Immigration (Effects On Brewing), the movement of people from one country and culture to another, has been a major driver of worldwide beer culture for centuries. Food and drink, like music and language, are powerful components of culture, and even when expecting a better life in another land, people take these things with them. The ancient Celts brought brewing to the British Isles when they fled the European continent ahead of advancing Germanic tribes in the second half of the 5th century ad. In 15th-century England, hopped beer was famously introduced by Flemish immigrants. The more people moved, the further their beer cultures spread.
The colonization of North America began in the mid 16th century, and brewing commenced almost immediately. As early as the 1550s, Virginia Colonist Thomas Herriott sent word home of the marvels of the new world, including a native grain—maize—that, he boasted “whereof was brued as good ale as was to be desired.” Maize (corn) would feature prominently in American beer history 300 years in the future.
The Pilgrims made an emergency landing in Massachusetts, their beer so depleted the crew was fearful of insufficient supply for the return trip after unloading the colonists. Beer was part of the fabric of life in those days, a matter of survival in the minds of those early settlers. It was safe and wholesome compared with the tainted water supplies they had left behind.
Early settlers did their best to maintain their beer traditions, but it was not easy. Not all of the New World was suited to barley cultivation or fermentation, and transatlantic shipments of malt were expensive and prone to spoilage, as were casks of imported beer. Beer was easy to brew in the central colonies, but tougher in New England and the South.
French and then English colonists managed to brew beer in Canada. By 1670, the governor of New France, Jean Talon, opened a brewery in Québec City, planted hops, and gave himself a brew monopoly. Roughly 2 centuries later, in 1847, an Irish immigrant named John Labatt would found a brewery in London, Ontario, and an English immigrant, John Molson, would found one in Montreal, Québec, in 1876. Today the Molson and Labatt breweries together hold more than 90% of the Canadian beer market.
In the United States, the colonists found the local water supply surprisingly nontoxic, and rum, whiskey, and applejack became cheap and plentiful. Beer was nearly a forgotten pleasure. On an alcohol percentage basis, US per capita consumption of spirits in 1800 was probably more than 100 times that of beer. Despite the efforts of Thomas Jefferson and others to make beer the temperate beverage of choice, spirits ruled America into the mid-19th century.
Change began in the 1830s. Antiaristocracy revolts were roiling Germany, with huge numbers of people being displaced and choosing to emigrate to the New World. For these immigrants, beer was a cherished sacrament and a symbol of their hard-won freedom. The small brewery established in 1838 by Alexander Stausz and John Klein in Alexandria, Virginia, was probably the first commercial producer of lager in the United States Many others followed.
As the German immigrants fanned out to the cities and farms of the America’s heartland, they took their love of lager beer with them. However, for decades it was popular mostly among German populations, and every major American city had an area called “Germantown.” By 1860, lager represented one-fourth of US beer production (about 1.1 million hl of 4.5 million hl). As the German population swelled, their tippling habits and Sunday beer gardens fueled the fires of Prohibition, which had more than a small amount of anti-immigrant sentiment attached to it. Warfare between “native” (English descent) Americans and the more recently arrived Germans and Irish erupted into pitched battles in the mid 1850s, with bloody riots in Chicago, Louisville, and Cincinnati.
Despite the turmoil, lager beer proved its staying power, and in the decades after the Civil War, it became thoroughly Americanized. German immigrants with names like Pabst, Busch, and Schlitz were quick to seize on the fashion for the new “pilsner” beer and by combining Old World work ethic with the latest technology, were able to create breweries and brands on a scale the world had never seen, several of which continue as major players in the world of beer today. And German immigrants did not go exclusively to the United States. Starting in 1824, waves of German immigrants started to arrive in Brazil, and they quickly set up breweries to provide beer to the burgeoning German-speaking communities. Although German immigration spread throughout parts of South America, it was arguably most influential in Brazil, which retains large pockets of Germanic culture. In the southern town of Blumenau, the Oktoberfest draws over 1 million visitors every year, and much of the currently emerging craft brewing culture harkens back to German roots.
While the British became the dominant colonial power in the 19th century, they too spread their beer and brewing habits with them. One classic example, of course, is the India pale ale, a beer style that might not exist today had it not been for the British Raj in India between 1765 and 1857.
As the 19th century gave way to the 20th, the American brewing industry had become so Germanized that meetings of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas were often conducted in German. Soon World War I would stir up anti-German emotions in many countries, especially in the United States, where anti-immigrant threads in prohibitionism along with lax oversight of brewery-owned saloons and a rather nonchalant attitude by the brewers led to Prohibition in 1919. Its 14 long years had devastating effects on the brewing industry.
Today the world’s beer cultures no longer need to rely on immigrants to fertilize each other. With modern technologies and seamless international trade, brewers now can and do brew just about any beer styles anywhere and then export or license them anywhere, as well. In 2010, for instance, the world’s oldest continuously operating monastery brewery, Weltenburg, founded in 1050 on the banks of the Danube in Bavaria, concluded a licensing agreement with Brazil’s third largest brewery group, Grupo Petrópolis, for the brewing of Weltenburg beers near São Paulo. Likewise, craft brewers from Italy to the United Sates, from Norway to Mongolia, now brew beers from around the world, often with ingredients from around the world. In this, the modern brewer is very much like a chef, combining cultures as he or she sees fit.