Title: The Craft Beer Revolution
Author: Steve Hindy
Release date: April 22, 2014
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Source: Review copy
Growing up in a British expatriate household full of Oxford English Dictionaries and Encyclopedia Britannica, we playfully joked about our public school’s approach to teaching American history. My parents, products of northern England’s primary schools, found the way children were introduced to the political and social pedigree of early America both funny and fascinating. They’d look over homework assignments, amazed at how much detail was afforded to every battle, every colony, every document revision (as compared to British history), impressed at how thorough a retelling of events could be when it only had to cover a few hundred years, not a few thousand. But despite the depth they felt it often lacked applicability, that some of the history seemed forced, bloated to fill time and text book pages, with emphasis put on certain events to artificially inflate, not because of their influence of the founding of the nation.
They may have had similar concerns about Steve Hindy’s fresh release, The Craft Beer Revolution, which chronicles the rise of craft beer (defined as not the stuff from Miller or Coors or Budweiser) starting in 1965 and running up to present day. Forty-nine years isn’t an excessively long period of time to cover in 272 pages. The good news: their concern would have been misplaced. Although faced with the daunting task of sifting through pretty much all of modern America’s brewery, brewer, and beer-soaked history, Hindy manages to use his experience cofounding Brooklyn Brewing to condense and highlight many of the important aspects that led us to our fermented future. This is the journey of craft beer, told by one of its pioneers.
Those into beer know names like Jack McAuliffe, Fritz Maytag, and Ken Grossman, recognize that these men are the spiritual hop-wielding grandfathers of modern brewing. But to the layman, beyond a few photos, and a few too-often-used quotes, these men might seem two dimensional, spectres of a time when small brewing was as rare as organic labels in the grocery store. To the new beer enthusiast, these names might be completely alien.
While there are several other good reads that fall like wild yeast into the open fermentation vessel of “craft beer history” (namely, Ken Grossman’s Beyond the Pale, and Tom Acitelli’s The Audacity of Hops), Hindy gives a strong voice to the people who masterminded our current surge, connects the reader to them with quotes and anecdotes that color them as the decorated, dedicated brewers they were (or are). The strength of the narrative springs from the deep, insider knowledge of someone who was on the front lines of the transition from homebrewing and brewpubs to full-fledged breweries. Through Hindy’s research and interviews, a reader can feel like she’s standing right next to Charlie Papazian as he went from nuclear engineer to the head of the Brewer’s Association, and looking over Sam Calagione’s shoulder as he brewed the first of the beers that would eventually lead to Dogfish Head.
There are moments when my parents fears are realized, and Hindy’s content seems at odds with his structure; like a paragraph shoe-horned into the heel of a chapter solely because it was bristling with such potent information. At times, this gives a feeling of too much foot in too little shoe, description or notes inserted with little introduction or transition, just to round out a chapter. These sections, despite being clunky, do tend to add certain character to the narrative. It’s hard to fault Hindy for having too much good content, but it wouldn’t be a BJCP certified review to suggest I didn’t notice some defects in the body of the narrative.
These issues smooth themselves out by the middle of the book, just in time for the second act to dance onto the revolution stage: the politics of distribution and some infighting between regional competitors who should have, in a perfect beer-filled world, been allies. Some ire seems directed at Jim Koch of Samuel Adams; at one point Hindy calls him the “Harvard MBA-type” who seemed more concerned with marketing than establishing a local brewery, opting to contract brew in his early years, rather than establish physical roots. Later, he offers some admiration for Koch’s rise to commercial fame, but I’d venture that Hindy won’t be sharing a Utopias with Koch any time soon.
Ultimately, Hindy does an admirable job of writing a story that walks delicately between esoteric and approachable, telling the complex story of politics and law in beer in a way that wouldn’t completely turn off someone who didn’t already have a propensity for the bubbly stuff. The closing is cautiously optimistic, with Hindy suggesting (hoping) that Big Beer’s attempts to sneak in and snag market share with things like Blue Moon and Shock Top might actually lead to more business for smaller breweries, once the average consumer’s tastes evolve a bit more. Several jargon laden, industry heavy chapters might be harder reads for people who aren’t into beer, but by the epilogue, the book has done a fine job of capturing the inundation of American beer onto fertile consumer soil, and provides a deep, probing look at just how the river gained enough momentum over the past 50 years to successfully overflow its banks.
Tagged: beer, beer book review, beer books, beer n books, book review, Books, brooklyn, brooklyn brewing, craft beer, literature, sorachi ace
You know, I’ve heard bad rumors about Jim Koch even from Sam Adams fans who see him as a marketing whore. After hearing some of these stories, I tend to agree; however, I believe his efforts spearheaded craft beer publicity, as Sierra Nevada doesn’t advertise on principle.
With only 8% of the market by volume, I think it’s still important to hold the non-craft craft brands, such as Yuengling and BBC, in high esteem.
Like him or not, you have to appreciate what he did for the industry. As Hugh Sisson of Heavy Seas said, “If Koch hadn’t done what he did, we wouldn’t be doing what we are.” I’ve never met him myself, but some of my beer friends have actually said he’s a pretty cool guy, one on one.
I’m not sure I consider BBC out of craft…yet. They’re still making a wide range of styles, and some pretty damn quality beer, especially the limited release Barrel Room Collection stuff this year. They’re probably the closest to big beer I think a proper brewery can get, though.
What is ‘craft’? Home-made? Then the use of stainless-steel and machines would seem un-craft. Size? Then ‘craft’ punishes craft’s success. Taste? Then size doesn’t matter. Quality? Than many small breweries quite often are not ‘craft.’ At their worst, craft’s apostles can sound shrilly solipsistic. The term ‘craft’ has become as meaningless as the term ‘IPA,’ and as irrelevant as mud for the enjoyment of beer.
I respect both Mr. Grossman and Mr. Hindy for their major contributions to good beer in the United States. The former built his Sierra Nevada brewery, in the early 1980s without the advantages of suppliers, manufacturers, associations, industry assistance, political-legal support, or distribution channels that today’s self-styled ‘revolutionaries’ enjoy. However, in his book, Grossman’s treatment of his original partner Paul Camusi seems shamefully one-sided, almost like settling a score we’re not privy to. Mr. Hindy’s Brooklyn Brewery also has been a pioneer of American beer and its evangelization, but he is disingenuous in his book when he rails about the evils of big bad beer while in real life he gleefully gets into bed with big bad distribution.
Tom, I completely agree with you on “craft.” Every time I type it, I pause for a second, thinking about a lot of what you just said. I think I’m still using it out of habit, not because I think it’s an applicable word. I wouldn’t mind seeing it fade into obscurity, and have the conversation shift to the quality of individual breweries, not some dubious collective.
Thank you for your candid response regarding the book itself. I’m young (28) and much of what happened in our community happened well before I was born, never mind an age where I could enjoy beer. I’m trying to play catch-up as best I can, so it’s unfortunate that these books are not as transparent as they could (and maybe should) be.
I did enjoy this book, but I’m admittedly coming from a place of relative inexperience. Now I want to reread it in another light. Perhaps we need some authors who haven’t been through the ups and downs of the founding of the industry to give a more objective look at exactly what happened?
I finished Acitelli’s “The Audacity of Hops” a few weeks ago. While chock full of lots of good information, at times I felt info was just being dumped into the reader’s lap and not flowing very well. Also, he had to perform all his research for the book, as he did not experience the “revolution” himself. While I’m sure his view is supposed to be objective, at times it seemed as if someone from the Brewer’s Association was telling the story (small, independent and traditional was rehashed many, many times).
Originally I thought Hindy’s book just focused on Brooklyn Brewery. I look forward to checking this book out, as it will have lots of first hand information, even if it may be somewhat bias.
And also…..beer is good!
Acitelli came at it with a background in traditional journalism, but I’d agree with your assessment. In a way these books seem defensive of “small, independent, and traditional” as opposed to celebratory of their success against the giants of the industry. Maybe I’m just too young to appreciate how hard it was in the 70s and 80s. Either way, I’m glad we’ve at least got some history to learn from, even if it’s slightly biased.