The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution
By Tom Acitelli
(Chicago Review Press, 2013)
Craft beer has come incredibly far in just a few decades. As Tom Acitelli describes it in The Audacity of Hops, the history of craft brewing in America is nothing short of revolutionary! From just under 100 U.S. breweries in 1980, there are now nearly 3,000. This explosive growth unfolded largely as a consumer reaction against the mass production of bland beer by big breweries.
The Audacity of Hops begins in 1965, the year that Fritz Maytag bought a controlling stake in San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company, one of the few small breweries to survive Prohibition and the many mergers and acquisitions that gave rise to Big Beer (Budweiser, Miller, Coors, etc.). In Maytag’s wake, the number of craft breweries slowly swelled from a handful to dozens. What really propelled the nascent craft beer revolution forward, however, was the federal government’s legalization of homebrewing in 1978. Many, if not most, brewers got started by crafting small batches at home.
Acitelli’s fact-filled narrative takes in the individual stories of influential brewers like Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada and Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head, as well as journalist Michael Jackson and industry leader Charlie Papazian. There are tales of bitter rivalry and competition, as when Coors created Blue Moon in order to regain market share from the craft segment. And in what Acitelli terms the “movement’s biggest setback,” Anheuser-Busch attacked Boston Beer for brewing its flagship Samuel Adams Boston Lager in Pennsylvania, New York and elsewhere — that is, anywhere but Boston.
Divided into short, blog-like chapters, The Audacity of Hops is easy to dive in and out of. Yet, it can be difficult to follow due to Acitelli’s chronological and suspenseful storytelling style. Nevertheless, it is an exhilarating read and welcome addition to the craft beer canon.
Reviewed by Barnaby Hughes
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