Answer to Map #50

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Answer: This week’s map was a choropleth in which each U.S. state was shaded in proportion to the per capita number of breweries you would find in that state.

In general, the states with the most breweries are relatively wealthy states in the northern part of the country. This trend makes sense based on economics: people with more disposable income are more likely to pay extra for beer brewed in small batches at local breweries, rather than buying a can of something that has been mass produced. States such as Washington, Oregon, and Colorado that have large populations of young, educated professionals are particularly dark.

It’s also interesting that Colorado and Wisconsin, the home states of two of the largest beer brands in the U.S. (Coors and Miller) are also among the states with the most breweries. The populations of these states have developed a culture of beer drinking that extends far beyond the biggest brands.

But ultimately, this is a map about politics. In order to understand it, we have to go back to the 1970s. Prior to 1979, brewers were strictly regulated by the federal government, a legacy of the Prohibition era. The regulations made it nearly impossible for small brewers to operate. Throughout the 1970s, the big beer companies bought each other and consolidated. By 1979, there were fewer than 100 beer companies left in the entire U.S.

That year, a new law signed by Jimmy Carter took effect, eliminating federal regulations. Thereafter, individual states could choose whether or not to keep regulations on beer companies. One by one, different states passed laws loosening the restrictions on brewers. Among the most important were the decisions by legislatures in Washington and California in 1982 and Oregon in 1983 to allow brewpubs to serve liquor on the premises. As other states followed suit, it became possible for local brewers to serve their product to customers. Similar legislation did not take effect in Mississippi until July 1, 2017. That basically sums up the reason why Mississippi is so much lighter than Oregon (as mentioned in Friday’s hint)—something that became legal in Oregon in 1983 has only been legal in Mississippi for just over a month.

And then there’s Maine, the dominant state on this map. Maine also benefits from exceptionally liberal laws about brewing, but by itself that doesn’t explain the overabundance of breweries there. Portland, Maine, has 17 microbreweries for a population of only 67,000 people, making it the city with the most microbreweries per capita. Maine, curiously, was the first state in the U.S. to ban alcohol, way back in 1851. So maybe Mainerds are just trying to make up for too many years of sobriety. The craft beer explosion in Maine, especially in the past four years, has been so dramatic that local newspapers are now publishing articles speculating whether demand can possibly support the ever-growing number of breweries.

And what about Jimmy Carter, who signed the first federal legislation relaxing regulations on brewing and inaugurated the current era of craft beer? He was a teetotaler.

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