I am a geek. There, I said it. Looking back, I always was. My wife is one, too. Geeks tend to pair up, in my experience. We prefer reading, craft beer, watching documentaries, science fiction and other unpopular pursuits. Our home is filled with books, music, art and three refrigerators. Our kids will most likely be geeks, too. We’re okay with that, or at least resigned to it.
It used to bug me a little, but nowadays I embrace it. I no longer mind living on the fringes of acceptability. The popular kids at school—the beautiful people—grew up to be mostly normal, average and boring non-entities. They constitute the vast majority of conventional, mainstream opinion. They’re the people eating white bread, processed cheese and drinking bland macros. They listen to whatever’s popular, watch what critics tell them, and go to bed early. They miss a lot.
As a child, of course, I read comic books. Didn’t all geeky kids? Thing is, I still do. And I recently noticed something about them that neatly parallels craft beer. The first comic books were collected strips from newspapers. Then in the late 1930s original stories with characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Captain America appeared. Sales skyrocketed faster than a speeding bullet. This became known as the Golden Age of Comics. In American brewing, the 19th century’s industrial revolution kicked into high gear so that by 1870 there were over 4,000 breweries. From then until World War I is likewise often referred to as the Golden Age of Brewing. This is when most of the familiar names in brewing history got their start. But when Prohibition began, it sounded the death knell for beer. The Golden Age was over. After 1933, when Prohibition finally ended, less than 1,000 breweries re-opened, effectively decimating the entire industry.
Meanwhile, back in the superhero world, the baby boom after World War II created a whole new audience for comics and publishers flourished selling books on every imaginable subject. But then “Seduction of the Innocent,” a propagandist tome, was published, weakly arguing that comics caused juvenile delinquency. It didn’t matter that the rise in delinquents exactly paralleled the rise in population. Parents and other misguided do-gooders panicked and Congress held hearings. The industry agreed to self-censorship and the “Comics Code” was born, limiting what they published to G-rated fare. Many publishers went out of business.
Then, like a flash, came…well, the Flash; and the Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Iron Man and countless costumed crime-fighters and villains. In the 1960s, comics rebounded in a big way. This was the Silver Age of Comics. Most comic book characters you can name come from this flurry of creativity.
At around this same time, Fritz Maytag bought the ailing Anchor Brewery in San Francisco. Along with Ballantine, it was one of the few American breweries that wasn’t making interchangeable light lagers that could only be differentiated through vast marketing budgets. American beer continued its downward spiral as mergers and closings further reduced their number. Beer was not only on the ropes, but the referee had started counting. Only around fifty remained by 1980.
We all know what happened next. Chances are, if you’ve read this magazine all the way to this last page, you know the story, too. Inspired by Jack McAuliffe’s short-lived New Albion Brewery…and Anchor…and better imported beer…and homebrewing, the time was ripe. Ken Grossman, Bert Grant, Don Barkley and countless other pioneers started brewing flavorful ales at Sierra Nevada, Grant’s and Mendocino, along with plenty of others. This was the start of what I’ve taken to calling the Silver Age of Brewing, an age we’re still in the middle of. And like the comics silver age before it, ours is also defined by creativity, innovation and a break from what came before it while at the same time honoring its traditions. Many brewing superheroes have emerged from this time, and happily none have taken to wearing a cape. All kidding aside, it’s unquestionably the best time for beer in the history of the world. If the Golden Age was all about technology and creating the modern brewery, this Silver Age is about the art of flavor and craftsmanship. If you love beer, you couldn’t have picked a better time to be alive. Welcome to the Silver Age. I’m having the time of my life.
Jay R. Brooks has been writing about beer for nearly 20 years, and drinking it far longer. He was formerly a beer buyer for Beverages & More and the general manager of the Celebrator Beer News. He also writes online at the idiosyncratic Brookston Beer Bulletin from his home in Marin County, CA. He’s unapologetically a geek of many stripes.