Book review

Hops not what I hoped for

Tom Acitelli
Chicago Review PressThe-Audacity-of-Hops

I’ve been waiting for a while for a great book about the history of the US craft beer scene (or ‘‘revolution’’ as the subtitle of this book calls it). And so I was excited from the first moment I heard about The Audacity of Hops, figuring this would be that great book.

It certainly helped that I heard about the book on the blog of Maureen Ogle – author of Ambitious Brew. She praised it, and said that now journalists will have someone else to call if they want quotes about the history of beer in the United States. I liked her book, so I thought Acitelli’s must be great too.

Well, I was wrong. It aint bad but I can tell you that it took me a long time to get through it – more than two weeks. Being a book geek too, I usually finish a book a week – sometimes more. So for me to spend more than a fortnight reading a book dealing with a subject I’m passionate about isn’t a great sign. I should have blitzed my way through it; instead, it felt like a slog.

The highlight of the book are the first sections where Acitelli details the early history of craft beer in the United States. It’s a highlight because no-one has really collected this much detail on those early years. Hell, no-one could possibly have expected craft beer to become what it is, so there wouldn’t have been a pressing need for anyone to be taking notes at the beginning.

It’s that very same detail that bogs down the remaining two-thirds of the book. Judging by this book Acitelli is a tremendous researcher; I’m sure there’s not a single newspaper or journal article, or book about US craft beer that he hasn’t used for The Audacity of Hops. But he’s not that great in turning all that detail into a compelling narrative. Most of this book reads like Acitelli wanted to wedge in as many facts as he could; for instance, does the reader really need to know the stock market codes every time Acitelli writes about one launching a share offer? How does that detail enhance the story.

So rather than zooming along – like Ogle’s book does – I got bogged down by all the detail. The book really needed a coherent, simple narrative – perhaps it would have been better served by culling the number of breweries and brewers and focusing on a few of them to tell the wider story of the development of craft beer.

But I guess it’ll have to do until that great book about the US craft beer scene comes along.


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