The minimum drinking age in the United States is 21 years old and is strictly enforced. The U.S. consumes about 8.7 liters of pure alcohol per person per year. Consumption varies by state, but overall, most of the alcohol is consumed in the form of beer. Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the United States. It accounts for about 85% of the volume of alcoholic beverages sold annually. In 2019, the U.S. produced about 180 million barrels of beer.
How Beer is Made
There are over 8,000 breweries in the United States, and no two are exactly the same. Breweries are of different sizes with different equipment, methods, and intent. What they all have in common is to turn water, hops, malt, and yeast into beer. The process starts with grains, which can be combined with malt, depending on the recipe. Whole grains will process through a mill or crack open the kernels. The grains are then mixed with and steeped in hot water (over 155℉), which helps process the simple sugars that will later be used to create alcohol.
The resulting sugary liquid from the first step is called wort. The remaining grains, now an oatmeal-like substance, is called mash. The wort is drained and transferred to a brew kettle. The wort is boiled, typically around 90 minutes, and hops are usually added for bitterness, aroma, and taste. When the hops are added depends on that brew’s recipe. For most ales and lagers, after the boil is done, the wort is transferred through a heat exchanger to quickly cool it down before being pumped into a fermentation vessel. In here, yeast is added. Sometimes, wort will head to a coolship, or koelschip, a shallow tub that exposes the wort to the open air. The wort reacts with ambient yeast to start the brewing process. From the coolship, the liquid is then transferred into a fermentation vessel.
There are two main fermentation vessels: horizontal tanks, typically used for lagers, and conical fermenters, typically used for ales. Conical fermenters stand upright. Yeast is added to the vessels to convert the sugars in the wort to alcohol and release carbon dioxide. Fermentation can last days to weeks. After completion, many beers are filtered to remove any particulates, and some are transferred to write tanks to mature. Before packaging, the beer receives additional carbon dioxide and is packaged into cans, bottles, or kegs. Sometimes additional yeast is added to the packaging. The beer is now ready to drink.
Most Popular Beers in the United States
The most popular beers in the U.S. are non-craft brands. The three most popular beers sold are Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Lite. Bud Light shipped approximately 27.2 million barrels in 2019, while Coors Light and Miller Light shipped 14 million and 12.2 million, respectively. Of the 25 best selling beers, only six are imports, and the rest are American brands. Additionally, 18 of the top 25 are under the parent companies Anheuser-Busch or Molson Coors Brewing Company. Bud Light’s parent company is Anheuser-Busch InBev, and Coors Light and Miller Light are both under Molson Coors Brewing Company.
While craft beers aren’t the most popular in the United States, their popularity is significantly increasing in recent years. In 2008, the country’s craft breweries shipped about 9.1 million barrels, increasing to 25.9 million in 2018. Some of the most popular craft breweries are New Belgium Brewing Co. in Fort Collins, Colorado; Boston Beer Co. in Boston, Massachusetts; and Goose Island Brewery in Chicago, Illinois.
Beer Production by State
The number of craft breweries and the amount of beer produced varies significantly between states. California has, by far, the most breweries of any state at 907, including the well-known Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico. Colorado follows with 425, Washington and New York with 423 each, Pennsylvania with 401, and Michigan with 400. Mississippi has the fewest breweries at 14, followed by North Dakota with 22 and Hawaii with 24.