The history of beer in the 20th century saw many changes. Laws, technology, scientific advancement, business organization, and many other changes occurred. They influenced brewing techniques, brewery size, drinking tastes, and drinking patterns. These changes continue today in the expansion of home brewing, microbreweries, and brew pubs.
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History of Beer in the 20th Century & Beyond
•The U.S. educed the tax on a barrel of beer from $2 a barrel to $1.60.
•Busch overtook Pabst to become the best-selling beer in the U.S.
The U.S. reduced the barrel tax on beer to $1.00.
•German brewers formed China’s Tsingtao Brewery.
•The first fully automatic bottle-making machine was built.
Teddy Roosevelt brought over 500 gallons of beer on a safari in Africa.
Congress passed the Webb-Kenyon Act. It prohibited the shipment of alcoholic beverages into dry (prohibition) U.S. states.
The Secretary of Navy ordered prohibition of alcohol on U.S. Naval ships and Naval installations
Pres. Woodrow Wilson ordered all U.S. breweries to shut down in order to save grain for the war effort.
•States ratified the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in January. It called for National Prohibition to begin one year from the date of ratification. This was a major event in the history of beer in the 20th century.
•Congress passed the Volstead Act for implementing National Prohibition.
•Brewers produced “near beers” during prohibition (1920-1933). They contained less than one-half of one percent alcohol. Brands included Pablo by Pabst, Famo by Schlitz, Vivo by Miller, Lux-O by Stroh and Bevo by Anheuser-Busch.
•President Harding signed the Willis Campell Act. It was better known as the anti-beer bill. It prohibited doctors from prescribing beer for medicinal purposes. However, wine and spirits were permitted.
Opposition to National Prohibition grew strong. A nationwide poll on prohibition showed that people favored either its modification or repeal by nine to one.
The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment reported that enough hops had been sold during the year to make 20 million barrels of illegal beer. They cited the loss in taxes on these sales as one reason to end Prohibition.
In 1932, brewers sold a total of 86 million gallons of near beer in the U.S.
•Anticipating that the repeal of National Prohibition would take years, Congress modified the Volstead Act with the Cullen-Harrison Act. That permitted the sale of beer and wine with 3.2% alcohol. The intent was to increase employment and tax revenue quickly. It became effective on April 7, 1933. This was another major event in the history of beer in the 20th century. April 7 is now National Beer Day.
•By June, thirty-one breweries were back in operation.
•British beer drinkers favored mild ale and bitter.
•Home consumption of beer increased in the U.S. with the arrival of the beer can. Also from the popularity of home refrigerators.
A total of 756 brewers back in operation after Repeal..
•Beer was first sold in cans.
•Schlitz introduced cone top cans.
•Until 1940, most drinking in the Netherlands took place in pubs. Then, drinking at home became common.
•Beer production reached pre-prohibition levels. However, there were with half the number of breweries in operation as in 1910.
•The barrel tax in the U.S. was raised from $5.00 to $6.00.
The U.S. require d brewers to allocate 15% of their production for military use.
The U.S. raised the barrel tax from $6.00 to $8.00.
German brewer Max Heinrich developed Zambia’s Chibuku Beer.
There were 407 breweries in operation in the U.S.
The U.S. raised the barrel to $9.00.
New Zealander Morton W. Coutts developed the technique of continuous fermentation. With his process, beer never comes into contact with the atmosphere until the bottle is opened.
Schlitz introduced the first l6 ounce can of beer.
Cone top beer cans were introduced.
Coors introduced aluminum beer cans.
Lager began to become the dominant style of beer in the U.S. It achieved that by the 1990s.
There were 230 breweries in operation. Of these, 140 were independently owned.
The Pittsburgh Brewing Company introduced the tab top beer can.
Metal kegs were introduced in Germany.
The “ring pull” beer can introduced.
Budweiser was the first brand to sell 10 million barrels in a year.
Canned beer outsold bottled beer for the first time in the U.S.
President Jimmy Carter’s brother introduced his Billy Beer.
•The U.S. legalized home brewing of beer for the first time since before National Prohibition began in 1920. Up to 200 gallons per household could be produced tax-free. However, individual states and localities could make it illegal.
•The American Homebrewers Association was formed. This reflected the growing popularity of home brewing. It’s one of the major trends in the history of beer in the 20th century.
First Great American Beer Festival (GABF) was held in Colorado. It’s now the oldest and largest beer tasting and competition in the U.S.
•The first legal brew pub in the U.S. opened. A brew pub sells its beer and food. Doing so had been illegal since 1920. Another milestone of beer in the 20th century.
•Budweiser introduced Bud Light beer
•At the beginning of the year, 51 brewing concerns were operated a total of 80 breweries. This is the low point for U.S. breweries in the 20th century.
•The largest six breweries (Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Heileman, Stroh, Coors, and Pabst) brewed 92% of U. S. beer production.
There were 44 brewing companies operating 83 breweries.
•Asahi Super Dry beer was introduced in Japan.
• The UK passed the Beer Orders. Their purpose was to end the system of ‘tied houses’ operated by large brewers.
• Iceland lifted its ban on the production or importation of beer, which had existed for almost eighty years.15
Brewers in the U.S. produced 20% of the world beer volume.
The Wife Carrying Contest was revived and modified in Finland. It’s based on an old tradition. Ronkainen the Robber tested prospective members of his gang by having them carry heavy sacks on their backs through an obstacle course. In the new contest, the winners receive cash prizes and their wife’s weight in beer.
In Germany the Reinheitsgebot law of 1516 was relaxed to allow foreign brewers to sell their beer in Germany.
The U.S. made it legal to put the alcohol content of beer on containers.
Belgium-based Interbrew bought Labatts of Canada. Consolidation has been a major feature in the story of beer in the 20th century.
Tutankhamun Ale was brewed. It was a replica of ancient Egyptian beer, brewed from emmer wheat, an early form of the grain.
Beer in the 21st Century.
South African Breweries (SAB) bought Miller Brewing Company.
Belgium’s Interbrew and Brazil’s largest brewer, AmBev, merged to form InBev.
Finnish brewery Laitilan made the first gluten-free beer. It was also the first beer to have the international gluten-free product trademark.
•Belgian brewing company InBev bought Anheuser-Busch. That created the world’s biggest brewer.
•Budweiser announced that its beer would be sold in Vietnam.
•Scottish & Newcastle, the UK’s largest brewer, was bought by Carlsberg and Heineken.
•A Muslim woman in Malasia was sentenced to six lashes and a large fine for having a beer in a nightclub. A civil judge upheld the sentence. The chief Shariah judge also upheld it.
•Utah permitted customers to enter a bar without filling out applications and paying a fee to become a member of a ‘private club.’
•In Germany, a Berlin state court ordered breweries to stop advertising beer as something good for peoples’ looks and health.
•SABMiller sold the world’s first commercially produced cassava beer. It’s brewed in Mozambique.
•China produced over 25% of the beer brewed in the world.
•British retailer Marks & Spencer was criticized for letting Muslim staff refuse to sell customers pork and alcohol.
•Alabama lifted the threat of prosecution for making beer at home. Home brewing remained illegal in the state’s dry counties.
•In Mississippi, it became legal to make beer at home. Home brewing remained illegal in the state’s dry counties
•Islamic police in Nigeria shouted “God is great” as 240,000 bottles of beer were destroyed. It’s banned under Shariah law.
•In England, the House of Commons voted to change the 400-year-old “beer tie.’ In this system, pub owners buy alcohol exclusively from their parent company in return for lower rent.
•The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers Is Transforming the World’s Favorite Drink was published.
•The Boston Beer Co. withdrew its sponsorship of Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade because organizers exclude gay groups.
Anheuser-Busch InBev bought its nearest rival, SABMiller. The combined company is headquartered in Belgium.
Fun with Beer
Books on History of Beer During the Period
Bamforth, C. Brewmaster’s Art: the History and Science of Beermaking. Prince Frederick, MD : Recorded Books, 2009.
Baum, D. Coors: How One Family Created a Beer Making Dynasty While Trying to Remake the Modern World. NY: Morrow, 2000.
Burnett, J. Liquid Pleasures: a Social History of Drinks in Modern Britain. London: Routledge, 1999. (17th century to present.)
Coutts, I. Brew North: How Canadians Made Beer & Beer Made Canada. Vancouver: Greystone, 2010.
Dombusch, H. Prost!: the Story of German Beer. Boulder, CO: Siris, 1997.
Donaldson, M. Beer Nation: the Art & Heart of Kiwi Beer. Auckland: Penguin, 2012.
Knoedelseder, W. Bitter Brew : the Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America’s Kings of Beer. N Y: HarperBusiness, 2012.
Lender, M., and Martin, J. Drinking in America: a History. NY: Free Press, 1982.
Willis, J. Potent Brews: a Social History of Alcohol in East Africa, 1850-1999. Athens: Ohio U Press, 2002.
Long Before the History of Beer in the 20th Century.
Visit earlier periods in the history of beer to learn about its long past and development. It covers thousands of years and goes back to pre-history. It’s an amazing story that continues today.