Reviews of Great American Craft Beer…

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My second book on beer, Great American Craft Beer, is now available to the public and some press reviews and mentions have started to arrive. I’ll try to post them here as I come across them, sometimes with a little pull quote or comment as needed, but mainly for you, the reader or prospective buyer, to get a better sense of the book. A little more information about the book is available on the Running Press website and on Cheers!

Austin American-Statesman

The best book on the best American beer. Here’s your summer beach read: Andy Crouch’s “Great American Craft Beer”

My reading preference is a good book about beer, and I’ve got one for you: “Great American Craft Beer: A Guide to the Nation’s Finest Beers and Brewers” by Andy Crouch (Running Press, $22.95). Crouch is a…fine guide through the whole world of beer — its history, the brewing process, describing a proper atmosphere for tastings, style-specific glassware, the art of a proper pour and chef’s menus for beer dinners.

Crouch also aims to expand beer drinkers’ horizons while not turning them into bores, and he seeks to gently rein in the extreme beer trend…

Norman Miller, the resident Beer Nut for the Daily News Tribune and Gatehouse News Service

Crouch, who also authored one of my go-to beer travel books, “The Good Beer Guide To New England,” puts together an extremely informative book.

Josh Christie for the HopPress

On the first page of his new beer guide Great American Craft Beer, Andy Crouch writes “with the bounty of amazing beers available in every corner of America, never before has there been a better time or place to be a beer drinker.” Thus begins one of the best cases for American exceptionalism that I’ve read in years – not in the traditional political or social sense, but in the realm of brewing and beer. Great American Craft Beer isn’t just a new book to add to the increasingly crowded family of “beer guides.” The compendium is a love letter to craft beer in the US of A, and that there’s enough to fill a 300+ page book is a testament to a brewing movement that’s barely thirty years old.

If you’ve never read any of Crouch’s beer reviews, you’re in for a treat with this book. Beer reviewers are occasionally (and rightfully) accused of having a limited vocabulary when writing about beer, and the author is doing his best to expand our vernacular. Cotton candy hops, notes of graham cracker, “armpit stinky” – Crouch isn’t necessarily Gary Vaynerchuk, but he’s got the same panache for describing what he smells, sees and tastes.

Great American Craft Beer is a book that has some sex appeal for beer lovers from novices to experts. For beginners, Crouch attacks tasting technique, history and all kinds of beer minutia in a super-accessible way. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool beer geek, then yes, some bits on history and glassware are probably retreads. If you’re on a budget and own a bunch of beer guides already, you’ll want to leaf through Great American Craft Beer to make sure it has enough “new” material to excite you. Still, the wit in the writing, the wonderfully descriptive beer reviews and some of the pieces that are uniquely Andy merit a purchase in this reviewer’s opinion (and I know from beer guides).

USA Today

An interview with the Dispatches department about the book and the growing popularity of American craft beer around the world.

Library Journal

“Rather than an exhaustive treatment, this is a guide to available beer styles via a selection of choice examples of each. In an easy manner, Crouch discusses each beer, noting the flavor accents, color, aroma, and feel. He also includes a list of great beer bars and tips on beer selection. Verdict In recent years, beer in America has become more diversified as the craft beer movement has gained momentum, and Crouch gives the beer lover great suggestions to explore.”

Express – Washington Post

Author Andy Crouch treats beer like a fine wine, not something to gulp at a tailgate party. The book offers both a brief history of brewski and tips on properly enjoying a cold one, but mostly serves as a guide to hundreds of American craft beers — from the dark and roasty to the rich and fruity.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

An interview about the book and the resurgence of craft beer in the South.

What’s Cooking on Wine

A recent visit to What’s Cooking on Wine, wherein I discuss why wine tourists to Sonoma and Napa should head up to Santa Rosa to enjoy the real Russian River treasures. Starts around 14:30.

“Andy Crouch does an admirable job of surveying the state of our favorite industry, the U.S. microbrews. His new book (Running Press, $22.95) is crisp, clean and a lot of fun to pore over. (That’s pore, p-o-r-e, not pour, p-o-u-r!)”

But the reviewer chides me a bit for not including some of his favorite local beers. While one or two of his selections appear not to have been in business yet (or for very long) when I wrote the book, I look forward to trying them soon. In the meantime, I’ve written a short piece discussing the criteria for what beers I’ve included in the book and which of your favorites I had to pass over.

In one of the more unusual non-reviews of my book, the local writer suggests you go and buy it based upon the quality of The Good Beer Guide To New England.

Everyone trying to promote craft beer deserves attention from my column. Or maybe I should say almost everyone. Some people just don’t merit any attention at all. But Andy does. If you get a chance, check his book out.

A number of books about craft beer have recently hit the market. Most are guidebooks or simple beer reviews that attempt to tell you the best beers in the world.

There’s a lot of shifting sand in the craft beer world today, especially in this era of expansion and changing ownership. Understanding styles and what makes one beer superior to another is more important than beer ratings.

That’s why my favorite book so far is “Great American Craft Beer” by Andy Crouch.


Concludes that “As a critic, Crouch has done a thorough job.” The reviewer takes me to task for the general state of books on craft beer, some of our design and editorial choices, and for spending only two-third’s of the book on beer reviews…

Tulsa World

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Defining Craft Beer: The (Questionable) Poll…

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Charlie Papazian, founder of the Brewers Association, has a column and poll up asking readers to weigh in on the debate continuing over the definition of craft beer and craft brewer. I’m not going to wade into that whole mess again (read all of its links for my views) except to say, with regards to the present poll questions, that I have no idea what most of the selected definitions even mean. Take for example the presently leading definition:

Any special beer with real and elevated flavor profiles more distinct than typical light American or International lagers made by ANY BREWERY large or small.”

Special beer? Real flavor? Elevated flavor? I can’t say that this particular contribution is doing much to clarify the debate and discussion over the growing use of the term craft beer. I address the topic a bit in my upcoming book, Great American Craft Beer, one which, I might add, includes a couple excellent beers from brewers the Association would not classify as craft brewers.

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Fighting Taste Blindness…

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I have always believed that beer’s greatest asset is its accessibility. When it comes to other beverages, which will go unnamed, the drinker is often left with the sneaking suspicion that someone is playing a joke on them. Try as they may, other beverages prefer to stay at arm’s length from their clientele.

In contrast, beer is like that person you’ve met a couple of times who seems cool but it takes the discovery of a mutual love of the movie Slap Shot or the sound of vinyl records to realize how companionable you really are. After you’ve hit it off, beer opens itself up and invites you to join it for a round or two. At its best, beer employs the oft-forsaken arts of subtlety and nuance, all while presenting itself in a straightforward and easily understood fashion. It’s comfortable in its own skin and is happy to let you view it honestly, not via some externally applied pretension.

The great American essayist and food writer MFK Fisher once condemned our collective unawareness of flavor as being a “nation taste-blind.? The author of such quixotic books as How to Cook a Wolf, Fisher knew a thing or two about breaking through perceived barriers. Writing in the late 1930s, she thought Americans maintained an interest in food insofar as it allowed them to grow full and that they lacked appreciation for the true nuanced pleasure of consumption. I think the same view readily applies to the interest most consumers have for beer; it is but a means for becoming lightly intoxicated or even drunk.

As Fisher observed, most people remain taste-blind because they have never been taught to look for different flavors. Along these lines, I am often approached by passionate beer enthusiasts who lament that their friends simply “don’t get beer? or can’t connect with their particular level of interest in the drink. After listening to their grievances about failed attempts to “convert? their friends through mini-lectures on the history of beer styles and mind-numbing soliloquies on the brewing process, I always counsel a simpler approach. Most people drink simple macro-style lagers, not because they love the flavor only a sixty-four calorie beer can give, but because they haven’t yet experienced that moment where beer no longer tastes like “beer.? In a corollary to Fisher’s aphorism, our taste-blindness when it comes to beer relates to the coordinated campaign of sameness we have all been bombarded with since birth. Beer, on the macro level, is sold not by flavor but by jest; it is differentiated not by character but by degree of levity and penchant for often witless humor.

When I try and welcome new friends to the wider world of craft beer, I start by talking about coffee, bananas, chocolate, oranges, and cotton candy. The words extreme, decoction mashing, and bitterness unit never enter my vocabulary. I’m not trying to teach, I’m trying to take a silent machete to the underbrush obstructing someone’s flavor association faculties. Because when it comes down to it, people understand the flavors that they enjoy; they just don’t realize these can be found in beer. While most people don’t understand beer styles, they clearly appreciate whether they enjoy roasted coffee or orange citrus. With these basic points established, advocates of better beer are on familiar ground when they offer curious friends a sample of porter or India Pale Ale. Considering how well-founded these and many other flavor preferences are, it’s madness to waste the few true moments we have to help people transition from lives of taste-blindness to ones enriched by the full flavor of beer.

-Article appeared in Issue 40 of BeerAdvocate Magazine.

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The End of an Era: Anchor Brewing Passes to New Owners…

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After arriving in Phnom Penh from a six hour bus trip from Siem Reap in northern Cambodia, I learned this afternoon of the sale of the iconic Anchor Brewing Company to new owners. As I’m on vacation and am concentrating on local stories (some beer related) while half-way around the world, I won’t comment on the matter at length. Instead, I’ll point you to Stan’s piece on the situation and the brewery’s curious, unconventional market approach. From its glowing copper brewhouse to its pleasantly antiquated label artwork, Anchor has long seemed more like a placeholder in history than a true competitor in the American beer marketplace. Consumers were able to find Anchor Steam across the country, from local pubs to airport bars and big chain restaurants. But with its equally antiquated bottle dating system, it was always a risk to buy almost any Anchor product in the bottle outside of certain West Coast markets. The few Anchor Liberty bottles I’ve purchased out of a nostalgic respect for Anchor reinforced that unfortunate situation. While I greatly respect Fritz Maytag and the legacy his brewery leaves, the idea that a brewery can remain small and great instead of necessitating an IPO or massive growth is hard to reconcile with Anchor’s distribution to markets all across the country. I definitely agree with the former statement but Anchor lived the approach of spreading itself pretty thin across the country into hard-to-maintain markets far from home.

With Maytag moved into an emeritus position, the new owners, the Griffin Group, will have to learn to rely on something more than legacy, heritage, and reputation to justify the sales of its brands. With that said, I shudder at the thought of a SKYY Vodka team extending the revered Anchor brand name to a new line of boysenberry triple wits aged on balsa. The final takeaway from this new operation is the continuing trend of breweries changing hands, as I’ve long discussed on this site.

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Celebrating The Success Of Craft Beer…

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Craft beer is an amazing thing that we too often take for granted. For many younger drinkers, there has never been a time when they couldn’t buy a pint or sixer of craft beer. The selection may have been limited and its availability far less than today, but it was still there, creating a whole another level of consciousness for a new generation of imbibers.

So much of modern day craft beer, especially among beer geeks, is about looking forwards, all the time searching for the new, the elusive next big thing. We have entire websites dedicated to scouring new label approvals from the federal government even before breweries have decided to announce their plans. We have beer trading lists that allow us never to have the same beer twice, as if opening a second bottle were some sort of social faux-pas or a sign of the dreaded brand loyalty of our beer loving elders.

While we should certainly celebrate the new, to herald advances in palates and processes, this year is also a good time to reflect upon where we’ve been as a craft community and how we came to have such a bounty of excellent beers in front of us. For this year we celebrate several impressive anniversaries of craft beer pioneers. For it was thirty five years ago that Fritz Maytag took interest in the near folding Anchor Brewing Company of San Francisco and laid the groundwork for a movement to follow fifteen years later.

It was thirty years ago that avid homebrewers helped Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi cobble together a rag tag brewing system, made from dairy tanks and a soda pop bottler. And so in the small town of Chico, California, Sierra Nevada was born, in turn giving birth to its eponymous and style defining Pale Ale. Sierra Nevada is rightfully celebrating this milestone and brewing anniversary with the industry at large, cognizant of the truth that craft brewers are not competitors so much as compatriots in the revolution of better beer. From fewer than fifty breweries to more than fifteen hundred today, Sierra Nevada is embarking on a series of collaborative beers with several of the people who helped American craft beer from its earliest days, including Fritz Maytag, Charlie Papazian, Jack McAuliffe, founder of the now-defunct New Albion Brewery, and writer Fred Eckhardt. These beers will be released throughout the year and continuing through the company’s anniversary on November 15, with proceeds going to select charities.

On the opposite side of the country, a business man clad in a dark navy suit and carrying a small briefcase started visiting bars across the Boston area to tell them about his dream. With its debut on Patriot’s Day in April of 1985, the now ubiquitous Samuel Adams Boston Lager and its founder, Jim Koch, celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary. Growing from a few bottles to 500 barrels the first year, it is entirely doubtful that Koch ever dreamed his brewery would live to become the largest such American operation, and within just a quarter century’s time.

As with Sierra Nevada, Anchor, the Boulder Beer Company, and many other craft brewing pioneers celebrating their anniversaries this year, the Boston Beer Company has never lost its passion for beer, even while growing in size. This year it will team up with the world’s oldest brewery, the famous Weihenstephan of Germany, to produce a collaborative, Champagne-style beer with 10-percent alcohol, all within the Reinheitsgebot.

Even amidst the constantly buzzing news of special release beers from exciting new breweries from Dallas to Denmark, let’s take a moment to remember the craft brewing pioneers and help them celebrate their achievements. We are fortunate to have such a rich and growing culture of craft beer in America, all a direct result of the hard work from these generous brewers.

-Article appeared in Issue 36 of BeerAdvocate Magazine.

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