A weighty coffee table book might seem like an oddly elevated medium for a project about beer, but that's exactly what Nicholas Gingold's California Brewmasters is: a combination of professional-grade photography and text that serves as a hardcover conversation piece about the Golden State's historic and still-growing beer culture.
The book - which made its first hot-off-the-press appearance at the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest a few weeks ago and is now for sale online - features 200 pages of large photographs of and in-depth interviews with 45 California brewers, the people behind some of the West Coast's most famous (and soon to be most famous) beers.
Gingold, a photojournalist from Newport Beach, spent the last two years traveling across California, visiting each of the men and women at their brewery and spending days questioning their beer philosophies while shooting pictures of them tasting, brewing, cleaning and just hanging out among their handiwork.
The resulting environmental portraits - which show brewers at their kettles, in their warehouses, among their barrels or standing in the middle of their ingredient farms - are the first of their kind for the craft beer industry, where the people behind the product are rarely seen by the consumer and hype for certain beers can often obscure the human element involved in its creation.
Anchor Brewing Company's Brewmaster Mark Carpenter, for example, was photographed looking pensive in his white brewing jumpsuit while leaning against the pioneering San Francisco brewery's massive copper brewhouse (Anchor is credited with reviving craft beer in the U.S.). Brian Hunt of Santa Rosa's Moonlight Brewing is pictured with a half-drunk glass of light beer in the middle of a green hop field. And Paul Segura of San Diego's Karl Strauss was shot while he sat on a pallet of kegs and strummed on his red Fender Bronco.
More than mere promo shots for their respective brands, each image gives depth to the brewmasters as living breathing people, capturing personalities through their choice of smile, stance, surroundings and props. Spreads for stalwarts like Ken Grossman, founder and president of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, are also positioned alongside up-and-coming brewers like Three Weavers Brewing Company's Alexandra Nowell, offering a robust cross-section of multi-generational California beer culture that reminds fans craft beer is a hand-made product long forged by a specialized group of passionate and dedicated people.
The accompanying three pages of interviews even further emphasize the individual character of the humans behind the still-growing craft beer revolution. Gingold asks standard questions of most of the book's brewers - How did you start brewing? How do you come up with a new beer? What do you think about the state of craft beer today? - and lets the answers showcase the diversity of approaches, backgrounds, opinions and brewing styles that exist.
Even the inclusion of Los Angeles breweries is a testament to the ever-changing narrative of California beer. If Gingold had set out to make this book five years ago, there would have only been one L.A. brewmaster worthy of note: Mark Jilg of Pasadena's Craftsman Brewing. But compiled in 2014, Gingold was able to shoot four more. His interviews with Nowell from Inglewood's soon-to-be-open Three Weavers (shot on a lifeguard tower at the beach), Julian Shrago of Beachwood BBQ and Brewing, Jeremy Raub of Eagle Rock Brewery and Jesse Houck from Golden Road Brewing address the newness of L.A.'s beer scene and provide insight to its positives and negatives from those in the thick of it all.
Printed thanks to a successful $25,000 Kickstarter campaign, California Brewmasters is a contemporary craft beer yearbook that's relevant not only to those who live in the state, but to beer fans nationwide who understand the importance of the beer that's made here. With 400 (and growing!) breweries in California, the state is not just where American craft beer began, it's also where American craft beer is currently happening.
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Putting faces and words to the women and men behind some of the breweries currently helping California maintain its status as a craft beer trailblazer is the first step to understanding why this all started here, how it happens here and why the state will continue to be a massive force in turning water, malt, yeast and hops into delicious liquid gold.
For more information on California Brewmasters or to purchase a copy, visit cabrewmasters.com.