The Audacity of Hops
There are several books on the market that cover the basic topics related to craft beer. Certainly there are a plethora of homebrew books out there, a few we’ve even covered here at Brew/Drink/Run including Sam Calgione’s Extreme Brewing and Charlie Papazian’s Joy of Home Brewing. There are several books out there that cover the types and a bit of history of the craft beer movement. One of my favorites is Brewed Awakening by Joshua Bernstein. What I had not seen before was a comprehensive book covering the history of the craft beer movement.
The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution is the book that finally fills this hole. Many craft beer related books have touched on the history of the craft beer movement but rarely cover more than a few words on Anchor Brewing’s place in the earliest days of the movement and how Sam Adams, Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada kept things rolling or added some element to reinvent part of the story. No book, to my knowledge, has provided the comprehensive detailing of the origins and progression of the American craft beer movement.
In The Audacity of Hops author Tom Acitelli begins back in 1965 with Anchor Brewing when the brewery was purchased by Fritz Maytag. Anchor brewing had been founded in 1896, a time when small local craft breweries weren’t exceptions, but the norm. Anchor had closed several times in the 70 years since it’s founding and was about to close for good when Maytag stepped in. Maytag upgraded the brewing facility, instilled quality control and started a revolution.
The narrative that Acitelli takes us on from that moment includes the development of several early California based breweries and how they influenced new breweries opening in the Midwest and Eastern U.S.. He carries us through the trials of many breweries, now shuttered and unknown to even craft beer aficionados, but which played major roles in the development of new styles of beers and the recreation of older styles. Many of these small breweries were founded at a time when their success was unlikely. Restrictive alcohol laws left over from prohibition as well as the ever-present shadow of macro beer cast a long shadow over early breweries In fact the big beer industry, politics and American history provide the backdrop for the craft beer movement in this narrative. This adds a good bit of history beyond beer and keeps the story flowing without becoming too bogged down in the minutia of the beer industry.
Home brewing plays a pivotal roll in the craft beer revolution as many brewers first cut their teeth on home made brewing setups, including Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing. Acitelli also spends a great deal of time discussing home brewing from the perspective of small start up clubs and Charlie Papzian, who was integral in the founding of the American Home Brewers Association and which played a large role in spreading the word about craft beer. The great thing about The Audacity of Hops is that it is a well-researched book. The stories we read about in this book are not hearsay or simple tales, but come from one on one interviews with the players, documentation from industry archives and newspaper and magazine stories from the day. The Audacity of Hops will set the standard for any other history of beer books to come. It is a highly readable book, full of interesting and accessible stories but more importantly an overview of how the craft beer industry played and is continuing to play a part in the development and sophistication of the American palate.