It's well known that we've been living through a craft brewing boom for the past few years. But when you think about it, craft beer was actually the default throughout American history. Lauren Clark, a longtime drinks writer from Boston, digs back into our sudsy past in her new book, Crafty Bastards: Beer in New England from the Mayflower to Modern Day, out now from Union Park Press. It traces American beer history from the first settlers through the industrial revolution and up to today's high profile craft beer moment.
Clark, who's written about spirits for the New York Times and the Boston Globe and founded DrinkBoston.com, says the homemade roots of early beer brewing are something readers might be surprised to learn about. Most of the brewing was done by women. “Really, until it became industrial, it was a small scale activity that was done at home or in a tavern,” she says. “Even a lot of taverns were mom and pop operations. For centuries in Britain, women were the primary brewers. And the people who settled North America brought that tradition with them.”
Clark will be signing books at an event on June 10 at Stoddard's called Beer and Broads. Hosted by Girls Pint Out and Boston Area Beer Enthusiasts Society, it will feature beers brewed by local women brewers.
Clark travelled throughout New England to over 100 breweries to tell their stories. The book can also double as a beer-lovers vacation itinerary. One she found most memorable was the Marshall Wharf Brewing Company in Belfast, Maine. “The beer garden is just great, it's got this sort of retro look and feel to it. They serve great beers, it's a great location. Belfast used to be a shipping, industrial, slightly depressed town, but it's getting artsy and hip.” At home in Boston, she recommends Deep Ellum and The Publick House as jumping off points for beer adventures.
In the book, she tells the stories of some memorable brewing characters – and characters is often a great way to describe them. One of her favorites? Tod Mott. “He started in the early days of craft brewing, and has brewed for like 30 years,” she says. “He's responsible for Harpoon IPA and also for a cult Beer Advocate favorite called Kate the Great Russian Imperial Stout from Portsmouth Brewery. He really kind of represents the title of the book. He worked a bunch of jobs, is famous for a couple of beers, and is really well respected in the industry. ... He's just sort of a resilient down to earth, fun guy.”
You have to be in this business.
While it seems like craft beer is everywhere, Clark points out that it still only represents about 10 percent of national beer sales. While she wouldn't be surprised if things slowed down eventually, it's still a great time to be a beer lover. “I just think anybody who likes to drink local New England beer should be optimistic. Even during the last slowdown, most of the breweries survived and kept on doing their thing and getting better. Beers are going to be better and better because the consumer is more educated, they know better what a good beer tastes like. The brewing keeps getting better.