Amazon is watching you. The online bookstore-turned-digital-mega-outlet is also judging; thinking it knows you. You search one time (one time!) for a flowing waterfall bowl for your cat, and now your “Recommended” section is inundated with all sorts of crazy cat lady gadgets (does my cat really need a hammock?).
That’s surely how Paradise Hops was digitally placed in front of me, a beer writer, supposedly “inspired by [my] browsing history." This wasn’t some manual on hop varieties, nor a by-the-book history of the IPA. Instead, it was a small-press romance novel set in the world of craft beer.
Was this aspirational fan fic for the neckbearded set? A trolling satire? Or was this legit?
“Most people are reading romance for the fantasy. The rainbows, the unicorn...the ring. That shit,” Liz Crowe, author of Paradise Hops, tells me. “My books are ‘romance for real life.’”
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Crowe is surely the Danielle Steel of beer-themed romance novels, having written 42 total books since 2010, many of them based in the beer world. A wife and mother of three, she calls herself a “late-comer” to craft beer, having only gotten into it after work led her to the brewing industry. A multi-tasking realtor by day (she once sold a house to Jolly Pumpkin impresario Ron Jeffries), she was offered a marketing job with Wolverine State Brewing Co. when the brewery opened in 2011. She’s since picked up consulting gigs with Fenton Winery & Brewery, Unity Vibration, and HOMES Brewery. And Crowe is also the founder of Fermenta, a Michigan women’s craft beer collective. But c’mon -- what we really want to know is how she came to start writing lines like, “His aggravating bossy manner, the way his strong torso flexed beneath his t-shirts as he moved around the brewery...”
When Crowe was frustrated by the run-away success of 50 Shades of Grey, her husband encouraged her to quit complaining and try to pen something better. While her initial works were standard-issue romance filled with fictional realtors -- “sexy times and whatnot” -- Crowe soon realized she didn’t want to continue the typical tropes of ranch hands, firemen, and “bazillionaires.” She was more interested in the blue-collar world of breweries.
“I always tell breweries I consult for, ‘Have something that sets you apart,’” Crowe tells me. “You need a hook. Just like my books now have.”
It wasn’t just Crowe, though. There were other authors determined to write the Great American (Ale) Novel. Punnily-named tomes like Trouble Brewing, Enemies on Tap, and Microbrewed Murder that engineered worlds which celebrated the eroticism of mash-in, the mystery of dialing-in a recipe, and the power of Untappd over Tinder (all, somehow, without the acknowledgement of a single beer belly, mind you).
“Since I’m too lazy to home-brew, and too cheap to open my own microbrewery, writing a book about some fictitious craft breweries seemed like the next best way to give myself the opportunity to make up beer names,” says Brad Carl, author of Craft Beer Burning. (For some odd reason, most of these beer novelists use the antiquated term “microbrewery.”)
Would I read any of these books? I’ll pass. I still haven’t finished Michael Strahan’s new autobiography! And I wouldn’t dare ask The Beer Necessities to reimburse me for “research” that won’t get me buzzed. Crowe readily admits that most men don’t read romance novels anyhow (phew). But I could “Look inside” these books on Amazon, and read all that was allowed for free, giving me a better idea of what this emerging breed of beer lit is all about.
Before letting her go, I ask Crowe if she drinks beer while writing. “Oh my god, YES!” she responds with a laugh. Her go-to is Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, admitting that she has a “silly crush” on Sam Calagione. “Sam was one of my early inspirations for sexy brewers. I love his energy, his personality, his passion. That’s what I’m trying to get across in my books!”
The beer world is sexy?
“You know, it is a sexy thing to feel so passionate about something, like beer, that will be gone eventually. That’s also how I feel about my writing.”
Below, a look at Paradise Hops, and a few of the other more popular beer-themed novels.
Author: Liz Crowe
Sample line: “Elias Buchanan was the dictionary definition of ‘larger than life.’ At least six foot five, with long blonde hair held back by a small piece of leather. The span of his shoulders and definition of his torso barely concealed under a Brockton Brewing grey T-shirt forced an exhale from Lori’s lips.”
What I think it might be about: 50 Shades of Grain
What it’s actually about: Paradise Hops offers what is, far and away, Crowe’s most mundane cover: an image of two glasses clinking, like in that awesome anti-drunk driving commercial from the ’80s. Most of Crowe’s covers, like Love Brewing (2015), feature yoked hunks carrying heavy shit. Even her Amazon author photo has her posing with a buff, shirtless man in lederhosen, as they both hoist fluid-filled steins, his sinewy biceps rippling as he caresses (...oh God, now I’m doing it). Paradise Hops tells of Garrett Hunter, GM for Brockton Brewing and specimen of “masculine perfection,” who finds himself in a love triangle, battling a “craft beer rock star” for the affections of the brewery owner’s daughter. It might be the most successful of Crowe’s 42 books, with a remarkable 76 user reviews averaging out to a 4.3 out of 5 stars. She has also written Lust on Tap (2015) and the novella Hot SEALs: Love & Lagers (2016), in which a legless, former Navy SEAL discovers a connection with a civilian over a shared love of great beer. Her latest series is called “Brewing Passion,” which will feature future books titled Lightstruck, Conditioned, and Tapped, and tell the story of a “sultry brewer” who makes the craft beer world “sizzle.” Here is the incredible trailer for that last mentioned book:
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Author: Paul Abercrombie
Sample line: “‘The lesson is: It Takes Beer To Make Beer,’ he said. ‘Grab one, pop it open, and let’s brew.’”
What I think it might be about: The Producers...but for beer (“Preston soon replaces Waldie as brewmaster and devises a secret scheme to use the job to pry loose $5 million of his father’s inheritance.”)
What it’s actually about: Trouble Brewing tells the story of buddies Preston and John, brewers at a struggling microbrewery, who one day discover that a security guard has been “accidentally ground into hamburger by the milling machine.” The two friends decide to cover the accident up, until the brewery’s owner enters that batch of beer in a contest—and it somehow wins! A Tampa-based PR guy who has consulted for breweries such as 3 Daughters Brewing, Abercrombie tells me via email he wanted to set his book in the brewery world because “the industry seems to have so many ready-made characters (read: weirdos).” I hope he wasn’t referring to me. On his own website, Abercrombie describes Trouble Brewing as “Not a very good [novel]. In fact, it’s pretty puerile. But it’s only three bucks for the ebook version.”
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Author: Brad Carl
Genre: Psychological Drama
Sample line: “‘This is what being friends is all about, bud,’ Oscar said, patting Doug on the back. As the two men pulled away from each other, Oscar noticed Doug’s eyes were watering. ‘You're still drunk, aren’t you?’”
What I think it might be about: Brokeback Brewery (“After the brewery’s successful grand opening, the two friends continue to learn about each other and the stress of running a business...As the tension mounts, will Oscar and Doug’s bond wind up crossing a line that changes their relationship forever?”)
What it’s actually about: Released in February of this year, this self-published novel about “beer, buds, & betrayal,” tells of childhood friends who reconnect when one moves back home to South Dakota and encourages the other, a skilled homebrewer, to let him finance his own brewery. The Kansas City-based author, Brad Carl, a former radio “personality” and voice-over artist, is a bonafide beer geek (“...though I would also say there are beer geeks out there that are much more geekier than I am”) who hosts a craft beer-themed YouTube channel. “Spend enough time in taprooms and microbreweries and you’ll eventually begin to hear the stories about how those breweries came to life,” Carl tells me. “These stories truly inspired me and were the foundation of what became Craft Beer Burning.”
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Author: Bill Metzger
Sample line: “A few rounds with the twenty-nothings who worked the local bars showed that brewing a great beer, which was what we were all about, was irrelevant. They didn’t care about the beer; they were there to make money and meet women. Listening to some old guy talking about his beer was beyond what they were paid to do.”
What I think it might be about: Clue, if Professor Plum crushed whalez. (“Determined to fulfill the promise to his brother, Ed expected to encounter some difficulties. What he didn't expect was that someone wanted Callahans to fail. And would attempt anything, including murder, to achieve that goal.”)
What it's actually about: Metzger might have the best credentials of any beery novelist. He began his journalism career in 1980 writing for places like American Brewer, The New Brewer, and Yankee Brew News before creating Southwest Brewing News in 1992. Microbrewed Murder tells of a brother forced to take over a, yes, “microbrewery,” after the unexpected death of his brother -- if only it were so easy. I must admit that I started to get sucked in while flipping through the well-written fiction on Amazon...but I’ve got my own beer mystery to solve: namely, determining the genre of my own forthcoming beer novel, Lager Than Life.