Had I driven to 37 breweries around the country, my focus would have been mostly on the beers. Long-winded reviews discussing the pluses and minuses of the flagship brew from each brewery would make up the bulk of the book. Interviews with owners, CEOs and head brewers would have taken the backseat, and tales of the travels between breweries would have been brief, if included at all. Basically, the book would have been for the dyed-in-the-wool, “nothing matters but the beer” beer geek. Oh, and the writing would make obvious that while Yaeger holds a master’s degree in Professional Writing, putting together stunning prose wasn’t the focus of my undergraduate studies.
Luckily, I didn’t write Red, White and Brew – Brian Yaeger did. A lover of American craft beer since his first sip of Dixie’s Blackened Voodoo Lager at a beer festival in Santa Barbara, the author set out to meet the people behind America’s microbrewing revolution. Brian “set a course for every which direction,” interviewing outlaws, company founders and homebrewers-cum-brewmasters in the name of beer. In the book, we ride in the passenger seat as Yaeger travels a circuitous route around the US, meeting with innovators at breweries founded as long ago as the 1800s and as recently as the late 1990s. Between breweries, we get to hear about the food, landscape and quirks of our country.
While Brian visited 37 breweries in all, the meat of the book is the fourteen that he picked at which to conduct interviews. The author is a top-notch interviewer, and offers a wealth of information about each brewery’s operations before (and in some cases after) the subject’s involvement. The personalities of the industry really shine through, from young and optimistic Sam Calagione to the downright crazy “Electric Dave.” Though being a beer-lover certainly adds tremendously to enjoying this book, it is certainly worth a read as a celebration of the entrepreneur. Remember that less than 100 years ago prohibition was national policy in this country, homebrewing was illegal until less than 50 years ago, and the popularity of any beer not brewed by Bud, Miller or Coors was basically unchallenged until the 80s when craft breweries began to emerge. With these facts in mind, you realize some of the tremendous odds these breweries have faced. Yaeger’s respect for these breweries and repeated acknowledgment of the challenges before them certainly adds to the charm of the book.
Along those same lines, Yaeger’s gift for description and love of the US make Red, White and Brew a joy to read. While I was worried at the beginning of the book that the details of the travels between breweries would be unnecessary at best and annoying at worst, the genuine affection given to every meal and every pit stop made the journey just as enjoyable as the sudsy destinations. The book isn’t perfect – I would have liked a bit more detail about the beer actually being consumed, and the passing mention (sometimes only a sentence) of the 20+ breweries where interviews weren’t done left me wondering why they were included at all. Gripes aside, I can highly recommend Red, White and Brew to any beer lover (or beer-liker, or beer-casual-fan). Perhaps the highest praise I can give this book is that I was just as captivated by interviews at breweries I had never heard of as I was by those conducted in my own backyard. Oh, and it made me wicked thirsty.
Red, White, and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey by Brian Yaeger – 14.95 – 272 pages – Paperback – ISBN 9780312383145 – St. Martin’s Griffin