A few years ago, there were only a handful of books written about beer, and most concerned themselves with methods for brewing it, or stories of how a particular brewer rose to fame and success. There have been some highlights along the way, but I am very pleased that beer writers are beginning to take a look back at how exactly the American craft beer industry ended up where it was today.
The growth of craft beer in the U.S. has not been a steady march forward since the repeal of prohibition, but rather an undulating journey of booms and busts, near-misses and resurrections, champions and underdogs. In that journey, there is a surprisingly small yet indomitable cast of characters that made an immense impact on the craft brewing landscape. Two recently-published books have helped to bring those people to light – and allowed some of the as yet untold stories to come out.
The first book I must recommend for anyone with an interest in craft beer is The Audacity of Hops. I must applaud author Tom Acitelli for the amount of research that this book must have entailed. The stories of the pioneers of craft beer is easy to gloss over and oversimplify, but Acitelli dives in and tackles all the twists and turns. Arranged in short chapters, the portraits serve as snapshots of the people and the events that brought us to where we are now. If you thought we’re now in the midst of the beginning of craft beer’s growth, you’re mistaken.
Starting with pre-prohibition brewing through the consolidation of breweries and the hairy near death of American beer altogether, Acitelli introduces us to the big names – Fritz Maytag, Jack McAuliffe, Charlie Papazian, Michael Jackson – and starts to weave their stories together. Amazingly comprehensive, it also reads a bit more like a novel with tons of important characters parading in and out, and is easy to get sucked in. I started reading this and couldn’t put it down. Somehow, I knew of these pioneers and some breweries no longer in operation, but didn’t really know them or understand how interrelated they are.
Also featured in the middle to later sections in the book is the venerable David Geary and his outspoken positions on the craft beer industry throughout it all. Along with Geary, several New England and Maine breweries are brought up from time to time, and it’s easy to see what New England has brought to the table over time.
However, if you are looking for an introduction and overview of Maine’s brewing history as well as a clear picture of the Maine brewing scene, you now have an excellent resource. Josh Christie’s Maine Beer : Brewing In Vacationland dives in head first. With profiles of nearly all of Maine’s breweries, as well as descriptions of the most well-known or interesting beers from each brewery, Christie takes on the history of how Vacationland arrived at it’s place in craft beer – as well as the people who made it what is today. Picking up where The Audacity of Hops leaves off, Christie does a great job giving some much-needed context and background that helps beer drinkers sort out the rich beer culture here.
Also, this book is a good one to bring up with you to camp, or to sit on your front porch and flip through it while sipping your favorite Maine beer. It really does help one to understand Maine a bit better – from the strong personalities and the slightly off-kilter and ambitious ideas of the brewers. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a lot of the people featured in Christie’s book, and yet I still learned a great deal about Maine beer, especially what happened before I arrived, and what’s going on now outside of Portland.
The Audacity of Hops is available through online booksellers like Amazon (and I would be surprised if you couldn’t find it at Books a Million in the Maine Mall – they have a decent beer book section). Maine Beer is available for sale through Christie’s website (Brews and Books) and at independent book stores all over Maine. A few breweries are carrying this one, too, including Baxter Brewing Company, Boothbay Craft Brewery and Rising Tide. Both books are must-haves for those interested in beer and in Maine – and both make for great summer reading – especially if you have a beer beside you while you’re reading it.