The "Myth" of Beer and Adjuncts

Someone who heard the interview on Basic Brewing Radio's podcast wrote and asked me a very good question. See his comment at this blog entry. [The podcasts are both at Basic Brewing in the site's radio archives for 2006. Here's the gist of the comment/question from Gabe:

First, James Spencer talks about the "great American myth" that brewing companies (like Anheuser-Busch and Pabst) pushed smaller competitors out of the market, used cheaper additives in their beer like corn and rice, and helped facilitate the demise of more flavorful beers leading the U.S. into a dark age of bland beer from the middle of the 20th century until recently. I was one who generally believed that assumption to be true as well. Your book, however, disputes that myth and explains the history of American beer in a completely different way. My question then is why do you think this myth exists? How did it start? Were there marketing change during WWII causing the general public to believe that major breweries had changed their product in a detrimental way? What are your thoughts?"

Great questions -- and if only I knew all the answers. But let me give this a shot. First, for WHY I think this myth exists (or at least part of why I think), see the piece I wrote for It's here. Scroll down to the entry titled "Beer As Myth. Myths R Us." So that's my take on why the myth has such power.

As to Gabe's other questions: I think the brewers may have inadvertently fueled this myth AFTER the fact. Here's what I mean: back in the 1950s and 1960s, it's just a fact that MOST beer drinkers wanted a light-bodied, pale yellow beer. So a brewery's advertising often played up the lightness, the paleness, the smoothness of the beer. Americans wanted a smooth, light beer (and smooth, light cigarettes and smooth, light liquor!)

When craft brewing came along, some of the fans of "new" beer remembered all those old ads. Remembered the "smooth" and "light" beers of their youth. That plus the younger fans who grew up with craft beer and heard horror stories about "old" beer -- well, a myth was born! So there you have it: my version of "the beer myth."