While observations abound about "the rise of America's craft breweries," the story has been very different on the state level. Vermont, for example, had one brewery for every 25,000 residents in 2012. Mississippi, meanwhile, had one for every 994,500. These aren't anomalous islands of booziness and temperance—they're exemplars of their regions. The nine states with the fewest breweries are all in the South. What is it about the region that might make this true?I don't have access to the article (and I'm not paying six bucks to read it), but this is almost certainly wrong. It's one of those cases in which the correlations are incidental and depend on getting the right cluster of variables in play. Gohmann apparently undermines his own thesis by observing the dominance of locally-distilled spirits.
In short, it's because of the Baptists. Steve Gohmann, a professor of economics at the University of Louisville, recently published a paper in Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice cataloguing the potent blend of regulation, religion, and corporate interest that makes the South less hospitable to small breweries.
Even though the South doesn't have many breweries, it does have plenty of whiskey distilleries—Kentucky, Gohmann said, is the American capital of whiskey. What do Baptists, Methodists, and their votes have to say about that? "My results are less likely to apply right now because microdistilleries are not capturing that much of the market from the large producers," he says.Beer culture is bizarre and hard to explain. Had Gohmann looked at countries besides the US, he would have seen similar patterns--breweried regions next to non-breweried regions. Take Germany. In 2006 (the most recent numbers I could find and good enough for our purposes), Bavaria had 618 breweries, while neighboring Baden-Würtemburg had just 180. Seven of the twelve states had fewer than 60 breweries (ten percent Bavaria's total). The Baptists at play again? (No.)
A big part of the riddle, I think, has to do with parochialism--or the degree to which parochialism is expressed through local breweries. When you look at German (or American) beer production figures, rather than just counting breweries, the picture changes. Bavaria drops to number two in production, and the other states don't trail by nearly the same margin. As Gohmann points out in the article (again undermining his thesis), Southerners drink a lot of beer. They just don't insist that it be brewed on a local 10-barrel system.
I'd love to know why some places have tons of breweries and some don't, but I doubt anyone will offer a plausible reason. We're talking culture here, and the variables are too numerous and, well, too varied to ever nail down.
But don't blame the Baptists.