Pubgoers may wonder: how is it that your cute “hometown” beer – made a few miles away from you – often costs 50 per cent more than a premium beer imported from a different continent? The Craft Beer Revolution recounts the phenomenal rise of American craft breweries starting in the 1980s and exploding thereafter, such that there were 537 craft breweries in 1994 (Sierra Nevada, Samuel Adams, Rogue Ale) and 2,700 in 2013. The writer is Steve Hindy, founder of New York’s Brooklyn Brewery – and now a millionaire with time on his hands to write a book. Hindy believes that the craft beer producers, rather than consumers, are most responsible for the craft beer revolution. Americans never lost a taste for rich, European-style beer, Hindy asserts. The problem was that brands like Budweiser dominated the market.
Very few breweries made anything that challenged American taste buds – until the late 1970s. “Because of the tremendous growth of imports, a number of entrepreneurs began asking themselves if the traits that made foreign beers sell couldn’t be replicated here in the United States,” Hindy quotes one distributor saying. “In asking that question, they—overnight, it seemed—redefined the beer business. No longer was the equation domestic/imported; now it would be mainstream/sophisticated.”
Our take: As the book makes clear, there was nothing inevitable about the rise of authentic local beers – and more generally, the rise of authentic local brands, whose appeal is now taken for granted in cities like New York, San Francisco, and London. “They couldn’t comprehend the idea of a small brewery. It was like I was from Mars and speaking Martian,” Hindy quotes one pioneer, the founder of New Albion Brewery, saying in the early 1980s, after his business failed. Now the craft beer “movement” is firmly consumer-driven. Over 1,500 new craft breweries were in the planning stages last year – adding to the thousands already in operations from California to Maine.