By Marissa Garcia
The glass is always half full, and for UC Santa Barbara alum Brian Yaeger, the glass is usually half full of the fruity, sour aroma of America’s craft beer. Yaeger is the author of Red, White, and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey and Oregon Breweries.
But before he became a published author, he graduated from UCSB in 1996 with a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies. Yaeger has now returned to his alma mater to teach a course through UCSB’s Department of Recreation—not about religion but about beer.
Yaeger’s university degree was only one of what he calls life’s “happy accidents.” He entered UCSB as a Russian major, but decided to downsize to a Russian minor. He found that religious studies best suited his interests as it encapsulated other humanities disciplines he was interested in.
“There was certainly a period when I thought I shouldn’t declare religious studies because of the automatic reaction that it would be theology,” said Yaeger. “It isn’t theology. It was anthropology through the microscope of religion—it doesn’t really matter if other people have a misperception about it.”
During his time as an undergrad, Yaeger was certain that he would enter the music industry. He programmed for UCSB’s radio station KCSB, had summer internships in Hollywood and continued to pursue music-related public relations after college. Surprisingly, his entry into the beer industry didn’t come from the fast-paced, head-banging music industry he worked in.
“An opportunity presents itself and I go with it, which is exactly how I ended up in the beer industry,” said Yaeger.
That opportunity presented itself in a graduate class he was taking while pursuing his Master of Professional Writing at the University of Southern California. In that course, Yaeger found himself surrounded by all women and he was panicking to come up with an idea for a thesis of professional quality. After listening to the women around him say they would write personal memoirs about their relationships, he became convinced he needed to write about a personal relationship.
When it was finally his turn to present, he decided to inject some testosterone into the room and said, “My name is Brian Yaeger and I am writing about my relationship with beer.”
Yaeger set out to travel the country and interview the American families that keep the beer industry alive.
At the time of his voyage, there were only 1,400 breweries in the country. Yaeger focused on one percent of them and visited 14 breweries around the country to tell the tales of the people and families who persistently produce a small product for a select audience.
With the help of a valued professor, Yaeger turned his thesis into a book and submitted it for publication. His professor immediately warned him of the tall pile of rejection letters writers inevitably face. But after happy dancing to his first two rejection letters, his third letter led to a different kind of happy dance. In 2008, Yaeger’s first book was published — “a beer book that is not about beer.” Red, White, and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey is about the people who make the beer.
Two years later, Yaeger and his newlywed wife, moved to Portland, Oregon. At the time, Yaeger considered dedicating a book to Oregon’s breweries, but never acted on it. It just so happens that he was at the right place at the right time when a publisher was working on a state-by-state breweries series and needed a writer on the west coast to cover the state of Oregon.
When Yaeger started the book, “Oregon Breweries,” there were 140 breweries in the state. By the time he finished the book in 2014, Yaeger had interviewed the owners or brewers at 192 breweries.
The beer industry has experienced national rapid growth and today Yaeger now writes about beer in national and local publications such as Beer Advocate, All About Beer, and the Santa Barbara Independent.
Beer fans can read his articles or take his course at UCSB titled Beer101. The course runs for eight weeks on Tuesday evenings and allows 70 participants to taste five beers within two hours.
“Honestly I hope to get 70 new beer lovers at a time,” said Yaeger. “At the end of this two-month period, whatever beer knowledge they had, I want to quadruple it.”
Yaeger says his class is more than tasting beer, it’s about heritage, tradition and “setting the table to see how we got here.” Last week at the first night of class, Yaeger introduced a beer that has been around for 600 years, fills the air with the smell of Sunday’s bacon breakfast and tastes like the family cabin’s outside campfire.
Yaeger aims to present his students with the taste, story and diversity of each beer he brings to the table.
In addition to craft brew, Yaeger also indulges in and writes about another yeasty favorite: the doughnut.
Since late last year, Yaeger has been working on a new book about doughnuts titled American Doughnuts: A Baker’s Dozen Tales of Immigrants. The book is set to come out before the next election and focuses on the “fried dough creations that immigrants have brought to America.” His goal is to tell the stories of immigrants who brought the churro from Spain and Portugal and the banh tieu from Vietnam to American in search of opportunity and prosperity.
Like his books about beer, his new book is “a doughnut book that’s not about doughnuts, it’s about people.”
Marissa Garcia is a fourth-year Sociology major and Professional Writing minor at UC Santa Barbara. She is a Web and Social Media Intern with UC Santa Barbara’s Division of Humanities and Fine Arts.