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.