Two confessions before I begin this review. One, is that I met and drank Bourbon County Brand Stout with Brett Porter in L.A. in a weird office building location with no other bloggers around. And two, I read Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out over a single day. I couldn’t stop.
Author Josh Noel has crafted a real page turner. It starts at the beginning of Goose Island and stops with the new Independent Seal being introduced by the Brewers Association and in between it covers all of the highs and lows of the strange phase of beer world where SABInBev was buying up breweries.
Though Big Beer is taken to task, this book is no screed against capitalism. This book is super fair but isn’t fair just to preclude future arguments. Neither John Hall or his son Greg get off unscathed but they also get the credit that is due to them. Same for the SABInBev folks. And that is important in history is to tell both sides as fully as possible while also using hindsight to point out where people made mistakes, small or tragic.
This is the first beer history book that has really used social media reaction in just the right proportion. It would have been easy to rely on the funniest tweets or posts but Noel has taken a measured approach to the outsized reactions that I remember reading and hearing about.
The big take-away for me was when Greg Koch from Stone refers to SABInBev as the Borg. The mega-villain of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is apt and I went back to earlier chapters and it really fits. They just want to take over beer. They will use whatever loophole or checkbook to get to that point but they are and will forever be at the mercy and stymied by individualism.
It is why craft beer was able to grow so big and it is why they still lag behind craft when it comes to setting the trends and agendas for beer. Everytime they trot out the worn saying, that the only thing that matters is the beer, you can see them sniggering behind the curtain or hear them sneaking up behind you. They just aren’t authentic.
But for most people, the beer in the glass is only part of the equation. For some, it is the company around the table and the beer, for others it is the big game and beer, and for others it is the beer and the story of the beer.
This book cemented my thoughts on the sell-outs while also deepening my understanding of the people who did it and the people who still work there.
As the Texas brewery Jester King said when Wicked Weed was sold, and I am loosely paraphrasing here, they remain our friends but we don’t like who they aligned themselves with and won’t pour their beer. That is where I stand as well.
One last thing, get this book!