Photographing The Pioneers

While doing some searching yesterday for beer pioneers, I found once more the book of photographs by David Bjorkman entitled MICROBREWERS: 1981-1996: A Photo History. Bjorkman co-founded New Brewer magazine, which is today the in house trade publication for the Brewers Association. The book came out a couple of years ago, self-published as a blurb book by Bjorkman, and I bought a copy right after I got a press release about it.


It’s filled with great black and white photographs of the very early days of craft beer and includes a lot of folks still making great beer today. Here’s how the book is described at the website:

In this homage to American microbrewers, international photojournalist David Bjorkman has created a photo gallery of brewers and breweries from 1981 to 1996. This collection of rare photos captures the early years of specialty brewing as the industry began its meteoric rise into the hearts of admiring beer-lovers nationwide.

Those were heady years filled with the pure joy of brewing. Brewers with big dreams opened their microbreweries, brewpubs and contract brewing companies on shoestring budgets, and succeeded in establishing their unique place in the history of American brewing. “Hand-crafted,” “fresh,” “flavorful” were how they described their beers, and it was the start of something special.

David’s photos document the pioneers and players who came to brewing from different backgrounds and disciplines, but who all had a passion for beer. Some became industry leaders, with their names, faces and beers known to beer-connoisseurs across the nation. Some shot to fame, but for lack of money or know-how fell into history. But all were dynamic and visionary, intense and driven to give beer their best.

Here are photos of the first microbrewers in the United States; of early Great American Beer Festivals; of Batch #176 being brewed at the Widmer Brewing Co.; of the Mendocino Brewing Co. team; and of hundreds of brewers across the country.

These photos provide a veritable “who’s who” of the early microbrewing industry, a history worthy of a place on every beer-lovers book shelf.

Below is a photo-collage video of many of the photos from the book. How many people can you identify?

Oxford Companion To Beer Published Today

While it’s actually been available for purchase for a few weeks already, today is the “official” publication date of The Oxford Companion to Beer, the new encyclopedic reference book on all things beer. It was put together by my friend and colleague, Garrett Oliver, who’s the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery in in New York, and the author of the seminal beer and food book, The Brewmaster’s Table.

The actual authors include something like 166 beer writers, brewers, suppliers, brewing scientists and researchers; experts in their fields one and all. In the interest of full disclosure, I was one of the contributors, too, and wrote around 25 of the 1,100 entries in the 900-page book. As a result, I don’t think it’s fair for me to review it, though I must say it’s getting fairly good press already, including a rave by the New York Times’ Eric Asimov, who called it the “ultimate beer guide.”

Published by the Oxford University Press (OUP), it’s already one of their most successful reference books. Perhaps the best evidence that the world was waiting for a book like this is the fact that it sold out, twice, before today’s official publication date. According to the OUP — who considers a reference book a success if it sells a few thousand copies — they sold out of the initial 10,000 print run from pre-orders, printed another 5,000 which also immediately sold out, and are now on the third printing, all before today’s publication date.

Associate Editor Horst Dornbusch and Editor-in-Chief Garret Oliver at a reception for the book’s launch during GABF week in Denver.

During GABF, OUP had a nice reception for all of the authors who were attending the beer festival this year, and so there were quite a few of us there to see the book for the first time and try the new wheat wine, named Companion, that was a collaboration between Garret and Horst brewed at the Brooklyn Brewery. Apparently it will only be available if you purchase the boxed set of the new book, which comes with a bottle of the beer and the book, a companion to the companion.


Beer Production Infographic

A recent book on beer and homebrewing, entitled Beer Craft appears to include the clever use of graphics, and in particular infographics, the best of which which are able to convey a great deal of information in a economical amount of space. Written by William Bostwick and Jessi Rymill, one of their charts was chosen by Fast Company’s Co.Design as the Infographic of the Day a few days ago. The infographic shows the number of breweries in America, along with total beer production, from 1800-2010.


At the beginning (of the timeline, at least) there were only around 200 breweries. Rum, and other spirits, were king, and the U.S. boasted 14,000 distilleries. The advent of pilsner in 1842, along with a wave of German and European immigration, helped along by the industrial revolution, saw the number of breweries steadily increase until around 1850, when all hell broke loose. At that point, the rise of breweries in America can only be described as meteoric. When the dust settled two decades later, the number of breweries peaked in 1873 at 4,131. Consolidation, and other facts, cut the number in half by 1900 and another score of years later the number was zero, thanks to the anti-alcohol zealots who pushed through Prohibition in 1919.

Even once Prohibition ended thirteen years later, the brewing scene never recovered to anything approaching its glory days of the late 19th century. Both the business world and the world in general had changed considerably — especially after World War II — and anti-alcohol factions never admitted defeat, but merely changed tactics and continued to attack alcohol using different strategies that continue right through to the present day.

The low point is around 1980, when a mere 44 breweries made a staggering amount of beer, most of it tasting exactly the same. Since that time, total production of beer has risen only slightly, but more promisingly, the number of breweries has exploded with the microbrewery revolution that began in 1976 (and which had its origins in 1965 San Francisco). Today, we’re at nearly 1,800 breweries, the largest number since the turn of the last century. And according to the Brewers Association’s crack brewery detective, Erin Fay Glass, there are roughly 600 new breweries in various stages of their start-up phases. At the rate things are going, we should hit 2,000 breweries in America pretty soon, and quite possibly before the end of next year. Yea, beer!

Grilling With Beer: Fanning The Flames Of A New Edition

The beer cook, Lucy Saunders, published a great book five years ago called Grilling with Beer. I must confess I’m a little biased, because I contributed a short chapter to it on Oyster BBQ. The book is now out of print, though there’s still great demand for it. So Lucy’s planning on “putting together new chapters and recipes for [her] cookbook, GRILLING WITH BEER: bastes, barbecue sauces, mops, marinades and more made with craft beer.”

She’s using Kickstarter to raise the $28,000 she needs “to pay for the printing for the 224-page color cookbook (using recycled paper and eco-inks). Everyone who funds will be acknowledged on the website — and larger funders can get even more cookbooks, plus assorted goodies such as tastings and cooking demonstrations. Eventually, the cookbook will be sold (suggested price will be $21.95) where craft beer is sold!”

While you can pledge any amount on Kickstarter, pledge just $25 and get a copy of the book autographed by Lucy, a t-shirt and 5 recipe postcards. Such a deal! Whether you have a copy of the original book or not, here’s a great opportunity to get the new version and help out a very worthwhile project to get Lucy’s book back in print.


Did A Thirst For Beer Spark Civilization?

Today’s UK newspaper, The Independent, has a nice write-up of Patrick McGovern’s theory (among others) that it was the desire of early man to brew beer that caused them to abandon their hunter gatherer ways and settle down to a life of farming, in the process sparking nothing short of civilization itself.

In the article, Did A Thirst For Beer Spark Civilization?, McGovern says “I think most people see (this theory) as a very plausible scenario. But we don’t have all the evidence. I just wanted to put it out there as a worldwide hypothesis. Then over time maybe the different pieces can be put together from across the world.” McGovern is the author of Uncorking the Past — a book I heartily recommend — that goes into great detail about the evidence for his theories.

Patrick McGovern, Author of "Uncorking the Past"
Patrick McGovern signing boos at GABF in 2009.

WSJ Reviews “Dethroning The King”

I got a review copy of the new book, Dethroning the King, which is all about the hostile takeover of Anheuser-Busch by InBev, a few weeks ago but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. It looks fascinating and I’m looking forward to devouring it as soon as I can. For now, I’ll have to make do with the Wall Street Journal review of the book, which only makes me want to read it more. Anybody else read it yet? Thoughts?


Good Pub Guide Announces Pay To Play

I’m not quite sure what to think about this. The Publican reported today that the highly respected and nearly 30-year old UK Good Pub Guide is going to begin charging pubs to be included in the guide. Starting with next year’s edition, fees to be included “will be either £99 or £199, depending on the size of the outlet.” The current issue includes over 5,000 listings, so that would mean future books would realize between £500,000 and £1,000,000 (or between $800,900 and $1.6 million dollars).

The reason for the charge is explained by editor Fiona Stapley, and it’s just what you’d expect. “Putting together a guide like this is quite expensive and we are looking at the business model. More and more guides like this are charging. She added that the judging criteria would remain the same and pubs would still have to reach the same standards to gain a listing.”


And yes, I’m sure that it is expensive to put the book together. Having been involved in publishing for a lot of years, I don’t doubt that it’s become increasingly pricey to produce the book. Unfortunately, I’m not sure this is necessarily the best fix. As Stapley states, “more and more guides like this are charging.” Maybe, but I have a hard time believing by doing so they maintain the same level of integrity and independence. The most obvious problem would come when some, or perhaps a lot, of pubs choose not to spend the money. After all, a lot of pubs in the UK are struggling to stay afloat. As a result, the “Good Pub Guide” could become the “Good Pubs Willing to Pay the Fee Guide.” It would no longer be complete. Undoubtedly, many successful pubs would feel compelled to pay in order to not have their business suffer from being excluded. Whenever that happens — and however perfectly legal — it would still be hard not to see it as de facto extortion.

Could they charge pubs to be included and then remain independent in their reviews? I’m sure it’s possible. After all, magazines that accept advertising do it all the time. But this seems slightly different insofar as this is paying to be in a guidebook whose sole purpose it to provide impartial reviews of each pub’s quality and worthiness. Even if they started out with the best of intentions, it seems very likely, to me at least, that over time the pubs that are paying would come to expect something in return for their continued support and the dynamic of the publication would change. And increasingly, pubs that should be recommended would come to not be included just because they balked at the idea of paying for the privilege. That would do a grave disservice to both those good pubs and the potential customers using the guidebook to find them. No matter how hard they tried to remain impartial, it just feels like it would still create an undesirable perception of the potential for misconduct. What do you think? Inevitable and unconcerning or a death blow to impartiality?

World Beer Awards 2010

I keep forgetting to write about this. Earlier this year I was asked to help judge for the World Beer Awards, which are put on by the former UK beer magazine Beers of the World, which is now published only online at Tasting Beers. They separated the beers into regions and Stan Hieronymus chaired the America’s region, along with me and Eric Warner.

We were each sent four large boxes filled with bubble-wrapped bottles or cans with a number assigned to each and the labels and even crowns obscured by labels and stickers. They were then separated into five broad categories: pale ale, dark ale, lager, stout & porter, and wheat beer. Then within each of those five, they were further subdivided by style. I don’t know how the rest of the judges did it, but I invited friends with judging experience and/or beer knowledge over to help taste them and bounce descriptors off one another and also had a volunteer steward to help keep the beers as blind as possible, but each beer’s numbered score came strictly from me.

The other two regions were Europe (chaired by Jeff Evans) and Asia (chaired by Bryan Harrell) with Roger Protz overseeing the entire process. In stage 2, the chairmen re-tasted all the regional winners and then a final round was held to determine the overall winners. It was great fun and the results are certainly interesting with a lot of beers with great reputations — and personal favorites — doing quite well. Because participation was not universal (that is, not every brewery submitted beers for judging) there are, of course, many beers not represented which may or may not have done as well or even better than the winners and I certainly hope more breweries will enter their beers next year. But within the group of what was submitted, it’s a pretty damn good list.


Here are the big winners in each of the Five main categories:

  1. Pale Ale: Deschutes Red Chair NWPA
  2. Dark Ale: Unibroue 17
  3. Lager: Primator Premium
  4. Stout & Porter: Minoh Beer Imperial Stout
  5. Wheat Beer: Weihenstephaner Vitus

The rest of the winners within each style and also the regional winners can be found on the Tasting Beers website.

I didn’t know this going in, but they actually published a small book with all the winners, including a mash-up of all the tasting notes for the beers. It’s a nice small-size (3-3/4″ x 8-1/4″) paperback. In 162 full-color pages, there are features about the winning breweries and listings for all the winning beers, including at least a bottle shot for each. If you’re keen you can buy one online at Amazon UK or directly from the Tastings Beers website. Amazon US also has a listing for the book, but I believe it’s from a vendor selling copies from overseas.


Civilization’s First Decision: Orgies Or Beer?

Gizmodo has an intriguing post up right now, combining ideas from two books about early man and the dawn of civilization, Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality and Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages. In Orgies or Beer? You Only Get One, author Joel Johnson speculates that early man eschewed group sex with multiple partners to settle down and make beer, setting us on the path to modern civilization, monogamy and the happy hour. As long as you don’t take it too seriously, it’s a pretty funny idea. (In other words, you can safely ignore the many outraged commenters who seem to have confused Gizmodo with an academic journal, they’re an entirely different kind of funny.)

As Patrick McGovern makes the case in Uncorking the Past, a growing body of evidence is pointing to alcohol — and most likely beer, or a rudimentary form of it, at least — as the reason early nomadic man settled down, in order to grow the crops to insure a steady supply of it. In other words, beer, rather than bread, may have been responsible for civilization as we know it today, with all its good and bad developments and legacies. In the newer book, Sex at Dawn, authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá argue that what we gave up for civilization, agriculture and beer was free love, group sex and orgies. Gizmodo summarizes the book’s claims in chart form.


One thing that’s funny about the chart is that everything leads to war, and the most hate-filled comment that I ever received was from someone calling himself “The Savagist” who took that same view to ridiculous heights. He vehemently believed that beer and alcohol were directly responsible for every bad thing that ever happened in the history of mankind, ignoring anything good that civilization also brought. Given his epithet, one might have reasonably presumed he had or wanted to return to that savage “pre-civilized” time, but he was obviously still living in a building, with electricity, and typing on a computer connected to the internet, with no sense of irony. Apparently, when he looked in Pandora’s Box, there was no hope at all after beer released all the evil into the world. Me, I found hope … and hops.

But back to Sex at Dawn, and the key points, as laid down in the Gizmodo article:

  • Before humans settled down into civilization, we were small bands of hunter-gatherers who had no notion of sexual monogamy. Within our relatively small tribes, most humans had multiple partners, primarily from within the tribal group, although occasionally we’d have a dalliance with a stranger to keep the DNA pool zesty. Children had multiple social “fathers,” jealousy was nearly nonexistent, and relatively easy access to calories kept us fit, happy, and satisfied well into our 70s and 80s—provided we managed to get past the perils of high mortality rates expected from a wild environment and primitive medicine.
  • Upon the discovery of agriculture, nomadic wandering was no longer possible—someone has to stick around to water the crops—so the ideas of property and inheritance became sadly useful. Domesticated food could become scarce, unlike the effectively endless bounty of hunter-gathering (ignoring the occasional climate-torqued famine or run of bad luck), so hoarding became necessary to ensure calories even in lean times. It’s a lot of work to farm, so it became important to ensure that you weren’t wasting your precious grains on someone else’s offspring, especially if it meant you own kid was getting short shrift. Hence monogamy, marriage, and the unfortunate concept of partners as property, manifested in agrarian societies as a tendency to view women as chattel.
  • Our genes, still tuned toward sexual novelty, cause us to really hate being monogamous, but societal pressures—including centralized codified religion—force men and women into an arrangement that brings with it just as many problems as it solves. Men cheat, women wither in sexual shackles (or, you know, cheat), wars erupt over resources or sexual exclusivity, cats and dogs almost start sleeping together except they’re afraid the neighbors might find out—Old Testament, real wrath of God-type stuff.

But accidental alcohol was around for probably millions of years and the “drunken monkey hypothesis” proposed by biologist Robert Dudley “attempts to explain why our bodies have evolved such a happy capacity for metabolizing ethanol.” McGovern extends that idea in Uncorking the Past.

On average, both abstainers and bingers have shorter, harsher lives. The human liver is specially equipped to metabolize alcohol, with about 10 percent of its enzyme machinery, including alcohol dehydrogenase, devoted to generating energy from alcohol. Our organs of smell can pick up wafting alcoholic aromas, and our other senses detect the myriad compounds that permeate ripe fruit.

A couple of years ago, this came up in a different context, in a post I wrote entitled Beer and Civilization which discussed a book by Steven Johnson entitled The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. In Johnson’s book, he discusses how at the dawn of civilization, survival often depended on how a person’s body reacted to and could tolerate the beer that was generally safer to drink than water. Over time, only people who were genetically predisposed with the ability to drink large quantities of beer survived, passing that trait down to their children so that perhaps today most of us have such an ancestor as evidenced simply by the fact that we’re here. As [George] Will (and Johnson) explains.

The gene pools of human settlements became progressively dominated by the survivors — by those genetically disposed to, well, drink beer. “Most of the world’s population today,” Johnson writes, “is made up of descendants of those early beer drinkers, and we have largely inherited their genetic tolerance for alcohol.”

But sitting here in my pajamas, typing on my laptop, beer in hand, surrounded by the trappings of modern society, I can’t help but think we made the right choice. I know the world has many, many challenges and problems but would any of us be happier crawling around the Savannah in a loincloth hunting (and gathering) for our next meal — and without a beer to pair with it? Beer may have been responsible for the single greatest butterfly effect in our civilization’s history because it’s nearly impossible to say what life might be like had we not taken the path we’re on. Did we give up orgies for our beer and civilization? Who knows, but I still think we chose wisely.

Another funny and very interesting excerpt from Sex at Dawn is The Flintstonization of Prehistory in which modern morals and values are super-imposed on to the past.


Drink What You Know

The New York Times had a great essay recently by Geoff Nicholson, entitled Drink What You Know. It’s part book review — for a re-issued “The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto” — and part survey of literary drinking and writer’s advice on both writing and drinking. It includes this gem about the perils of my profession. “People telling you how to drink is every bit as tedious and annoying as people telling you not to drink at all.”

Nicholson continues:

When you think about it, rules for drinking are not so different from rules for writing. Many of these are so familiar they’ve become truisms: Write what you know. Write every day. Never use a strange, fancy word when a simple one will do. Always finish the day’s writing when you could still do more. With a little adaptation these rules apply just as well for drinking. Drink what you know, drink regularly rather than in binges, avoid needlessly exotic booze, and leave the table while you can still stand.

That seems true enough, but my favorite piece of advice comes near the end:

The best you can hope for is to arrive, by whatever means, at the same conclusions as those who are older and wiser. Another piece of advice from Richard Ford runs, “Don’t drink and write at the same time,” a rule I follow scrupulously. But a more nuanced version of the same rule comes from Keith Waterhouse, the author of “Billy Liar.” He said you should never drink while you’re writing, but it’s O.K. to write while you’re drinking, a nice distinction.

Let that sink in. You should never drink while you’re writing, but it is acceptable to write while you’re drinking. Whew, dodged a bullet there.