In about two generations, American craft beer has emerged as an exponentially expanding market force. What used to be considered a fringe category in an industry dominated by light and pale lagers is now something else entirely. Steve Hindy, cofounder of Brooklyn Brewery, documents the saga and sea change led by America's pioneering microbrewers in The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers Is Transforming the World's Favorite Drink.
I reach Hindy by phone at his home in Brooklyn a day before he leaves for the grand opening of the New Carnegie Brewery in Stockholm, Sweden, a brewing partnership between Brooklyn Brewery and Carlsberg. The partnership is breaking all sorts of new ground for American craft brewers and European brewers alike.
Before co-founding Brooklyn Brewery in 1988 Hindy was an Associated Press foreign correspondent living in Beirut and Cairo and covering the big stories in the Middle East between 1979 and 1984 (“once a journalist always a journalist,” he tells me). He brings an investigative and thorough sensibility to his book, fermenting this with the human narratives of the individuals involved. The Craft Beer Revolution is an inspiring, in-depth look at what can be accomplished through stubborn disposition, hard work, an unyielding respect for craftsmanship and considerable passion for innovation.
The Craft Beer Revolution is organized into three generations of brewers and their surrounding communities; Hindy relays anecdotes he has collected over the years and the brewing genealogy of the men and women who kicked off and now carry the torch for the movement. He also meticulously examines the legislation that has effected the craft brewing industry over the past 50 years and some of the conflicts with behemoths Anheuser-Busch Inc. and MilllerCoors, the industry's distributors and some of the infighting within the movement. The Craft Beer Revolution is intriguing reportage of an ongoing movement that is having enormous success.
"It just seems to me a remarkable story when hundreds of small entrepreneurs all across the country are able to gain a beach-head in this very competitive business, which before now has been dominated by huge international brewing conglomerates," Hindy says.
In 2012, Anheuser-Busch Inc. sold 99,200,000 barrels of beer and MillerCoors sold 58,950,000 barrels (a barrel equals 248 U.S. pints). The largest craft brewer in the nation, Boston Beer Co. (brewer of Samuel Adams beers), sold 2,125,000 barrels in 2012. Even as the nation’s leading craft brewer, Boston Beer Co. is just now edging up to selling around 3% of the volume of Anheuser-Busch Inc. However, Hindy tells me that the big two have lost around 18 million barrels of production over the past five years.
What does that mean for future craft brewers and the craft brewers Hindy documents in The Craft Beer Revolution? Can such a small market foothold be considered a pervasive change?
"The best indicator of the power of the craft beer revolution is that the big brewers, the big two, are investing seriously in their craft-like brands," Hindy emphasizes. He explains that brands like Shock Top (Anheuser-Busch) and Blue Moon (MillerCoors) are direct responses to the volume they are losing to the craft beer segment, the only growing segment of the beer industry. "So that's why they're getting into it and that's kind of a compliment to us and a challenge to us,” he says. “And honestly, I think it's a very tricky business for the big brewers, because the more they promote flavorful beers the more they undercut their big brands.
"I feel like people are drinking less beer these days, but they're drinking better beer. They're drinking more of our kind of beer. The taste transformation is quickening and I don't think that is going to stop anytime soon," Hindy says.
The most important component of the craft beer revolution is continuing to make good beer, Hindy says, but he also advocates for unity. "If we're going to influence state legislatures and the federal government, we need to be unified and we need to be watching each other's backs,” Hindy says.
Evan Rodriguez is a writer living in Texas. You can follow him on Twitter.