Austin’s booming craft beer industry is downright fledging when compared to the industry as a whole.
In fact, in 1993, when the Texas legislature made brewpubs legal – a reversal of an old Prohibition-era law – pioneering breweries across the country had already been leading the long, hard-fought charge to turn craft beer into a desirable beverage, even though the beers tasted nothing like the light lagers Americans had been used to. The breweries were in the midst of persuading distributors to help sell their beer, dealing with squabbles within their own ranks and pushing the big beer companies into acknowledging they were legitimate competitors.
Right in the thick of the struggle was Steve Hindy. Formerly a Middle Eastern correspondent and newspaper editor (it’s a common trait of craft brewers to have started doing something else first), he grew restless in his career and convinced his neighbor, Tom Potter, then a junior banker, to open a brewery with him. They first started peddling Brooklyn Brewery beers out of a van in 1988, the same year that Deschutes, Rogue and Goose Island were also established.
Those early days might have been rough, but both the brewery and Hindy are in very different places now. Brooklyn is in the top 20 of U.S. breweries, based on barrels sold, and essentially built the foundation of New York’s craft brewing industry. As for Hindy, he recently wrote and published a book about the explosion of craft beer around the country, "The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers is Transforming the World’s Favorite Drink."
It’s not the sort of book you’d peruse to learn all about the various styles of beer or how beer is made, but it is a thorough, fascinating history of the people behind the beer.
The story begins in 1965 when Fritz Maytag (yes, the Maytag whose grandfather founded a line of washing machines and whose father developed an American blue cheese) bought the failing Anchor Brewing in San Francisco. He was just one of the original trailblazers whose enthusiasm for craft beer – beer made only with malts, hops, yeast and water – sparked, as Hindy is fond of calling it, "the revolution." These pioneers paved the way for subsequent dreamers to come along and experiment and bring back long-forgotten styles or invent entirely new ones, introducing skeptics to what beer can do.
Some certainly failed. Sometimes the distribution, key to making a profit, wasn’t there; other times the breweries simply couldn’t compete with the big beer companies. But plenty succeeded. There were visionaries like Sierra Nevada’s Ken Grossman, who learned from Maytag and other early brewers; New Belgium’s Kim Jordan and Jeff Lebesch, who were the first to base a brewery entirely on Belgian styles; and Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione, whose Delaware brewery wasn’t afraid to make IPAs as big and bold as the ones West Coast breweries are known for (and who created the Randall, a pressurized hop filter, that can change the way a beer tastes).
That, I think, is the backbone of the book: craft beer ended up succeeding so much, with sales last year rising about 20 percent, not just because it’s incredibly tasty, but because it’s got people behind it who genuinely believe in the product they are crafting. In the end, "The Craft Beer Revolution" is really about a bunch of hardworking, innovative entrepreneurs pursuing the American Dream.
Because it’s written by someone on the inside, who was there for all of the victories and the battles (craft breweries haven’t been above quarreling among themselves), "The Craft Beer Revolution" is filled with insights that other writers on the outside might not truly capture. For one, that none of the original main players, Hindy included, could have ever imagined how influential they’d be for the brewers who would come later. They were simply out to make good beer.
That goal hasn’t changed for the most recent wave of craft brewers that Hindy dubs as the "millenials." But the challenges for breweries like Austin’s Hops & Grain and Jester King aren’t the same. "When I started out, no one knew what a craft beer was," he said in an interview. "When I started pouring Brooklyn Lager in New York, a lot of people spit it out. ‘It’s so bitter! It’s so dark! Why don’t you make something like Heineken?’ But today, people understand it."
On the other hand, "the harder part about today is that it’s a very crowded marketplace," he said. "However, I think there’s a growing demand for craft beer, and I think, if anything, craft brewers are going to have trouble keeping up with the demand."
That’s not a bad problem to have.
Meet Hindy tonight at 24 Diner starting at 5 p.m., where Brooklyn beers — Brooklyn Lager, Summer Ale, Sorachi Ace and Hammarby Syndrome — will be $4. Then, walk over to BookPeople for his 7 p.m. talk about the craft brewing industry and his book. He’ll sign copies, but remember they have to be purchased at BookPeople.