Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Pg. 69: "Ambitious Brew"

Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer is Maureen Ogle's new book about the history of American beer.

One would think we would know a lot more about this beverage that is as American as baseball and apple pie--actually, more American than apple pie. (When was the last time you saw forty-five apple pie commercials during a baseball game?) Yet I only had to skim Ambitious Brew's reviews and synopsis to realize I had no clue what the real story was.

I asked Maureen to apply the "page 69 test" to her book. Here is her reply:
Ambitious Brew examines 150 years of American beer, from the German immigrants who founded the brewing industry in the mid-nineteenth century to the microbrewers who transformed it in the 1980s and 1990s.

As a historian, I'm drawn to the everyday “stuff” that we take for granted, and to the lives of men and women whose drive and ambition compel them to create something from nothing. But like my two previous books (one a history of plumbing, the other the story of Key West, Florida), this one also explores my fondest fascination: what does it mean to be an American?

In Ambitious Brew, the lives of various brewers enabled me to think about the meaning of the “American dream” -- a vague concept whose tangible reality is typically mired in political rhetoric -- and the way in which opportunity shaped not just their lives, but the beer we Americans drink.

Finally, I try to structure my narratives around the lives of real people, using the kind of detail that humanizes the long-dead-and-buried.

To my delight, page 69 exemplifies my goals. Now whether it would persuade anyone to read the rest of the book -- well, that I don't know!

From page 69:

But the brewers' success also rested on what is too often overlooked by those eager to condemn the era's industrialists: captains of industry like [the brewing giants] amassed their wealth during decades of hard work. [Frederick] Pabst . . . left the house, which stood on the same grounds as the brewery until the early 1890s, each day before breakfast to tour the brewery and check on the day's work. That round completed, he returned home for a quick meal and then hustled back to the plant, where, except for a lunchbreak, he stayed until six o'clock. “He knew the different bottling machines just as well as the men operating them,” an employee once said, “and he took a pride in making a personal inspection” daily.

Adolphus Busch never claimed to be a “practical brewer”--indeed, almost none of the century's titans possessed formal training as a brewmaster--but few men in the business knew as much as he did about making lager, and he deserves recognition as one of the great American brewmasters. He analyzed and mastered every detail of brewing . . . . Study inspired confidence. “I am the maltster [and] superintendent of the malt-house,” he once explained, “ . . . and I am the buyer of the barley and the hops and I keep a general superintendence of the brewing process, fermenting process and stirring process.” Each day, he said, “I examine the barley” and visit “the malt houses with my various foremen and give them orders how I want everything done; . . . .”
Many thanks to Maureen for the input.

Click here to read an excerpt from Ambitious Brew.

Ever wonder how a writer is inspired to write on this subject and not that one? Click here for Maureen's inspiration.

To find out what happens when a self-professed "beer nerd" meets a beer historian, click here.

There is something about a book about beer that stirs people up. Click here and here for reviews and reactions to reviews (and comments on the reactions to the reviews) that seem to have started with an interest in Ambitious Brew and then took on a life of their own.

Did you know that "American brewing peaked in 1873, when there were 4131 breweries? By 1978, the industry's low point, forty-one brewers operated eighty-nine plants. Today breweries number a healthy 1400. " For more "Did you know?" beer history trivia, click here.

Maureen's previous books are Key West: History of an Island of Dreams and All the Modern Conveniences: American Household Plumbing, 1840-1890.

Previous "page 69 tests":
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue