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The cost of a beer the year you turned 21

  • The cost of a beer the year you turned 21

    Each year, the U.S. spends an astounding $100 billion on beer. Between pints over brunch and after-work sessions, beer holds a prominent place in the American lifestyle, comprising 85% of the country’s alcoholic beverage market. But the obsession with beer doesn't stop with the average consumer, as sharing a round of brews has come to epitomize comradery, celebration, or just simple enjoyment across the worlds of entertainment, politics, sports, and business.

    Over the last few decades, the beer landscape has evolved considerably with the rise of craft breweries and the consolidation of major brands. In 2018, America had over 7,000 breweries producing almost 195 million barrels of beer. This wasn’t always the case. In fact, as recently as the 1970s, many beer lovers feared that big brewers would completely dominate the industry with their cheap, flavorless lagers and that America’s best beer-making days were long behind it.

    Those little producers, the craft and microbreweries, saved the industry and made America’s beer industry the largest and most innovative in the world. For reference, a craft brewery is defined as making less than 6 million barrels per year and a microbrewery produces less than 15,000 barrels annually.

    To help understand how these changes impact average beer drinks, Stacker analyzed average price data for 16-ounce malt beverages from 1995 to 2020 along with CPI changes from 1952 to 1995 for at-home consumption of beer, ale, and other malt beverages, both provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The national CPI was used to adjust for inflation, and finally, the contextual information on the number of breweries each year from the Brewer's Association was added in to complete the analysis.

    Read on to rediscover a time where you could get a refreshing pint for under a quarter—and you had to work a little harder to find a brewery to call your own.

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  • 1952

    - Price of a 16-oz beer: $0.22
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.11 (#6 most expensive in last 68 years)
    - Number of U.S. breweries: 285
    - U.S. beer production: 89.6 million barrels (+0.7% change from previous year)

    The post-World War II resurgence of America’s beer industry was in full effect with about 400 breweries operating across the nation. But gone was the local, small-batch brewer, replaced by large regional brewers like Anheuser-Busch who continued the wartime focus of creating as much beer as possible for as cheaply as possible and distributed it all over the country. During this era, American beer earned its reputation as cheap and flavorless.

  • 1953

    - Price of a 16-oz beer: $0.22
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.12 (#5 most expensive in last 68 years)
    - Number of U.S. breweries: 272
    - U.S. beer production: 90.4 million barrels (+0.9% change from previous year)

    Flexing its bulging corporate muscle, Anheuser-Busch bought the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team for $3.75 million. Meanwhile in Milwaukee, workers at the city’s six biggest breweries (Schlitz, Pabst, Miller, Blatz, Gettelman, and Independent) went on strike for 76 days, which allowed Anheuser-Busch to overtake Schlitz as the top-producing brewery in the country.

  • 1954

    - Price of a 16-oz beer: $0.23
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.18 (#1 most expensive in last 68 years)
    - Number of U.S. breweries: 258
    - U.S. beer production: 92.6 million barrels (+2.4% change from previous year)

    Following the old adage that more is better, Schlitz flipped the beer world on its head that year by introducing the 16-ounce can. This began, as evidenced in the coming years, the emergence of the can as a viable replacement for glass bottles and draft beer.

  • 1955

    - Price of a 16-oz beer: $0.23
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.17 (#3 most expensive in last 68 years)
    - Number of U.S. breweries: 239
    - U.S. beer production: 89.8 million barrels (-3.0% change from previous year)

    Having recovered from the 1953 worker strike, Schlitz regained the title of America’s biggest brewer in 1955, but the triumph didn’t last long. Although the number of breweries continued to decline, beer sales edged upward to almost 90 million barrels that year, from 86 million barrels a decade prior.

  • 1956

    - Price of a 16-oz beer: $0.23
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.17 (#2 most expensive in last 68 years)
    - Number of U.S. breweries: 227
    - U.S. beer production: 90.7 million barrels (+1.0% change from previous year)

    At the height of the Atomic Age, even beer played a part in our understanding of nuclear physics. Somewhere in Nevada, the Atomic Energy Commission exploded two bombs with beer bottles and cans placed various distances from detonation. The results? While tasting a little off and containing low levels of radiation, the testers deemed the beers still drinkable.

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  • 1957

    - Price of a 16-oz beer: $0.23
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.14 (#4 most expensive in last 68 years)
    - Number of U.S. breweries: 210
    - U.S. beer production: 89.9 million barrels (-0.9% change from previous year)

    Schlitz held the title of America’s biggest brewer in 1955 and 1956. It lost it once and for all in 1957 to Anheuser-Busch who carries the mantle of America’s largest brewery to this day.

  • 1958

    - Price of a 16-oz beer: $0.23
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.08 (#7 most expensive in last 68 years)
    - Number of U.S. breweries: 198
    - U.S. beer production: 89.0 million barrels (-1.0% change from previous year)

    Consolidation became the name of the game as regional brewers snapped up rivals to better scale their businesses. To compete with industry leaders Anheuser-Busch and Schlitz, Pabst purchased fellow Milwaukee brewery Blatz. Pabst retired the Blatz brewery it bought in 1958 but continued peddling the brands, a business plan of contract-brewing defunct brands they execute to this day.

  • 1959

    - Price of a 16-oz beer: $0.23
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.08 (#8 most expensive in last 68 years)
    - Number of U.S. breweries: 193
    - U.S. beer production: 91.0 million barrels (+2.2% change from previous year)

    The can revolution ramped up as Colorado-based Coors released beer in an aluminum can for the first time, drastically reducing the weight and cost of canned beer while also igniting the country’s first recycling program. The evolution of canned beer continued with the introduction of the now-iconic though obsolete “cone-top can.”

  • 1960

    - Price of a 16-oz beer: $0.24
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.08 (#9 most expensive in last 68 years)
    - Number of U.S. breweries: 188
    - U.S. beer production: 94.5 million barrels (+3.9% change from previous year)

    Americans drank 94.5 million barrels of beer in 1960, continuing the rapid growth of consumption since World War II. But, with the advent of the aluminum top can, they were doing so slightly differently, beginning the shift away from draft and bottles.

  • 1961

    - Price of a 16-oz beer: $0.24
    - Inflation-adjusted price: $2.06 (#10 most expensive in last 68 years)
    - Number of U.S. breweries: 183
    - U.S. beer production: 93.5 million barrels (-1.1% change from previous year)

    Big Beer continued pinching small producers. There were now less than 200 breweries left in America as giant companies like Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Coors, and Pabst pushed out local breweries and gobbled up national market share.

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