You love the blog, so subscribe to the Beervana Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud today!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Five Most Important Figures in Craft Brewing

Lists proliferate at the end of the year, and most of them are useful for starting conversations--but not a lot else. The New York Observer identifies the five most important figures in craft brewing, though, and it's hard to argue with their list:
  • Jack McAullife, who founded the first micro (New Albion).
  • Fritz Maytag, who provided a blueprint for the modern micro (Anchor).
  • Ken Grossman, who founded Sierra Nevada.
  • Jim Koch, who founded Boston Beer and pioneered contract craft brewing.
  • Fred Eckhardt, the "dean of American beer writers."
It's an intriguing question. Importance is difficult to identify. All of the Observer's choices are respectable and defensible, but if I were to put together a list, it wouldn't include the three California brewers. You could make the argument than any of them "founded" craft brewing, but maybe all three is overkill. Jim Koch is a great businessman, and founding a beer business based on a contract-brewing model was actually pretty brilliant. (Though most people haven't forgiven him for it.) And Fred is clearly the most important beer writer in US history, but was he the most important writer? I'd probably go with this five:
  • Fritz Maytag. When people regale the story of Anchor, Fritz gets credit for rehabbing an ancient brewery and bringing back the steam beer style. But his biggest contribution was showing that it was possible to find a market that would buy traditional, expensive all-barley and whole-hop beer.
  • Ken Grossman. He was one of the pioneers in craft brewing and put all the elements together. One of the most important aspects of his approach was quality control, which is not incidental in Sierra Nevada's longtime success.
  • Bert Grant. All the brewers in the Observer's list are production breweries, but Bert was the first one to see the potential in brewpubs.
  • Dave Logsdon. If you've ever read the story about Redhook brewing, you know that yeast wasn't always easy to find. Americans didn't really know how to brew, and yeast was a topic mostly beyond their ken. Logsdon, who founded Wyeast, is perhaps more responsible than any brewer for the proliferation of authentic beer styles in the US.
  • Michael Jackson. Although I love the Observer's choice of the most colorful, lovable figure in Beervana, I'd say that it was Michael Jackson's World Guide to Beer that set brains spinning.
But as lists are principally for starting discussions, I throw it back you--who would you include?


  1. How about Charlie Papazian? Your list focuses on people who helped start and shape the craft beer movement- Charlie helped get more people involved in homebrewing, without which, one might argue, not as many craft breweries would be popping up all over the country.

  2. I like your top 5, Jeff. If I was going to expand it, I'd probably include Papazian (he founded the GABF, too); Kim Jordan of New Belgium, who has built a big craft brewery, promoted it well and moved toward "green" practices and employee ownership; grudgingly, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head; and probably the Alstrom brothers of BeerAdvocate for founding a massive online community built around beer.

  3. A Top Five list in Craft brewing is to vague, need Top Five lists to be broken down into categories. Brewer, Entrepreneur, Influence, Promotion, Trail Blazer, etc.

    Bert Grant was a very early craft brewer, but not sure what he contributed that changed the beer world. I remember he introduced America to a lot of beer styles that had been lost in our memory. But! Beer quality? I don't remember having too many (if any) great tasting Grant's Beers.

    Michael Layborne was the brewer at Mendocino Brewing Co which was the first LEGAL Brewpub opened in California. Trail blazer or just a early pioneer?

    Yes, Brittany,you are 100% right. The beer revolution in this country started from within the homebrew community and Charlie played a major roll in that drive, as did Michael Jackson. Jackson worked and traveled with Papazian in the early years as did Fred.

    The lists could be interesting and informative. Maybe the Doc will work on a few lists after Festivus!

  4. I was on the fence about whether to go for Charlie or Fritz, and I would easily accept that as a great list.

    Doc, read the text. Bert gets the nod for starting America's first brewpub. He showed how brewers could petition state legislatures to change the law making them legal. That's huge.

  5. I would stick Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery in there for sure.

  6. Greg Noonan, Charlie Bamforth, and Bert Grant all would have been worthwhile additions. Michael Jackson's impact on the world of beer still can't be overstated. His Beer Guide is still the best book ever written on beer, IMO.

    I also don't think Garret Oliver belongs on the list. He wasn't a founding member of Brooklyn Brewery and his greatest achievement seems to be in what you can mask as having to do with beer on the Today Show.

  7. Yep... Your right Jeff. Give Grant his kudos for first brew pub. That can't be argued.

    I guess any brewer or owner of a small brewery start up between 82-85 should be on the list. All men of vision or recklessness depending how you look at it. ;-)

    When it comes to Home brewing, there's also a short list going back to origin of the AHA. Dave Miller, Dave Line (some of the oldest books), Charlie, Fred, Gregg Noonan and Byron Burch were all pioneering Home brewing text and info.

    I remember grabbing "All about Beer" magazines back in the 80's. One of the few Beer publications back then, as well as, Charlies' Zymurgy and early Beer Rag Mags like Celebrator and Southern Draft were very informative. Brewing Techniques (93-99) was a wonderful Mag that bridged the gap for Home brewers wanting to become more advanced or pro. Back issues are still very popular due to their wealth of knowledge.

    Education in brewing? Dr Michael Lewis of UC Davis or Seibel in Chicago.

    Brewers that changed the world by breaking the molds and having vision? Larry Bell comes to mind. Remember meeting him in the early 90's... He was WAY out there on being innovative. Talking about beer concepts and new styles that I have yet to ever see developed.

    So many people to consider....

  8. This is why I call any Top # list like chicken-shit bingo. There's any number of great names you can land on and picking just 5 or 10 is fairly arbitrary. Having said that, when I published my Mt. Rushmore of Craft Beer, which necessitates picking four figures, the Observer fell in lockstep: Maytag, McAuliffe, Grossman, and Koch.