Editor’s Note: This story appears in the March 2015 issue of All About Beer Magazine. You can see a timeline of All About Beer Magazine covers throughout the years here. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.
In 1979, in the fourth issue of All About Beer, at the bottom of the penultimate page, this brief news item appeared: “We’re checking out rumors of a new steam brewery located in Chino, California, called the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.”
Journalistically, the reporting fell short of ideal. The brewery would not open for another year; it was not a steam beer brewery; and, despite the excitement of the southern California-based writers at All About Beer for whom Chino would be a local destination, the site of the future Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. was actually Chico, 500 miles to the north.
Apart from that, great coverage. For the subscribers who pulled that 16-page broadsheet issue out of their mailboxes, this was the first they would read about Sierra Nevada. All About Beer would write frequently—and more accurately—about this new brewery, but many readers would not be able to purchase its beers for another decade or more, nor the beers of other talked-about young breweries like Boulder, Newman’s or Boston Beer as they came on line. It’s fair to say that during that first phase of the American beer “revolution,” it was easier to find good writing about beer than it was to find good beer, itself.
In the late seventies, there was scant evidence that beer was on the brink of re-invention. American brewery numbers were at a post-Prohibition nadir of fewer than 90, and most brands were of a single style: pale lager. Given that, who would read a magazine devoted to beer?
At the time, there were two sets of people who had long made beer their hobby: collectors of breweriana, who traded in antique cans, advertising material and other ephemera of the brewing industry; and homebrewers, whose underground pastime would be declared legal in California in the summer of 1978, and at the federal level a few months later. These specialized hobbies, though, already had or were building their own publications, associations and conventions. Besides, these were esoteric pursuits, with no natural connection to a broader public.
It was the emergence of a third cohort that prompted a small team of California print professionals to launch their own title. As founder Mike Bosak explained in 1992, “Seventeen years ago when All About Beer was conceived, it was inspired by a sign I saw on my local liquor store that read, ‘Five Imported Beers Sold Here!’ A few months later the sign was changed to read, ‘Ten Imported Beers Sold Here!’ That was when a group of us did our homework and discovered that there were no publications strictly for the consumer of beer.”
When the magazine debuted with the tagline “The world’s only consumer publication about beer,” the publisher indicated that the interests of the curious beer drinker took prominence over those of collectors and homebrewers, although those groups would also be catered to. In some issues, there wasn’t much to write about, and, in those pre-Internet days, information was hard to come by. Features on imported beer, beer can collecting or homebrew techniques were interspersed with articles about chili cook-offs, football, barroom lore and other topics apparently tailored for a male audience.
Imported beers set the standard for the magazine’s readership. From the first issue, however, a new phenomena also generated interest: the tiny club of small breweries opening in the United States, offering styles that gave consumers an alternative to domestic lager. Fritz Maytag, who had rescued San Francisco’s Anchor Brewery in 1964, was selling his beer in eight states. Jack McAuliffe had built and opened New Albion, the first new microbrewery: an AAB staff member found McAuliffe’s beers while on a gold-panning trip to northern California, and declared “Those people at New Albion know what they’re doing. Both porter and stout are the equal of the best imports.”
New Albion closed before All About Beer was three years old, but others opened, examples of a phenomenon variously called micro-breweries (with or without the hyphen), specialty or boutique breweries, and much later, craft breweries. By the mid-nineties, these new enterprises numbered more than a thousand. The first tantalizing contact with a new beer no longer had to come through the medium of print: the curious drinker was just as was likely to encounter a novel beer at a good bar, a tap room, a forward-thinking retailer, or that increasingly common event, the beer festival.
Good writing about good beer continues to be important, whether on the page or on the screen. Beer enthusiasts are more numerous and vastly more sophisticated with every passing year—but so are the breweries, beers and expanding styles that inspire such passion. For 35 years, All About Beer has both shaped and responded to that passion.
Editor’s Note: This story appears in the March 2015 issue of All About Beer Magazine. To see a timeline of All About Beer Magazine covers throughout the years, look for the March issue on newsstands. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.
Julie Johnson is the technical editor of All About Beer Magazine.