Any dilute solution of carbohydrates, such as grain and fruit juices, will ferment. The microorganisms in the mix produce carbon dioxide and alcohol (or acetic acid) as waste products. The organisms die when the alcohol reaches about 15 percent or so, thus a naturally brewed brewage can only be made so strong. The alcohol content has another important benefit (besides the obvious). It kills off any waterborne pathogens. Prior to chlorination (c. 1913), drinking water was rarely safe. One way to deal with this was to drink tea or coffee, which meant boiling the water. The other way was to drink beer or wine.
Distillation became common in the Middle Ages, which meant alcohol could be concentrated above its natural limit. At the time, they had no way to measure how concentrated, or if it had been watered down. A roughly 50-50 mix of water and alcohol, when mixed with gunpowder, can be set on fire, which was considered “proof.” This is why today the proof of a drink is twice the actual percent. For centuries, brewers used a yeast that floated. The carbon dioxide produced by the yeast was released directly into the atmosphere. English beer is still made this way, and since it is already flat, can be served warm.
Around 1840, brewers in the Bohemian village of Pilsen switched to a different type of yeast, one that sinks to the bottom. This type of beer became known as Pilsner. The carbon dioxide bubbles travel up, dissolving into the beer, giving it fizz. When cold, liquid can dissolve more gas than if warm, so to hold the carbonation, this beer must be kept cool. Before refrigeration, the beer was fermented and stored in cool underground caves, a “lair,” or “lager” in German. Since this type of beer couldn’t be transported far without warming, it was generally served at the mouth of a cave, in a garden setting, creating the so-called German beer gardens.
After the Civil War, a large influx of Germans to America brought beer-making techniques. This beer was much more popular than the English type that it has since become the alcoholic beverage of choice.
In 1860, Eberhard Anheuser acquired a small St. Louis brewery. Five years later, his son-in-law, Adolphus Busch, joined the company. In 1876, they created “Budweiser,” so-named because it was made the same way as it was in the Bohemian village of Budweis. Anheuser-Busch became the world’s largest brewery, accounting for 42 percent of the U.S. market alone. But, until WWII, most beer was produced and consumed locally. For instance, Troy had nine breweries at one time, including two that survived Prohibition. Fitzgerald Brothers was on River Street off Hoosick. Stanton was at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Ferry Street just down the hill from the current site of the Ex. Stanton closed in 1950, and Fitzgerald, in 1962.