From kegs to bottles to cans, the making and selling of beer encapsulates in various ways the larger history of American taste and how business catered to it.
Once upon a time, writes social historian Ogle (All the Modern Conveniences, not reviewed, etc.), dark ale was the liquid of choice. Then came the peaceful, mid-19th century Teutonic invasion. Occupying brew houses in New York, St. Louis, Milwaukee and wherever else German immigrants settled, Biermeisters began brewing Pilsner- and Budweiser-style lagers. Americans consumed the stuff in sumptuous beer gardens, the amusement parks of the day, and they drank it in the new taverns and in the ubiquitous old saloons. Then came WWI and anti-German sentiment, followed by Prohibition. Brewers suffered, and the happy days ushered in by Repeal weren’t quite the same. Industrial beer-makers lost more steam after WWII. They tried vertical integration from cooperage to barrooms; they tried mergers and acquisitions. Drinkers wanted their beer not too malty, but along with its color, the quality of corporate brew faded. Homebrews, watery lites and microbrews entered the market. Ogle gives flavor to her heady portrait of the American brewing craft with vivid descriptions of brew kettles, fermenting kegs, mashing tuns, malt kilns, cellars and more. The spigot flows with human-interest tales of the beer barons and their progeny: the Best, Busch and Blatz families, the Rupperts, Millers and Schaeffers, along with the Greisediecks, the Yuenglings and Uihleins (the last of the late, great Schlitz label). And she’s just as adept delineating the frothy stuff’s intricate business history.
A beer garden of a book that leaves no stein unturned.