Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Ambitious Brew: How Beer Tapped Into Americans Affection

A friend sends in a review of Maureen Ogle's Ambitious Brew from The Wall Street Journal (no link available). In the book, Ogle describes the rise of the great American brewers, and relates some of the colorful stories associated with their early growth, including the hardball politics of the Anti-Saloon league, which Ogle calls close calls a fore-runner of "today's single-issue lobbying groups" and run-ins with the authorities during the Great War over the Busch clan's links to Germany:
When [Lilly Busch] arrived at the dock in Miami [from Germany], the aged Mrs. Busch was taken into custody and interrogated. Then a doctor was called in to perform what is now known as a cavity search, to make sure that she was not concealing secret messages from the Kaiser.
The Prohibition that followed and the scarcity of the next war left a profound influence on America's brewing traditions:

After Pearl Harbor, distilleries were turned to war work, producing industrial alcohol with which to make synthetic rubber and torpedo fuel. (The distillers manufacturing this fuel eventually had to introduce noxious chemicals into the mix to discourage submariners from drinking their torpedoes' go-juice.) But beer-making was considered part of the war effort -- in no small part because brewers contributed 15% of their output directly to the troops. By the end of the war, civilians and returning soldiers alike had solidified a taste for beer.

It was a taste that favored bland beer, and the brewers bowed to that public preference until the microbrewery revolution that got going in earnest about 20 years ago. Ms. Ogle tells that story with appreciation for the new school of brewers but without the snarky prejudice against the big corporate beer companies that is so common to today's beer snobs.
Ms Ogle, who maintains a nice blog, did an interview with Basic Brewing Radio a while back which I quite enjoyed. Her book is, of course, available on Amazon.

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