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The Audacity of Hops: A Craft Beer Must-Read

by Danya Henninger on Jul 8, 2013 in Beer
The Audacity of Hops: A Craft Beer Must-Read

Do you recognize the name Jack McAuliffe? How about Fritz Maytag? You may already be familiar with Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione, or Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver, or Beer Hunter Michael Jackson, or Boston Beer founder Jim Koch. These are just some of the characters whose actions, inspirations and efforts contributed to making American the craft beer Mecca it is today.

The more than 2500 craft breweries operating across the country didn’t sprout overnight — though they are now popping up at an astonishing rate, thanks to the current fertile conditions — and the nearly 10% of the U.S. beer market (by dollars) that craft beer has captured was not won without a fight.

Tom Acitelli’s cleverly-titled new book The Audacity of Hops traces the American craft beer revolution from its very first seeds in the late 1960s up through the blossoming landscape today, which is still threatened by the lawnmower that is corporate-run Big Beer. If you are a craft brew fanatic, this book is a must-read, but even those who are simply curious about American history — or the way business works — will find the pages fascinating.

The story begins with Fritz Maytag’s takeover of San Francisco's Anchor Brewing in the late 1960s, and covers an amazing quantity of people and events around the globe as the plunge in the number of American breweries rebounded from its nadir of just 89 a decade later. Details are woven into a dense narrative that can be slow reading, but Acitelli does a good job keeping your interest piqued and keeping the forward momentum going throughout.

Charlie Papazian’s founding of the Brewers Association is a big milestone in retrospect, but in the early 1980s, the Association of Brewers was a tiny, two-person operation that no one outside of Boulder had ever heard of, or thought was needed. As it grew, the craft beer industry’s future outlook bobbled, through second and third and fourth waves of growth and retraction.

You’ll find details on how Jack McAullife was inspired by his time in Europe to bring “real beer” to America (at his cobbled-together microbrewery New Albion), and how Jim Koch bootstrapped Boston Beer to its position as the largest craft brewery in the country (via lots of contract brewing). There are notes on the first-ever craft beer tasting seminar at the Brickskeller in Washington, D.C. and tales like that of Sam Calagione hand-rowing his first shipments to another state across the Delaware Bay. Trace the rise of the IPA, the birth of "extreme beer," the fall of Pete's Wicked Ale and the ongoing success of the brewpub.

Though we know how things ended up, reading The Audacity of Hops provides a full background and a much deeper understanding of the current situation. Even those who lived through and were involved in the movement will appreciate the book — especially the effort the author took to seek out so many of the players and provide primary-sourced facts and figures. A good table of contents and index make the tome useful as a reference guide after you’ve finished the mostly-chronological narrative. In other works, buy this book. For just $20, it deserves a place on any beer drinker’s shelf.

Top photo by Danya Henninger; middle photo via Anchor Brewing; bottom photo courtesy of the Brewers Association

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