America’s craft beer revolution detailed one sip at a time in ‘The Audacity of Hops’
Bottoms up, craft beer lovers! A new book by beer enthusiast and journalist Tom Acitelli is getting us nice and thirsty for a pint of something heavy on the hops. “The Audacity of Hops” explores the craft beer revolution as people put down the cans and pick up home-bottled or specialty brews instead. Bring your appetite, too — Acitelli says a big part of the craft beer revolution is accompanying your brew of choice with something delicious to snack on.
You’re no stranger to writing about beer. What attracts you to the topic, other than the obvious perk of sampling the goods?
I actually approached it as a journalist telling a business story and this, at its heart, is that. As I started researching, I found the craft beer business intersects with a lot of culinary trends. Another tangent is the role that craft breweries physically played in different cities. Anchor Brewery in San Francisco is that city’s biggest manufacturing company. Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg had a lot to do with the gentrification in Brooklyn.
What do you think sparked the craft beer revolution? Were beer drinkers just tired of the mass-produced stuff?
There were two things: There was an excise tax cut in 1976 for smaller brewers. Suddenly, it became less expressive to brew on a smaller scale. Two years later, home brewing was legalized at a federal level in 1978. Home brewers could hobnob with commercial brewers, get new material from Europe and suddenly take that knowledge and turn pro at lower costs. I do think along with that was a societal shift; people did get tired of homogenized beer. It all tasted the same after a while.
Usually wine is more commonly paired with food, but craft beer is really blazing its own trail. What is the concept of locavorism and how does craft beer play a role?
One of the key concepts in craft beer is traditional ingredients. Another thing is small batches. That gels nicely with locavorism, which is eating artisanal foodstuffs that are made close to where they are consumed. The intersection of beer and fine food happened very early. The idea that beer can be on the same level as wine, as far as accompanying food, has been going on for a long time, but has really picked up steam in the last 10 years because these [craft] breweries in neighborhoods have helped spawn their own restaurants. I was at one about two years ago — it was a walking tour of Brooklyn beer history and it ended at a restaurant, and it paired beer with cheese. That wouldn’t have happened in Brooklyn about 10 years ago.
The book highlights lots of interesting craft brews that are popping up, including a honey ale at the White House. What was the most interesting example you encountered in your research?
The thing that got me was the rise in extreme beer. It is a unique thing to the United States. Other countries are experimenting with it, but extreme beer is very much an American invention. It’s beer made with extreme amounts of traditional ingredients, like a lot of hops, or extremely unusual ingredients like roots, candies or powders — things that would not have occurred to a Belgian brewer, but Americans do it. To me, extreme beer is an excellent example of American ingenuity.
You dedicated the book to your parents. Are they big beer drinkers?
Not at all. They don’t drink, really. If they had to drink, they would drink Italian wine.
Do you have a favorite beer?
I don’t have a favorite, but I can tell you I used to be very fond of extreme beers, the hoppier beers. Maybe it’s a function of age, but I now appreciate the milder, lower-alcohol beers, a lot of the ones being brewed in the Northeast. I can’t drink like I used to. The extreme beers make it a little difficult to wake up the next morning and work.
Meet Tom Acitelli at his NYC book signings:
Blind Tiger Bar
281 Bleeker St.
79 N. 11th St.