Inside 'The Craft Beer Revolution'

There have been many beneficiaries of the craft beer explosion, well beyond the brewing and distribution sectors. Among those has been publishing, as the segment has created a literary genre unto itself with so many books on the subject. However, there are very few that can claim the unique perspective of “The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers Is Transforming the World’s Favorite Drink.” It’s written by Steve Hindy, co-founder, chairman and president of Brooklyn Brewery, an accomplished former journalist—he was the Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press, witnessing first hand and reporting on some of the most significant events in the modern history of the region. His journalist training comes through in his attention to detail and storytelling acumen, which, combined with his 26-year veteran insider’s vantage point, make for the rare page-turner among industry-focused books. “The Craft Beer Revolution,” now available from Palgrave Macmillan, is a warts-and-all account of the development of the segment and the cast of characters that ultimately have made craft nearly 10 percent of U.S. beer volume—and counting.  Hindy recently shared some of his insights with Beverage World.

You bring a unique perspective. You’re an insider and active participant in the craft brewing industry, but you’re also an accomplished journalist. How do you feel that has informed your writing?

Steve Hindy: It’s maybe a little inside baseball, but it’s important inside baseball because people don’t understand how complicated this is. I’ve just been struck over the 26 years that I’ve been working in the business about what an amazing story it is. It’s really hundreds of stories. I’ve been collecting stories for all of these years, kind of thinking that someday I would write the whole story. Another amazing thing about the craft brewing industry is the media have really followed us very closely from the very beginning—the mainstream and the beverage and beer media. There are a lot of sources of information out there.

Would you say the mainstream media are actually starting to get what craft beer is all about?

I think there are probably still some people who think of this as a fad even though we’re expecting to be 10 percent of a $100 billion industry. [With that] you’ve got a pretty good case that it isn’t a fad. And that’s 10 percent of volume. When you count dollars it’s probably 15 percent. [Brewers Association 2013 figures have the segment at nearly 8 percent and 14.3 percent for volume and revenue, respectively, gaining nearly 1.5 volume share points and 4 revenue share points over the prior year.] And what better evidence is there than the fact the fact that the large brewers are very aggressively now trying to compete with our segment.

Share some of your thoughts on how those big brewers are trying to play in the craft segment.

In the index of the book I trace their efforts to compete with our segment back to the ’80s, but I only think it’s been in the last five years that they’ve started to get some traction with their craft-like brands. Actually, I’m pretty sure they know how difficult a challenge this is for them. The more they promote flavorful beer, the more they undercut their big brands and hasten the decline of their big brands. And as you know they’ve lost about 18 million barrels just in the last four years, which is just an astounding volume of beer.

In the book you were very candid about some of the tensions among brewers, specifically some of your clashes with Boston Beer’s Jim Koch in the early years. Did you get any feedback from Koch on some of the content?

If you go to Amazon where the book is posted, they’ve posted all the blurbs that people have done and Jim did one. [He wrote] ‘While Steve Hindy and I still disagree about many things, including some of his stories in this book, no one has done a better job of bringing to life the cast of characters who created the craft beer revolution. He does a great job of telling the story of how American beer went from also ran to the envy of the world.’

Jim and I are friends. We certainly did have many battles over the years and he’s certainly a worthy competitor.

Do you ever fear that “craft” will lose its meaning?

Of course we don’t want it to lose its meaning and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of educating people about our definition of craft brewer. The danger is that it would become sort of co-opted the way ‘organic’ has in the food world. There are things we have done, like the “craft vs. crafty” [argument] in the newspaper, that have really captured the imagination of the public and the media. Versions of that pop up fairly often in the media. It means something to people what we said. It really aggravated the big brewers. The purpose was to differentiate us from the big brewers. We are very different. The impact we have on our communities is very different from the impact they have.

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