Review of Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out by Josh Noel
I thoroughly enjoyed Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business by Josh Noel. The style is engaging and lively and enticed me to read on through in the space of a day.
The title is carefully written and I sense can be read to appeal to various factions in the contentious argument between ‘craft brewers’ and ‘big beer’ around the world. What does ‘craft’ really mean? How big is big beer? Is the question of quantity versus quality? Who makes the rules? Who defines the terms? Regardless of how ‘you’ answer any of these questions and what side of the posed argument you find yourself on, this book will appeal.
I pre-ordered ‘Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out’ after seeing it mentioned online and was thrilled when it magically appeared on my Kindle two days ago. I sunk in, enjoyed the ride and find myself completely satisfied. It is full, deep and comprehensive in treatment and I come away feeling that I have learned much about the inner workings and varied motivations of both microbrewing and macrobrewing in the US today. The author’s journalistic background shines through in the most positive manner, knowing how to carefully construct/weave a narrative that is not entirely linear and is composed of a large number of characters and subplots.
I feel obliged to mention that it is non-fiction – relayed in an informal, and lyrical narrative – exposing the battle between ‘big beer’ in the United States and the variety of individuals and organisations that wrestle with a definition of what craft brewing and microbrewing entails. Anheuser Busch / InBev is initially pitched as the villain and the independent craft brewers as the heroes engaged in a David and Goliath battle for truth, purity, authenticity and tradition. However, and this is the real strength of this book, it becomes clear that definitions are fluid, perceptions are mixed and if anything, mindsets, motivations and agendas are varied. The reader comes away with a greater understanding of what craft, micro and macro brewing mean to the multitude of players, both on the production and consumption side of the equation. No one side is right or wrong, everyone has different values and these are thoughtfully explored through a rollicking tale of mergers, acquisitions, court battles, PR escapades and human beings practising their crafts and enjoying their livelihoods.
I believe that the author presents the sides in a most balanced and yet nuanced fashion and with a passion for the industry that makes this a highly recommended read.