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Beer:How the nation was shaped by this beverage and its craft

February 5, 2011

Circa 2600 B.C., the ancient Sumerians brewed history's first recorded beer. Since then, the world and America have shared a love and appreciation of the brew and its craft, indeed, what had been an important staple of everyday life may have helped shape history.

The intoxicating ales and lagers weren't always a luxury item enjoyed with friends during the big game, after a day of work or on a hot, summer day. Instead, beer was somewhat of a necessity because of the health risks associated with water before filtration systems.

America's story of the pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock may not exist today if it weren't for beer. According to the ship's log, the Mayflower was supposed to land farther south of Massachusetts coastline; however, the pilgrims' supplies were running dangerously low, but one item caused the most concern: beer. Elkins Distributing General Manger Crystal Gibson says that is one of her favorite fun beer facts.

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George Washington, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin - to name a few - were among the founding fathers who enjoyed the substance, and even advocated its use. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington required that his troops be supplied with beer. James Madison viewed beer important enough to call for the creation of a national brewery and a "secretary of beer" position in the cabinet. Franklin has been attributed with saying, "Beer is proof God loves us and wants to see us happy."

They may not have helped create the United States, but stepbrothers Willie Leymann and Brian Arnette, both of whom are originally from Randolph County, established Mountain State Brewing Company - which has two locations, Thomas and Deep Creek, Maryland - in 2005.

Leymann explained that the two began their microbrewery from the desire to want to move back to West Virginia, but an interest of beer, which budded at a young age, didn't hurt either.

Before moving back to begin their business that would, to date, distribute its original beers in the southern, northcentral and eastern panhandle of West Virginia and Maryland, they perfected their craft at a brewery in Baltimore, Maryland. Leymann said Arnette had been experimenting with homemade beers since high school, and eventually becoming the head brewer at the Baltimore brewery gave him a chance to learn more about business logistics and beer recipes.

While Arnette was the head brewer, Leymann was also working there and perfecting his brewing aptitude. Leymann and Arnette's four standard ales were developed during their days as brewers in Baltimore. Those beers, which have been somewhat perfected, have names associated with West Virginia heritage: Cold Trail Ale, Almost Heaven Amber Ale, Seneca Indian Pale Ale and Miner's Daughter Oatmeal Stout.

"Every nation loves beer," Leymann said. "It's a social drink that takes the edge off and goes well with food."

Since the 1990s, mircrobreweries have made somewhat of a comeback in the U.S. Leymann attributes the increasing popularity of locally made beer to being able to know the people who are making and serving it. Also, technology and equipment has helped small-time brewers create products with drinkability and tastes that are on par with famous, national brands, he added.

Among many beer consumers, there is a brand loyalty, which Gibson attributes to the taste. Bud Light, the No. 1 brand in the U.S., has a crisp, smooth flavor that appeals to the pallets of its followers, she says. Other than the palatableness of beer, marketing and branding has also help establish generations of customers, but, also, beer brings people together, Gibson added.

Tate Nestor Summerfield, with Tygart Valley Distributing in Elkins, says consumers like the innovation of the beer industry. It's come a long way, too. Pasteurization made it possible for beer to be shipped longer distances and still be fresh upon arrival to its drinkers. Then came the invention of the bottle, caps, machinery and cans. Now, beer manufacturers are going beyond the standards consumers have come to know.

Summerfield explained that within the past two years, Miller and Coors introduced the HomeDraft, a 5.7 liter mini keg, which enables consumers to enjoy the taste and convenience of draft beer in their homes. The Aluminum Pint is designed to stay colder longer and has a resealable lid; and the cold activated cans and bottles-when the mountains on the Coors packages turn blue, drinkers know when the beer is cold enough to drink. Each Coors package now has the activation window allowing the consumer to see if the mountains are blue while the package remains unopened; and the Miller Lite Vortex Bottles and the Coors wide-mouth cans making drinking beer smoother, Summerfield says.

Anheuser-Busch products, Gibson explained, are also always finding new ways to deliver a fresh product. The company's innovations range from the first refrigerated box cars, to, most recently, launching flavor-sealed caps that help ensure that newly produced taste. Gibson said the region should soon be seeing the new caps at local retailers.

"People like the taste and the seemingly endless variety," Summerfield said. "Tygart Valley Distributor carries over 200 SKUs (stock keeping units). With the craft beer segment growing rapidly, people are beginning to sample more and have developed a more-refined palate as it pertains to different styles of beer."

Beer manufacturers go to great lengths to protect their famous, well-established recipes, too. Gibson said that the original recipe for Budweiser is known to only five people in the world. All five individuals cannot be in the same place at the same time. Also, the recipe is located somewhere in the Anheuser-Busch facility in St. Louis, Missouri, under 24-hour watch.

Summerfield stresses that all alcohol should be enjoyed in moderation, and if it's consumed in such a way, has some healthful benefits.

The effects of the public's beer consumption goes far beyond an individual's enjoyment of the product. Government and the economy benefit from the taxes and jobs the beer industry creates. Summerfield explained the beer industry alone provides thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to the government through federal, state and local taxes. In addition to the direct effects from taxes and jobs in the industry itself, the farming, advertising, shipping and construction industries also see a substantial benefit, she says.

Data from the Beer Serves America organization says that directly and indirectly, the beer industry employs approximately 1.9 million Americans, which results in wages and benefits totaling nearly $62 billion. The industry pays more than $41 billion in business, personal and consumption taxes, including $5.4 billion in excise taxes and $5.7 billion in sales, gross receipts and other taxes, Beer Serves America says.

While beer provides a boost to the economy, it and other spirits came under fire during the early part of the 20th century. In the U.S., the temperance movement led to the passage of the 18th Amendment, which made the consumption and manufacturing of alcoholic beverages illegal. The failed experiment was finally repealed by the 21st Amendment, leading to celebrations, which involved the executive branch of government. To mark the end of prohibition, Budweiser loaded its product on one of its famous wagons, pulled by a fleet of clydesdales, to make a special delivery to the White House.

To legally consume and purchase beer, every state in the U.S. requires an individual be at least 21 years old; and manufacturers of beer encourage its responsible consumption.



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