For the craft brewers who started forging their passion in the eighties and nineties, things didn’t come that easy. Finding the proper equipment, wrestling with a tight budget, and pushing back a cloud of skepticism were some of their nagging companions.
Odds stacked against them, how were they able to overcome, beer in hand?
Slide with us into the early days of craft brewing and learn about some of the most fascinating brewers who have left a lasting mark on craft beer culture that scores of enthusiasts—and fellow brewers—respect and admire today.
A curious mind, a tinkerer at heart
Ken Grossman put up Sierra Nevada Brewing Company by hand, literally.
At the company’s first brewhouse, he built the brewing equipment using repurposed scrap metal from discarded dairy machinery. These were then used to brew the first batches of beer.
Eager to make things run smoother, Ken went back to college and took up welding, electrical wiring, computer science, and business classes. Evidently, the need to innovate was instinctual, all because he wanted to see what beer can truly be with a lot of flavors and alcohol from a totally creative approach.
Ken’s constant pursuit for greater things makes Sierra Nevada celebrated not only for its products but for its sustainability practices.
The company’s breweries in California and North Carolina harness solar and wind powers, reuse carbon dioxide into energy and produce their organic hops and barley on-site, among other innovations.
As for the beers that Ken first brewed, they have become icons, particularly the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It’s among the first craft beers to use Cascade hops, the key ingredient that sparked the American craft beer revolution.
Brewing for the local community
After covering the war as a journalist, Steve Hindy flew home and co-founded Brooklyn Brewery.
Early on, Steve’s dream was to one day build a brewery in Brooklyn and re-establish the borough’s beer tradition that goes back to the 1600s.
In its first year, Brooklyn Brewery made lagers from upstate New York through a deal with another brewery. The beers were then distributed from a van Steve and his co-founder Tom Potter drove, and these were sold solely around their area. The path to progress was slow, but friends and neighbors had their backs since day one, pooling resources on the onset to support the business.
In return, Steve kicked off a local movement, teaching people about craft beers through tasting events and food pairing dinners at bars and restaurants across New York.
He wanted to prove that beer is not just something one can guzzle to overcome nervousness at parties and gatherings. It’s a drink everyone can learn to appreciate and pair with the right food.
A decade later, Brooklyn Brewery finally opened its brewhouse at home in Brooklyn. This didn’t only bring back the borough’s beer tradition, but it continues to help local businesses flourish and educate people from different walks of life. The brewery also supports local communities and movements for the LGBT, artists, intellectuals, and other minorities.
The passion for a revolution
Jim Koch started a craft beer revolution from his father’s attic.
Standing up to tremendous doubt, he eventually received the family’s beer recipe that became the Sam Adams Boston Lager.
What should seem like a walk in the park for Jim and his newly founded Boston Beer Company drew skepticism. In the eighties, the prevailing idea about beer in the US was that it should be cold, fizzy, and came in cans you can crush on your forehead. Getting the word out to clueless drinkers about a craft beer from a small independent brewer was a tall order.
At one point when Jim went door-to-door, someone pulled a gun at him after he opened his briefcase filled with beer bottles. Undeterred, he stuck with his passion for better-tasting beers.
And, like Samuel Adams, the American revolutionary leader, Jim worked hard to make his products good enough to be worthy of people’s attention and hard-earned money.
In nearly four decades of the Boston Beer Company, Jim stays hands-on, taking a sip of every batch of beer made at the brewery. As a testament to his tireless effort, the company is among the top craft breweries in the world.
Sticking to the goal
When beer lovers in the US were still warming up to craft beers, Rob Tod put up Allagash Brewing Company and introduced a different idea at that time: traditional Belgian-style Wheat Beer.
After the first batch was released of what is now Allagash White, he was bombarded with questions like “Why is it too cloudy?”, “Why does it smell different?” and “Why does it taste different to what I’m used to?”
A lot of confusion came from a lot of people, and Rob embraced them.
In the first decade, Rob went all out to educate at different occasions like beer dinners. He practically explained Allagash’s style of beer every opportunity he gets.
In addition, he talked about what kinds of beers work for appetizers, entrees, and desserts. From his hometown in Maine, he traveled westward to California where Allagash White was welcomed with open arms by craft beer enthusiasts.
As demand for Allagash ballooned in many states, Rob insisted to give back to his community first, working with local farmers to supply their grains despite higher costs. For him, even if Allagash never ends up selling a lot, he will continue to stick to what he believes in.
These pioneering brewers, united by their desire for greater beers, weaved their paths on the same thread and left an impact on the craft beer culture. Their pursuit has inspired scores of enthusiasts not just to dive into a unique drinking experience, but to act on what they passionately believe in.
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