Behind the Brew-sic

Brewery tales would make for a great series similar to Behind the Music. Like all trailblazers, the early craft brewers had the privilege of making all the mistakes. No amount of mentoring or education could prepare them for what was truly new territory. In reading various memoirs and re-tellings of craft beer history, I have learned much about what the makers of these fine products have done to bring us a better beverage. It is easy to forget that behind most things we consume, there is a story (or at least substantial time and effort).

Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione was well on his way to opening day when he discovered that operating a brewpub in the state of Delaware was not legal. No problem. He just worked to draft legislation and pass a bill to change the law. Really. See Sam tell the tale.

Tony Magee from Lagunitas had an overly cloudy beer that was supposed to ship days later for accounts expecting large holiday crowds. Despite never filtering his offerings previously, he purchased a filter on a 60-day credit and moved the 500 pound tank into the brewery himself, almost crushing his leg in the process. This was one of many perilous instances of his tightrope walk to success.

Sierra Nevada bought a German brew house with plans to reassemble it in California. The plans, however, were not projected to take three years. While they were struggling to meet demand on a Frankenstein system that was “tweaked” (e.g. kettle welding experiments to increase capacity), they were saving up to eventually fund the new brewhouse.

As you likely know, these stories had happy endings and all three brands are now poster children of the craft beer movement. If you are eager for a glimpse behind the beers, I recommend the following beer books:

The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution  – A celebration of our collective beer geek history for bearded and beardless alike. This is probably the best place to start since it covers various breweries and the overall story of American craft beer.

Brewing Up a Business: Adventures in Entrepreneurship from the Founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery – I mentioned only one of Sam’s many “adventures” in this post. 90 Minute and IBA were staples when I was first starting to get beer crazy. Despite my bias, this is fun read from one of the leading champions of the better beer cause.  

Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America’s Kings of Beer – Good fodder for beer nerds that love to hate on macros. More than that, I think you will find an interesting contrast of beer culture and understand what those trying to make a space are up against.

Beyond the Pale: The Story of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. – How many of these memoirs can one guy read? All of them. Again, we have a wonderful tale of passion and perseverance. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was a gateway beer for many who now make your favorite beer.

So you want to start a brewery?: The Lagunitas Story – From how he tells it, Tony Magee redefined the art of winging it. Recently selling fifty percent of the company, his brand is now on the path to become synonymous with IPA worldwide. Underdog to Wonder Dog (there is a dog on their labels).


If you just can’t enough, try Beer School about Brooklyn Brewery, The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.: Liquid Lore, Epic Recipes, and Unabashed Arrogance, and Mikkeller’s Book of Beer.
Footnote: Dranks that got drank’d while considering and writing this post included Night Shift Whirlpool, Stone Enjoy By 12.25.15, and Pretty Things Jack D’or.

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