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Transforming The World's Favorite Drink

An insider's account of three generations in the craft beer revolution.
Paulaner Craft Beer
Photo Credit: Christian Senger

As the co-founder of an early craft brewery and a current member of the board of directors at the Beer Institute, which represents big beer, Steve Hindy has been in the right position to tell the story of the sea changes in American beer-making that are now influencing the rest of the world.

The key element to his book and insider account is right in the subtitle. It states that craft is transforming the world of beer, an interesting present tense angle to a book that is part memoir and part history.

For those concerned the book might turn out to be a back-patting session for the key players who were in on the ground floor of American craft brewing – and survived to tell the tale – rest easy. Hindy, the co-founder of Brooklyn Beer, doesn’t pull punches on the conflicts inherent in the competition among the brewers themselves nor does he ignore the difficulties and failures. On a personal scale, although he’s circumspect in his characterizations of a who’s who list of participants in the beer industry, he has a deft touch for accurate personality portrayals without being offensive or obsequious.

A former war correspondent in the Middle East for the Associated Press, the experience of Hindy as a fact-finding journalist and incisive story teller are well in evidence. A modern everyman who has a knack for finding the cutting edge of movements, Hindy ended up in the Middle East by dent of learning Arabic to get the assignment. During some of the most tumultuous times in the region’s history, he worked in key political capitols like Baghdad, Tehran and Beirut. But after a brief episode as a hostage, he elected to return home, which eventually led to co-founding the Brooklyn Brewery.

The key players in the book are treated according to generations. “The Pioneers” of craft include the well-known (Fritz Maytag, Jack McAuliffe and Ken Grossman) as well as the story of some the lesser-known early players such as Bill Newman. Then there’s the incomparable “Class of 88,” including those such as John Hickenlooper, Brett and Jack Joyce and Gary Fish. This segment is followed by what Hindy terms “The Second Generation.”

On the political side, there’s coverage of the high profile brewery failures in the mid-1990s, the story behind the organizational consolidation that resulted in the Brewers Association and a chapter on the jailbreak – when distributors finally broke away from the dictates of the major brewers.

The mid-1990s comprised a critical and controversial stage for craft. The coverage of this time period is one of the most interesting aspects of the book and a segment worthy of some debate. The insiders, such as Hindy, believed the craft juggernaut never slowed down in the mid-1990s, pointing to statistics about the growth in the number of breweries and suggesting the mainstream media that was outside the circle of craft got the story wrong about a short-term problem of high profile failures. But anecdotal evidence on scales large and small indicates other aspects to the slowdown beyond the arch-typical blaming of the big media like the New York Times for being out of touch or inaccurate about the craft movement. To suggest the growth of craft was inevitable and could be seen and understood by everybody other than the myopic media discounts the premise of the book – that a band of microbrewers made it happen.

It’s probably more accurate to suppose those within the craft movement were hypersensitive to the prospects of craft being sundered by the media, however accurate those fears may have been. Once over the hump, in retrospect it becomes easy to point out that the media got it wrong, which is not unlike taking those stories out of context.

It’s more than a point of history, because there’s much to be learned from this time frame and Hindy has the on-the-ground story in excellent detail – even if the framework of the inevitability of success might be out of kilter. As the book details, craft eventually overcame the setbacks in brewery failures, financial schemes and shortfalls in sales during the 1990s by changing according to prevailing market conditions – and by paying heed to warnings of potential disaster represented by some brewers’ failures.

It all came down to the question of how to grow the craft segment. The circumstances only add to the importance of the roles played by the “second generation” such as Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan of New Belgium Brewing Company, Rob Tod of Allagash Brewing Company, Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Company, Greg Koch and Steve Wagner of Stone Brewery or Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewing. Their stories, among other key brewers in the book, go to the heart of what made the second generation a lynchpin in the counter-revolution against large-scale beer production.

There’s another possible reformation at work. If not a leader, craft beer could be characterized as part of a broader American Renaissance in food and drink, a turning away from large-scale production. There’s a sense of much needed connectedness in embracing consumables that are of local origin, satisfying and above all, American, especially in the context of weariness from war and 24/7 fears of terrorist invasion.

In this respect, the story of craft told by a current brewer and former war correspondent lends credence to Hindy’s circumstance as a post-modern Renaissance guy, one who tells a fabulous, still unfolding story.

The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers Is Transforming The World’s Favorite Drink
By Steve Hindy
Palgrave Macmillan  © 2014