Q&A with Steve Hindy, author of THE CRAFT BEER REVOLUTION:
Why have you chosen now to tell the story of the rise of Craft Beer?
The craft beer industry just topped 10% of the US beer market, and it is growing at double digits annually. It took 30 years to get there, but it is an indication that craft beer is here to stay. There are 2700 breweries in the United States and 1500 in the works. Many have no knowledge of the history of the industry. It seemed to me important to tell the story of craft beer for those new brewers, and for America’s craft beer enthusiasts.
Some people may not realize that you weren’t always in the beer business. What led you to the world of craft brewing?
I was a journalist for the first 15 years of my working life. Six of those years were with The Associated Press in Beirut and Cairo. I met American diplomats who had worked in Saudi Arabia where alcoholic beverages are forbidden by Islamic Law. They brewed beer in the privacy of their homes. When I returned to New York, I started homebrewing and got carried away with it. The Brooklyn Brewery was born.
In the book, you discuss the pioneers of the industry who started it all in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. Which of those early craft brewers was most influential to you?
The craft brewing pioneer who most influenced me was Matthew Reich, founder of New Amsterdam Beer and the Old New York Brewing Co. Matthew started out brewing his beer Upstate and selling it in the city. Then he built a beautiful brewery/restaurant on the West Side of Manhattan. It closed in a little more than a year. The reason: it was a bad location for a brewery and the venture capitalists who funded it pulled the plug on him. I learned that just building a beautiful brewery did not insure success.
Drinking, appreciating and exploring craft beer has become a real cultural phenomenon. In your opinion, what is it about craft beer that’s made it resonate with the American public so strongly?
Craft beer has captured the imagination of the US beer drinker the same way gourmet coffee has captured the taste buds of coffee drinkers. The same is true of gourmet ice cream and exotic cheeses. Many people are looking for something more from the simple pleasures of life. Those products have grabbed more than 30% of their respective markets. I think the same thing is going to happen to craft beer.
What’s next for the craft brewing industry? Are there any more major hurdles that craft brewers are facing today?
Craft brewers are facing increasing competition from the big two brewers: ABInBev and MillerCoors. Those companies are creating their own craft-like beers and buying some small breweries. That is kind of a double-edged sword for my company. On the one hand, the large breweries are creating more awareness of craft beer; on the other hand they are trying to corner the craft beer market. I think it also is a double-edged sword for the large brewers: the more they promote flavorful beers, the more they erode the light lager beers which are the bulk of their businesses.
What beer are you most excited about at the moment?
Last night I took home a bottle of Brooklyn Wild Streak. This is a Belgian-style beer that has been aged in bourbon barrels and then refermented with a wild yeast known as Brettanomyces. It has wonderful sour flavors. We drank the beer with a San Francisco-style fish stew called cioppino. It was fantastic! This is the kind of beer that keeps our customers excited about Brooklyn Brewery.