I recently received a number of copies of this book now in its paperback release. The extra copies are for the current beer blog contest (winners soon to be announced) and have to admit that I enjoyed it even though it covered very similar ground as another previously reviewed book - and a book that I included in a post sub-titled "Three Beer Books I Do Not Love." That earlier book was Brewing Up A Business by Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head. What is the difference in this book about the founding and success of the Brooklyn Brewery? Well, there there is none and there is plenty.
First the none. These are both books about the making of a brewery as a business. They are not books about the beer itself. Both books set out the respective business planning that went into the respective high-level of success enjoyed by an east coast US craft brewery that came into being in the last couple of decades. You learn about marketing issues and struggles to get off the ground, mainly through humourous anecdote. But that is where the similarities in large part end as the difference in the books reflect the difference in the history of the breweries and likely the differences in the actual personalities involved.
When I read Brewing Up A Business I felt after a few chapters that I was being marketed to by a somewhat manic obsessive, which I think was really the case. Much of the message in that book was about pushing, pushing, pushing and going with one's passion. In a way, it reflected a very Gen X approach: love what you do and what you do will do well because of the passion you bring. All fine but if I had to read the line "off-center beers for off-center people" one more time I thing I was going scream - and not only because the idea of craft beer lovers as off-center people sorta makes no sense. Not sheep, maybe, but doesn't that really make you more centered?
Beer School, on the other hand, reflects a much more practical and much more conventional business-like approach. It talks about the importance of staff, business plans, lawyers, that sort of critical dull stuff - especially their need to have a lawyer who knew how to deal with the mob. It does also mention passion in the sense that long term staff are recognized as being there due to their passion and in the dedication of the founders, Steve Hindy and Tom Potter, to the brewery. But it also recognizes both planning and jumping into the uncertain unknown as key parts to the life of a business. Passion cannot replace care or good risk management when facing unknowns. Beer School also details how the joint ownership meant different skills were brought to the business and that both trusting others and giving up some control to those other at times was key. Unlike Brewing Up A Business, there is no sense that you are dealing with a one man band. I like that as even guys in one man bands have mothers who told them they liked the noise.
To be fair, both books are important and speak to each other in an interesting way: explaining options, showing there is no one path, confirming different personalities can be successful in the same field in different ways. You can think of them in this light: where Calagione is looking forward with the abandon of an semi-mad optimist and perhaps shows more of the sunny side of what got him and his brewery to where they are today, Hindy and Potter look back to record what transpired so as to pass on the schooling they knew they received. Perhaps this is more due to their previous lives - one a war correspondent, the other the banker - compared to Calagione's contentment with his anti-authoritarian who found his contentment through his business. Read both and tell me what you think.