ taste for bland beer might as “well run in their veins”: we’ve preferred bland beers for more than a century.

The world-wide temperance movement of the 19th century earns some of the blame. In some countries, like England, beer was promoted as a “temperance beverage,” which had a lower alcohol content than spirits and wine. But the same argument didn’t quite fly here. We didn’t just gravitate to beers, but also opted for beers with the lowest alcohol content.

In the century that followed, a number of events held back Americans’ appreciation of stronger beers. During Prohibition and after Repeal, people shied away from hoppier beers. Then came World War II. Grain rations and price controls made it impossible to brew stronger, more-flavorful beers. At the same time, GIs fighting overseas were treated to low-alcohol beer; and they brought their tastes back to the States. After that came the 1970s, which brought in an era of “less filling” light version of national-brand beers.

One might that argue we’ve never recovered. One of the biggest craft-beer trends this year is “Session IPAs,” with lower ABVs and less hop content.

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