Lauren Clark caught the first wave of American craft beer. The author of “Crafty Bastards,” Clark (pictured) quit her desk job about 20 years ago to become an apprentice at the former Commonwealth Brewing Co. After a stint as an assistant brewer at Cambridge Brewing Co., she gravitated toward a writing and editing career. She is founder of drinkboston.com, a site about drinks and bars in the Hub.
“Crafty Bastards: Beer in New England, From the Mayflower to Modern Day” is an overview of the industry from its earliest days in America, beginning with what the Pilgrims brewed, and including how Jamaica Plain became a brewing hub, when Jim Koch began dominating craft beer, and why the website Beer Advocate, founded by two Massachusetts residents, now attracts 2.5 million monthly visitors.
Early New Englanders were a resourceful bunch, says Clark, a resident of Somerville, and they brewed with whatever raw ingredients they could find. “That was what it was all about for the first couple hundred years. It was, ‘Hey, we have a lot of molasses. Let’s make a beer out of that.’ ”
Throughout the book, Clark comes back to the resilience and “Yankee ingenuity” shown by brewers, even today. Trillium Brewing is shoehorned into a tiny space in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood, where an old dairy tank is the mash tun (the vessel in which starches are converted into sugar to be fermented). Acquiring the proper license to pour samples took more than a year.
“New England brewers are accustomed to have to do these hacks,” says Clark. “And now they have to deal with these regulations and codes, a lot of red tape. But they still do it. They don’t give up.”
Women were some of the earliest brewers. “Brewing beer was like making dinner,” says Clark. “They had to make beer for their families.”
Today, women are often on the outside of an industry that, while gaining notice, can still be insular. Clark says she never felt excluded during her stint as a professional brewer, but she sees how the current beer culture — where most brewers and many drinkers are men — can leave women out. “It’s still very much male-dominated for sure,” she says. “There still is a real nerdiness and aggressiveness about beer appreciation, ‘My beer has more hops than your beer.’ On the consumer side, there is sort of this arm-wrestling people do with their taste for beer.
“There’s this notion that women like sweet, pink drinks. That’s total B.S. Who are the wine drinkers? At least half the wine drinkers are women, and a lot of good wines are not sweet at all.”
The most obvious example of beer’s gender divide is beer festivals, she says. “There are situations where the maleness of craft beer culture comes out. At beer festivals. Women look around and are like, ‘OK, this is a scene.’ ”
Lauren Clark will appear on June 10 at Stoddard’s Fine Food & Ale, 48 Temple Place, Boston, in an event celebrating women in beer, sponsored by Boston Area Beer Enthusiasts Society and Girls’ Pint Out.
Gary Dzen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.