Ben Keene, a travel writer, wants the world to know: there’s a burgeoning brewery scene in the Northeast U.S. and it’s high time you took advantage of it.
Keene will be promoting his latest book, “The Great Northeast Brewery Tour“ (Voyageur Press, 2014) on Friday, Jan. 24 at Relic Brewing in Plainville, Conn.
The book signing takes place from 4-7 p.m. at Relic, 95 Whiting St.
Keene, who lives in Cambridge, Mass., writes about hiking and camping, and he told me last week that his dabbling in outdoor sports extended into adventuring into the world of breweries.
“I did not [always] have a refined palate or appreciation of beer,” Keene said. “When I moved to New York it was 2000 and kind of the second wave of smaller breweries was just kind of beginning to surge. So bars started popping up and breweries followed. I think the East Coast since 2000 has been evening out the balance with out West.”
He moved on to work at Oxford University Press office in Manhattan, where he said he was instrumental in convincing editors to create the “Oxford Companion to Beer,” edited by Garrett Oliver. Oliver also writes the forward to Keene’s new book.
The Northeast brewing scene is entering a new phase of its beer history, and Keene said he wanted to cover it. “I wanted to chronicle what was happening and what is happening,” he said. “I feel like in the late ’90s/early 2000s, the focus was on all the cool stuff happening out West. In the last three to five years, it’s swelled on the East Coast.”
While there are plenty of outlets for beer writing, some of it gets a little “insular,” Keene said. Beer Advocate and RateBeer and awesomely spectacular columns and blogs like mine (not his words) tend only to inform the informed.
“I was thinking of my own friends who are into food, travel, trying new things,” he said, “even people my parents’ generation, who are not necessarily into beer and don’t know where to start. They don’t know the difference between a saison and a bier de garde. I thought I’d introduce people to this, and talk to a broader audience.”
The 240-page paperback (retailing at $24.99) does not rank or rate beer or breweries, said Keene, who is 35. His entries are profiles of 62 breweries throughout Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
“I encourage people to find a beer they love,” he said. “Each [entry] opens up with a little bit of background on the founders and a bit about the brewery, and then I try to briefly describe what it’s like in the physical place. And it’s photo-heavy.”
It took about two years from conception and book proposal, then some shopping around to editors. “Two or three times a month, a photographer and I would take pictures and go to brewers and come back home and write up our notes and edit our photos and repeat,” he said.
In Connecticut, where I write, Keene profiles Relic, Two Roads Brewing in Stratford, New England Brewing in Woodbridge, and Thomas Hooker Brewery in Bloomfield.
“I wanted to show some of the larger breweries, ones familiar to people who pay attention to beer… and show some of the smaller ones,” Keene said. “I also tried to be a little bit democratic in terms in terms of geographic distribution.
“Relic was a great example of the little guy who is creative,” he continued, “and it’s just kind of the by-the-bootstraps classic story of a guy who fell in love with beer and wanted to start a brewery and is still in the early stages of it. Thomas Hooker is more of a production-style brewery that people have gotten to know and they also branched out a little bit: a brewery that is approachable but not set in its ways.”
He said he picked Two Roads because they “embody the enormous amount of change and transformation that the beer industry is going from to now.”
Keene predicts that it’s inevitable that the bursts of new brewery openings every three months will stop in the Northeast.
“I do think that we’re not there yet, and I tried to pick places for the book that are going to be around for a while. There’s something to them that has longevity.”