The story of craft beer in America is as much about good beer as it is small business. I find it fascinating.
Tom Acitelli has captured the relatively short history (50 years) of craft beer in America in “The Audacity of Hops” (Chicago Review Press, Inc., 2013, $19.95). This is generally not a book review column, but the excellent story of the growth of craft beer also provides a foundation for Tucson’s beer revolution.
It all started in 1965 in San Francisco when Fritz Maytag (great-grandson of the appliance-company founder) enjoyed an Anchor Steam Beer at the Old Spaghetti Company in San Francisco’s North Beach. Anchor Steam had been around on and off since the late 1800s. It wasn’t a great beer, but it was different, very different and tasted better than the mass-market beers.
The Anchor Brewing Co. was about to go out of business. Maytag bought a 51 percent interest, saving the company from oblivion. He later purchased the remainder of the company, becoming the sole owner.
As Maytag and his crew made consistently good beer and widened distribution, many of those who tried it liked it and realized there was an alternative to the Budweiser, Coors, Hamm’s and Schlitz beers of the day. Maytag’s introduction of craft beer (and the growing availability of European beers in the U.S.) caused the birth of the craft-beer industry we know and love today.
The first startup craft brewer was Jack McAuliffe with his New Albion Brewing in Sonoma County, Calif., in 1977. While his beer and brewery became popular, it failed several years later.
McAuliffe’s startup inspired others to do the same. Throughout northern California and in Colorado, microbreweries started popping up. Some survived, some didn’t. But the craft brew movement started and it hasn’t stopped.
Although the industry started in California, Acitelli’s book covers the industry’s growth across the country. The people involved in the movement are characters and Acitelli portrays them well.
One of those characters is the founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing, Ken Grossman. Grossman managed a bike shop in Chico, Calif., after dropping out of college, then opened a home-brewing store. After visiting Anchor and New Albion, Grossman opened Sierra Nevada in Chico in 1981. Today, Sierra Nevada is the second largest craft brewer in the country. In addition to a facility in Chico, it is opening another brewery in North Carolina this summer.
This rich history has been duplicated in Tucson on a smaller scale. In a future column, we’ll take a look at Tucson’s beer history and the people who created it.
Paul Pedersen writes a monthly column on Tucson’s beer scene. Contact him at email@example.com