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The brewing of beer predates recorded history. Fermented drinks were a necessity, as early civilizations often could not help polluting their water supplies. Various beer-like drinks were discovered by many ancient civilizations, including the Babylonians, Egyptians, Chinese, and Incas. Beer became especially prevalent in regions unsuitable for growing wine grapes. In the ninth century, the Emperor Charlemagne declared brewmasters among the artisans and laborers necessary for the prosperity of his kingdom. By the 11th century, modern beer, as we know it, was produced in the great breweries of Germany, and its commercial success grew significantly for the next several hundred years.

In 1609, American colonists placed want ads in a London newspaper asking for brewers to come to America. Many prominent Americans were concerned with the brewing of beer, including Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington, who employed brewers at his Mount Vernon estate. The great American brewing dynasties began with the German immigrants who arrived in the mid-1800s and settled in the Midwest. By the late 1800s there were more than 2,200 commercial breweries in the United States, the largest of them being Anheuser-Busch, Pabst, Miller, Stroh, and Schlitz.

The basic methods of brewing quality beers have not changed much in the last 500 years. Although mass-market beers common in America today may skip steps, hasten others, or substitute ingredients for cost-cutting measures, the true science and art of craftbrewing has endured and resurged in the 1990s to produce fine American beers comparable (or, arguably, superior) to the best of the European market. Today's serious American brewer who is concerned with producing quality beers in the European or early American tradition is typically called a craftbrewer. Craftbrewers work at microbreweries, brewpubs, and contract brewers, known in the industry as third-tier brewers.

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