We looked all-over, but couldn’t find extensive articles about the history of the Hungarian and international craft beer revolution. So we decided to write our own in a three-part series.
Following the British ancestors and the American Gangsters in the first part of the story, it’s time to plunge right into the whirlpool of beer. Let us lead you into the story of a movement that made it possible for us to taste craft beers from 30 taps in Élesztő.
Where did the craft beer revolution start?
Well, from the US, naturally!
Everybody knows that. But there is one story that you might not have heard about the real origin of this revolution. Because the road from Buds to APAs was far from being smooth.
Last time we talked about the thousands of beer pubs in England serving their own brews – to kids – and how this trend invaded the New World. And we talked about the great shift in beer production around the globe: the era of mass-produced beers.
Which is especially sad because the diverse US climate is practically perfect breeding ground for the beer’s two main ingredients: malt and hops. The only problem was that large beer companies from Europe (and that damned prohibition) caused American producers to forget how to brew.
This beer-amnesia remained all the way until the 1960s.
When something happened that turned all that modern westerners knew about beer right around.
The birth of the Beerfather
The now 83 year-old Fritz Maytag would probably not be too keen about the above nickname, but his family was just as unhappy when they learned about the decision that made him a great fit for it.
The Maytags have been the archetypical ‘American family of entrepreneurs’ throughout history. Fritz’s grandfather was one of the people who launched the washing machine on its world-domination and his father, leading the family dairy farm, helped revolutionize American small-scale cheesemaking.
The one thing that unifies the Maytags above all else?
Their preference of the reliable, intimate micro factories over large-scale production. This reliability helped their name be synonymous with quality and their products to quickly spread around American households.
The young Fritz, however, was not one for home-appliances or farming. That’s how he decided to purchase the small, San Franciscan brewery, known for its quality beers, friendly atmosphere and… unviable business. The company was (and still is) Anchor Brewing and it is responsible for the creation of the modern craft beer.
The unknown cradle of craft beer
Fritz Maytag’s first year as the owner of Anchor Brewing was not smooth sailing to say the least. It quickly turned out that no matter how much money he invested in production, the brewery was not going to survive as it was. And you can be sure he invested a LOT from his own pocket. So much, in fact, that he soon found himself at the edge of bankruptcy.
Massive amounts of money wasted on a vanity project. Most people would have probably given up at that point, but not a Maytag. This obstacle merely ignited his ambitions and Fritz started looking for an innovative solution to save his brewery. But first, he needed to learn about what his company was producing.
So he started brewing beer. In a few years he mastered the craft and began learning about its history. That’s how he found the American “forebeers” (the ales that we talked about in the first chapter) and decided, he will create his own. A beer, people haven’t tasted on the continent for more than a century. This became California Common Beer, or Steam Beer, an ale-lager hybrid that couldn’t have been further from what was on tap in pubs.
We shouldn’t forget that the experiment brewing at Anchor Brewing was completely opposing to all American beer-consuming habits at the time. They had no idea how the public was going to respond to their new-old beer, so they were just as shocked when the first few kegs flew out of their warehouses in a blink.
The start of a revolution
The popularity of this new beer was unquestionable, so Maytag started introducing even more forgotten styles. Starting in 1972 with the Anchor Porter which was the first black beer in the US after the prohibition, then three years later Liberty Ale was born. This beer was the prototype India Pale ale, also known as the first craft-beer-revolutionary, also known as the IPA.
These unusual beers spread faster than wildfire and it wasn’t long till beer fanatics with an entrepreneurial spirit started to recognize the potential. Craft beer (that wasn’t named like this back then) became the hobby of a selected few. By the 90s some of these hobbyists became successful entrepreneurs and microbreweries started emerging. At first, only in California, then in more and more US states and in the 2000s this trend grew into a full-blown revolution.
But what happened with Fritz Maytag during all of this and why haven’t you heard of the brewery that gave birth to the craft beer revolution, you ask?
The answer is simple: Fritz has never broken his family’s principles. Those that say that a small manufactory always needs to preserve two things: its independence (from large brands) and quality over quantity. That’s why he didn’t go public with the company when he had the chance and that’s why Anchor Brewery is located in the same building since the 70s. Most of their beers are still made with the original labels and from the original recipe. What is this if not the quintessence of craft beer?
The American movement reached the old continent by the late 2000s. Despite popular belief however, the European craft beer revolution was not started by western countries.
Would it surprise you if we said, Budapest had an indispensable role in Europe’s craft beer conquest? All will be revealed in the last part of our craft beer history!
Sources of the photos about Fritz Maytag: