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The Craft Beer Revolution

By Abhishek Pandey

The craft beer revolution, which started in the US and has since taken off worldwide, had its roots in the Prohibition era when the 18th Amendment placed restrictions on the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the US. By the time it was repealed in the 1930s, hundreds of local breweries had been lost, and those that remained only brewed a limited range. Over the years, many of the breweries were taken over by large companies, all brewing pale, bland beers.

But change was on its way: California’s Jack McAuliffe is widely regarded as the forefather of the US craft beer revolution. A naval technician, he worked on a Scottish nuclear submarine base in the 1970s. On his return to the US, he took up home-brewing in an attempt to re-create the ales he had developed a taste for while overseas. In 1976, he turned his hobby into a business and opened the New Albion Brewing Company in Sonoma, California. He transformed equipment from a former dairy and soft drink factory into a brewery. It was California’s first new brewery since Prohibition and the story of how McAuliffe’s pale ale, stout, and porter were taking on the might of Budweiser and Miller became a national news story. Sadly, New Albion closed in 1982, but it was not the only brewery breaking new ground.

Founded in 1896: Anchor Brewing was well established when the New Albion Brewery opened, but it had suffered greatly during Prohibition. However, its fortunes changed following a buyout in 1965 by Fritz Maytag, a Stanford graduate and heir to a washing machine company, which enabled the brewery to invigorate its production and introduce US beer lovers to porter, barley wine, wheat ale, and, of course, its legendary Steam Beer. The brewery also experimented with exciting US hop varieties, such as Cascade. Breweries such as these were brought to the attention of the world with the help of the influential British beer writer and author Michael Jackson, who died in 2007. His vivid writing, public appearances, and TV documentaries fostered and encouraged a worldwide craft beer industry—the landscape of craft beer would look very different today were it not for his influence. Another figure at the forefront of the revolution was Charlie Papazian, who founded the American Homebrewers Association in 1978. It’s an organization that has inspired thousands of brews. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the foundation of the UK’s Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in 1971 was another key moment in the craft beer movement. Consumers now had a forum in which to talk critically about the beers they wanted to drink, and a rise in home-brewing meant that creating their own businesses became a very real possibility. Beer was being taken out of the hands of industrialists and given back to the people.

Since then, innovation and experimentation have been watchwords of the US craft brewing movement, especially in creative, off-the-wall breweries such as Dogfish Head. One of its most unusual limited brews, Chicha, was a re-creation of a South American drink called chichi, which is made with locally grown corn, peppercorns, and fruit. To make the beer, a portion of the corn was ground, chewed up and mixed with saliva, and then spat out and made into small flat cakes, which were dried in the sun. Enzymes in the saliva broke down the starch in the corn to release the sugars necessary for fermentation. Head brewer Sam Calagione said it took six people all day to chew and spit their way through 61 ⁄2lb (3kg) of Peruvian blue corn. Indeed, US craft brewers alone now produce around 140 different beer styles and the number is growing each year. Some of these beers are brand-new—like American-style “brett beer,” a US take on a Belgian lambic. The collaboration between Lost Abbey and New Belgium (p.166) has resulted in the ”all Brettanomyces” beer, Mo’ Betta Bretta, a blond ale, produced using wild fermentation. Other breweries have also taken their cue from Belgium, such as Alaskan, whose Raspberry wheat beer “follows an American take on this Old World style.” Other beer styles, like Adambier—a strong, sour, dark beer—and Grätzer—a top-fermented, smoked wheat beer—are reborn historic beers that were traditionally brewed in Germany and Poland.

However, the craft brewing revolution has now spread from the US to the rest of the world, and innovative and exceptional beers can now be found in every corner of the globe. One of the key ideas of the craft beer revolution has always been a willingness to share ideas and enthusiasm. Initially, brewers might have collaborated with other brewers from the same town; then it became common for brewers from Europe to create a series of collaborative brews with a US counterpart. But now this sharing is truly international. Craft brewers will travel from brewery to brewery and continent to continent, looking for new ideas and offering up their own in exchange. From South Africa and Australia to Japan and Argentina, a robust trade of philosophies and opinions is underway on how to brew great beers. Belgians are talking to Germans, Hungarians are sharing with Poles, and the Italians are leading the way. This worldwide conversation now knows no boundaries, as evidenced by collaborative developments in India, New Zealand, and Brazil, where experienced brewers are offering up their time and talents. Brewers are seeking out historical and long-forgotten recipes, trying to use locally available ingredients, or trying to create new beers—the only rule is that they must be interesting and have exceptional flavor. One such successful collaboration beer is the Anglo-American pale ale Twin Peaks (5% ABV), brewed by California’s Sierra Nevada Brewery and the Thornbridge Brewery in the UK. Sierra Nevada’s brewer Steve Grossman describes the fruity pale ale as “a real collaboration between the Old Country and the New Wave of brewing.”

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