Alcoholic Beverage Industry

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Alcoholic Beverage Industry


Wine has been made by humans for over eight thousand years. First made from wild grapes, today wine is produced from grapevines grown in cultivated vineyards. Vineyards produce not only wine grapes but fresh table grapes and raisins for eating as well. It takes the scientific knowledge and artistic craftsmanship of a well-educated vineyard manager and wine maker to create the finest wines.

The way wine smells and tastes depends on the grapes from which it is made, the alcoholic fermentation, and the processing and aging of the new wine. At harvest, wine makers have the following responsibilities: deciding when to pick the grapes, scheduling delivery to the winery, overseeing crushing and pressing, and monitoring the fermentations. After fermentation, wine makers must choose from the many options to finish a young wine. They supervise the winery staff to complete the different wine processing steps, such as the transfer of the wine to other vessels (racking), clarification (fining), filtration, blending of different-flavored wines, and bottling. They are responsible for assuring wine quality by sampling, tasting, and chemical analysis. Production and sale of alcoholic beverages is strictly regulated by the state and federal governments, and wine makers must keep accurate records of the wine produced to ensure that the winery complies with these regulations.

Vineyard managers direct the harvest operations by guiding the vineyard crew and harvest workers. The managers are responsible for making decisions about new plantings, the support structure (trellis) for new vines, as well as their pruning after harvest. The managers prepare schedules for water and fertilizer application, control vine pests and diseases, oversee vineyard experiments, and coordinate the sampling of grapes in the vineyard to determine ripeness prior to harvest.

While there is no official certification for wine makers or vineyard managers, students majoring in viticulture and enology (the science and technology of grape growing and wine making) must develop both broad theoretical skills and in-depth technical knowledge, as well as excellent communication and problem-solving skills. Both prospective wine makers and vineyard managers need a comprehensive preparation in plant biology and microbiology, mathematics and statistics, chemistry, biochemistry, and physics. College course work focuses on the underlying scientific principles so that the students can understand current wine industry practices. These students are required to take an array of specialized courses on such subjects as vineyard establishment and management, grape development and composition, wine sensory evaluation and instrumental analysis, and winery design, as well as management, marketing, and economics. By taking local and overseas internships, students obtain valuable real-world experience from practicing enologists and viticulturists, and critically apply their understanding to create their own innovative styles and practices.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the grape harvest (crush) occurs usually between the end of August and the beginning of November, depending on location, grape variety, and weather. Intense, physically demanding fourteen-hour days (seven days a week) are to be expected during the peak of crush. In the off-season, wine makers have become increasingly involved in the business aspects of the winery, which means they enjoy a significant amount of traveling to promote their wines, as well as public speaking and other marketing activities. The vineyard manager attends to the vines year-round and is in constant communication with the vineyard crew and the wine maker to ensure the best grape quality and yield.

As wine makers and vineyard managers deal with the production of an alcoholic beverage, they serve as role models to coworkers and consumers, educating them about the responsibilities and consequences associated with its consumption. Winegrowers enjoy teaching an appreciation for the challenges of growing an agricultural crop, good stewardship of their farmland, and respect for the great technical and artistic challenges to create a beverage that is highly regarded worldwide.

Today, wine grapes are grown in countries with moderate climates around the world, often in scenic places, especially along coastal valleys and major rivers. Living in a beautiful environment and being able to taste the fruit of one's labor are among the most rewarding aspects of becoming a successful, and sometimes famous, wine maker or grape grower. This greatly compensates for the intense seasonal workload during harvesttime and a relatively modest starting salary. The annual salary depends a lot on the size of the winery. In 1999 the average salary was $28,000 to $64,000 for assistant wine makers, $49,000 to $112,000 for wine makers, and $37,000 to $64,000 for vineyard managers. Starting salaries were around $25,000 for qualified graduates with a bachelor's degree to $35,000 for those with a master of science degree.


Beer was probably first made by the Egyptians at least five thousand years ago, possibly as a variation of baking. There is considerable evidence of beer being used in religious rituals, for sacrifice, and also in medicines. Beer is made from malt that, in turn, is made from barley. Barley is steeped (soaked) in water and then permitted to germinate with constant turning and aeration for four to five days. It is then dried and heated (kilned), which imparts the delicious flavors of malt. In the brewery, malt is milled and mixed with hot water (known as mashing), which extracts the starch in the form of sugars. This "wort" is then boiled with hops to add bitterness. After cooling, yeast is added and fermentation creates alcohol and carbon dioxide and a myriad of desirable flavor compounds . After aging to clarify and stabilize the beer, it is packaged and pasteurized for sale.

The malt beverage industry comprises three interdependent industries: brewing, malting, and hop supply. Although some brewers grow hops and make malt, the malt and hop industries are generally independent. These industries are dominated by a few giant companies who have an international reach.

The malt and hop industries employ students trained in plant sciences because these businesses grow, store, and use living plants. Employees must maintain good working relations with growers of barley and hops and advise them as well to assure that malting barley is planted and nurtured correctly. Superior barley is selected and purchased upon harvest. The storage and manufacture of malt or hop products, their analysis and processing to a final product, and research and sales, also tend to involve plant scientists although a broader range of skills, including chemistry and engineering, are required. Finally the malt and hop industries maintain cordial relations with the brewers through technical sales and services.

Professional employees of these industries are therefore in the field with farmers, in the processing plants, in the analytical laboratory, or on the road visiting customers. Good communications skills are necessary. Such employees in these industries are relatively few, and there are no large pyramidal management structures for steady upward mobility and advancement over many years. Experienced employees, however, are valued and well compensated, because they build important relationships with growers and customers. Entry salaries tend to be modest although good for the sometimes rural locations of the work.

Barley for malting tends to be grown close to the Canadian border, from Minnesota to Washington, where the malt houses (factories) for making malt are also located. Hop growing and processing is concentrated in the Pacific Northwest.

Brewing companies are much less likely to seek plant scientists for employment. They tend to seek graduates in food science, food engineering, or chemical engineering. For specific tasks of laboratory analysis, those with experience in chemistry or microbiology might be required. The reason is that by the time the malt and hop products reach the brewery they have lost their identity as plant materials and are now simply bulk commodities with specified properties for the process of making beer.

Brewers work in large plants operating sophisticated machinery in which huge volumes of a highly perishable product are processed. Much of the work is computerized. Brewers are dedicated to following well-established operating procedures for consistent production of a high-quality product in the brew house, fermenting and aging cellars, and packaging plant, as well as using standard methods in the laboratory for analysis of the product.

There are no specific training programs for the malting and hop industries; programs in cereal science and plant science, however, are broadly applicable to the field. Similarly, training in brewing science is restricted to one university, the University of California at Davis.

see also Agronomist; Alcoholic Beverages; Economic Importance of Plants; Food Scientist.

Christian E. Butzke

Michael J. Lewis


American Journal of Enology and Viticulture. [Online] Available at

American Society for Enology and Viticulture. [Online] Available at

Bamforth, Charles. Beer: Tap into the Art and Science of Brewing. New York: Plenum, 1998.

Boulton, Roger B., Vernon L. Singleton, Linda F. Bisson, and Ralph E. Kunkee. The Principles and Practices of Winemaking. Frederick, MD: Aspen Publishers, 1999.

Fetzer, Pat. "1999 Salary Survey." Practical Winery and Vineyard 20, no. 4 (1999): 6-15.

Hardwick, William A., ed. Handbook of Brewing. New York: Marcel Dekker, 1995.

Hough, James S., D. E. Briggs, R. Stevens, and T. W. Young. Malting and Brewing Science, 2nd ed. Frederick, MD: Aspen Publishers, 1981.

Jackson, Ron S. Wine Science, 2nd ed. San Diego: Academic Press, 2000.

Lewis, Michael J., and Tom W. Young. Brewing. Frederick, MD: Aspen Publishers 1996.

UC Davis Dept. of Viticulture and Enology. University of California at Davis. [Online] Available at

Winkler, Albert J. General Viticulture, 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1975.

Spirits Industry

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SPIRITS INDUSTRY. The fermenting and distilling of fruits and grains into alcoholic beverages was a practice that the first American settlers brought with them to the new colonies. In the colonial period, Americans made several kinds of beverages, including whiskey, cider, brandy, and most popular of all, rum. Rum was manufactured from imported molasses. Although colonial authorities at times attempted to control consumption, distilled spirits were widely accepted and enjoyed. Distillation was decentralized in rural settings, so mass production was not characteristic of the spirits industry.

The Nineteenth Century: Domination and the Onset of Decline

In the late 1700s and early 1800s whiskey replaced rum as the spirited beverage of choice among Americans. Whiskey, which was distilled from grain, was not only cheaper—especially when turbulent foreign relations made it more expensive and difficult to import molasses—but was also a homegrown product and therefore a symbol of America's newly won independence. Considering the high per capita consumption during much of the nineteenth century—nearly five gallons per person in the early decades—whiskey can be considered America's national beverage during the 1800s.

Although whiskey was made in small distilleries across the new nation, it was a specialty of Scotch-Irish immigrants who settled in western Pennsylvania and then the Kentucky region. Kentucky soon became the center of whiskey production. Distillers there prided themselves on the manufacture of bourbon, which differed from other whiskey because it was made from corn, or corn mixed with other grains, instead of from rye or barley. Furthermore, the distinctive taste of bourbon, which was produced mainly in Bourbon County, Kentucky, derived from the charred wooden barrels in which it matured.

Despite its popularity, whiskey was at the same time often condemned. The temperance movement, which emerged in the 1820s, targeted spirits, not beer or wine. Historically, Americans have viewed beer and wine as benign in comparison with whiskey and other spirits, which they have regarded as intoxicating and potentially harmful. This explains why taxes on spirits have always been higher than on other alcoholic beverages. Whiskey distillers have often objected to the high tax on their product. In the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, farmer-distillers in Pennsylvania objected to the high tax on whiskey and staged a violent revolt. Although the rebellion was quelled, protest was effective enough so that in 1802 the federal government acknowledged that the tax was uncollectable and repealed it. Except for a brief period, the federal tax on whiskey was not reinstituted until the Civil War.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the whiskey industry experienced overproduction and intense competition, which led to price wars and concentration. A small number of huge distilleries in Peoria, Illinois, had come to rival Kentucky's whiskey industry. The Peoria-based Whiskey Trust tried to control production and raise prices but without much success. By the end of the 1800s, many Americans were switching to beer, which had become cheaper to brew and was less burdened by taxes. It has been estimated that as much as one-third of all whiskey was produced by moonshiners trying to avoid taxes. Another reason whiskey was more expensive than beer was that in the 1860s Congress had created a bonded period that let distillers store their product tax-free until they found buyers. That gave the distillers an incentive to store their whiskey longer, which improved its quality and justified a higher price.

The Twentieth Century: Projecting an Image

Some firms were interested in maintaining high quality standards for their product and fostering public trust in the industry. They turned to federal government officials for assistance. The government responded with the Bottledin-Bond Act of 1897, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, and the Taft decision of 1909, all of which outlined definitions and standards for whiskey. Afterward, the industry experienced considerable consolidation, with the 613 distilleries of 1909 reduced to only 34 in 1919. The spirits industry was a particular target of the temperance movement into the twentieth century, but now the industry came under increasing attack for its association with big business and trusts. The industry was further damaged by the increasing connection of the consumption of whiskey with Irish immigrants. During Prohibition, about thirty distilleries operated legally under medicinal permits.

In the decades after Prohibition, the industry trod carefully, trying to win the goodwill of the American people and establish itself as a good corporate citizen. The industry's trade association, namely the Distilled Spirits Institute (later the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States), pressured firms into complying with government regulation and urged them to be careful in their advertising. In their Code of Good Practices, established in 1934 and revised several times since, distillers agreed to refrain from radio and television advertising and to ensure responsible and tasteful advertising that did not target youth. In the post-Prohibition period, the industry became further concentrated and was led by the large firms Seagram, Hiram Walker, Schenley, National Distillers, and Brown-Forman. Some small distillers, such as Jack Daniels and the Beam Distilling Company, reorganized. The industry, however, was an oligopoly and new entrants faced high barriers. Major distilling firms maintained plants across the nation.

With the advent of the baby boom generation in the second half of the 1900s, even more Americans chose beer over spirits. Preference in spirits shifted from the brown liquors to clear and sweet spirits such as vodka, gin, and cordials. Although spirits consumption increased in the post–World War II period, its rate of increase was much less than for beer. Beginning in the late 1970s, spirits consumption actually began to fall. The industry largely blamed its misfortunes on government regulation and on an ongoing movement to curtail alcohol advertising. The industry complained often of tax discrimination and claimed that spirits were the most heavily taxed consumer product in the United States. The industry's most important strategy in its battle against increased regulation and taxation has been public relations campaigns that tout moderation and anti–drunk driving messages. In 1991, some members of the industry established the Century Council, an organization to fight drunk driving and underage drinking. At the same time, some firms, led by Seagrams, have favored more aggressive tactics. They have pushed the concept of equivalency, which aimed to show that beer and wine are just as intoxicating as a mixed drink, and broken the taboo against broadcast spirits advertising. At the end of the twentieth century, the spirits industry contributed about $95 billion in U.S. economic activity per year and employed 1.3 million people in the manufacture, distribution, and sale of nearly four thousand brands of spirits.


Barr, Andrew Barr. Drink: A Social History of America. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1999.

Downard, William L. Dictionary of the History of the American Brewing and Distilling Industries. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980.

McGowan, Richard. Government Regulation of the Alcohol Industry: The Search for Revenue and the Common Good. Westport, Conn.: Quorum Books, 1997.

Pamela E.Pennock

See alsoBrewing ; Wine Industry .

Liquor Industry

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LIQUOR INDUSTRY. SeeSpirits Industry .

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