The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution
Chicago Review Press, Chicago, 2013
Reviewer: Jacob R. Straus
Craft beer is booming. From humble beginnings in 1970, when there were 49 macro- breweries and 2 craft breweries, to 2012, when there were 19 macrobreweries and 2,347 craft breweries, craft beer has grown by leaps and bounds (Elzinga, Tremblay, and Tremblay, 2015, p. 245). Craft beer started when Fritz Maytag, heir to the Maytag fortune, purchased the struggling Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco—a brewery that made an odd style of beer, steam, which few outside of its limited distri- bution network within the city had ever tasted. Today, the industry generates millions of dollars and has reached every state and multiple countries.
Tom Acitelli, in his well-written, well-paced, and downright intriguing book, The Audacity of Hops, tells the complicated, fraternal, and heart-wrenching story of craft beer’s pioneers. Starting at the beginning, with Maytag’s purchase of Anchor, Acitelli walks through the development of the craft beer movement with an emphasis on the individual producer, “Big Beer’s” attempts to dominate the marketplace, and the cooperative nature that has allowed craft beer to pro- liferate. Several themes permeate both the book and the history of the craft beer movement: risk-taking, cooperation, competition, rule breaking, and consolida- tion. Without each of these elements, which roughly correspond to each phase of craft beer’s history, craft beer would not be as successful or as threatening to “Big Beer.”
Fritz Maytag and other craft beer pioneers were at heart risk-takers. They were willing to invest both time and money in an industry that had become centralized since Prohibition. They saw the potential not necessarily for profit, but for better tasting beer that was enjoyable to drink. Although Maytag is considered by many as the forefather of the craft beer movement with his small, professional brewery, Jack McAuliffe initially took the opposite path and founded his brewery—New Albion in Sonoma, California—in an “old fruit warehouse” where he used his back- ground in the navy, which had taught him to be resourceful, and knowledge of home brewing to put together a unique homemade brew house that “took advantage of Northern California’s contracting dairy industry and salvaged a lot of discarded milking equipment” (pp. 44–45). McAuliffe’s entrepreneurial spirit and ability to embrace risk allowed him to successfully produce beer whose demand was greater than its supply. Although New Albion no longer exists, McAuliffe’s legacy lives on through the risks that many craft brewers continue to take to bring their ideas to fruition.
Being willing to take a risk has always been important for craft beer, but unlike other industries, craft beer producers often choose to cooperate with each other instead of hiding secrets and ideas from potential competitors. In fact, many would-be brewers were given tours of Anchor by Fritz Maytag and were positively influenced by individuals like Fred Eckhardt, considered by many to have been the foremost expert on home brewing, and Michael Lewis, who at one time was the only “full professor of brewing science” in the United States (p. 21). Although the relationship that Eckhardt and Lewis had with the brewing community was formal, many brewers also had informal relationships with each other that over time have resulted in numerous collaborative brewing efforts (i.e., in 2010, Dogfish Head, Victory, and Stone all collaborated on Saison du BUFF, a saison brewed with the same recipe—featuring parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme—in each brewery over a several-year period; Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, 2016).
Even though craft brewing is generally a cooperative and collaborative industry, it does not mean it is not competitive. Acitelli does an excellent job of describing the origin and current status of the largest beer competition, the Great American Beer Festival. From humble roots with “forty-seven beers available from twenty-four different breweries” in 1982 (p. 91) and an emphasis on home brewers being able to talk directly with commercial brewmasters, to “forty-nine thousand people tasting twenty-two hundred beers from 455 breweries” with medals awarded “in seventy-nine style categories” in 2010 (p. 332). The growth of the Great American Beer Festival illustrated both the willingness of brewers to help each other and the importance of competition to push the envelope of what defines good beer and what styles are most popular with the brewers and the public.
The advent of the Great American Beer Festival and the changing palate of the American beer drinker have encouraged craft brewers to revive old-world styles and to invent new ones. At its core, beer is water, grain, hops, and yeast. It is what the brewmaster does with these ingredients (and what he or she might add) that is the rule-breaking part of craft beer. Perhaps the quintessential American beer is not the lager that “Big Beer” has made so popular, but the Double India Pale Ale (DIPA or Imperial IPA) that was created to explore what was possible with hops, IBUs (International Bittering Units), and alcohol volume. Likely invented in the early 1990s by Vinnie Cilurzo at the Blind Pig, his Temecula, California, brewpub, the Double IPA is an intensely flavorful and potent drink (p. 300). This extreme brew has gone mainstream. Sam Calagione’s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery is famed for its uber-hopped 60-Minute, 90-Minute, and 120-Minute IPAs.
The final tale of The Audacity of Hops is consolidation. As the number of craft brew- eries has expanded, the opportunities for “Big Beer” to buy craft breweries (i.e., Anheuser-Busch InBev buying Goose Island, Blue Point, and Breckenridge) and for craft breweries to form alliances and marketing partnerships (i.e., the Craft Brew Alliance of Widmer Brothers, Redhook, Kona Brewing, and Omission) has expanded. As Fortune magazine stated in an article on Anheuser-Busch InBev’s purchases, they “are meant to add faster-growing beers to AB InBev’s massive portfolio, which already includes Budweiser and Stella Artois. Because the craft brands are tiny in comparison, they won’t move AB InBev’s sales needle much – though the deals give the craft brewers vast distribution potential” (Kell, 2015). As Acitelli plainly establishes throughout the book, this new consolidation phase echoes past consolidation (pp. 324–329). It will be interesting to see where craft beer is in several more years as new breweries are established and existing entities merge, sell, or close.
Jacob R. Straus
University of Maryland Baltimore County