How? How did the number of American craft breweries and brewpubs go from one in 1965 to whatever the heck today? I get asked that a lot and it’s the defining question in explaining the history of American craft beer. It’s difficult to answer without sounding long-winded or laying down myriad anecdotes. (The what’s easier—it’s the people and places—and the why’s obvious, I would hope—the stuff’s delicious.)
I think I’ve got a way of answering it succinctly, by anecdote.
The adaptation of The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution is online at All About Beer now. The last section exemplifies how a symbiosis, often the result of active participation but occasionally the product of simple luck, fueled the rise of American craft beer. It’s the late 1970s, and things, as they say, are starting to happen:
This tremendous growth was now organic and symbiotic. Here’s an example:
In 1978, Byron Burch, author of the influential homebrewing book Quality Brewing and co-owner of a homebrewing shop in San Rafael, hosted an earnest young man from Chico, Calif., at his Oakland home. The two had run into each other at a winemaking trade show in neighboring Berkeley. The young man talked excitedly of his plans for a craft brewery in Chico as he and his host drank Burch’s homebrew.
The young man had toured Anchor and New Albion. He homebrewed; he even ran a homebrew shop in a former fleabag hotel. He was convinced that commercial craft brewing could work, even in a world bathed in Lite and with traditional financial avenues, like commercial and investment banks, closed, for now, to the idea. He was up for the challenge, the grueling, wet work, the pitiless distribution to a largely indifferent marketplace; he had seen Maytag and McAuliffe do it.
The young man’s name was Ken Grossman; his idea was the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.
Read the entire adaptation here. And have a great rest of the summer.
Photo of Ken Grossman courtesy of All About Beer.