Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer
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- Amazon Sales Rank: #248074 in Books
- Published on: 2007-10-08
- Format: Bargain Price
- Number of items: 1
- Binding: Paperback
- 432 pages
From Publishers Weekly
Conventional wisdom has it that giant breweries, driven by corporate greed, have flooded the U.S. with inferior-tasting swill, and the only beer worth drinking is from scattered boutique microbrewers. Nonsense, says Ogle: companies like Miller and Anheuser-Busch are actually near-perfect embodiments of the American dream (in which "liberty nurtured ambition, and ambition fostered success")—and if their beers became noticeably blander 50 years ago, it's because consumers wanted it that way. Ogle (All the Modern Conveniences) looks back at the early years of brewers like Phillip Best, Frederick Pabst and Adolphus Busch as they rose to success making European-style beers for fellow immigrants, converting plenty of native palates along the way. Such men, she claims, should be heralded as captains of industry like Gilded Age icon J.P. Morgan. This material is strong, as is Ogle's analysis of the slow but steady rise of the Prohibition movement, but her narrative loses momentum as she tries to encompass the post–WWII era and add the most successful microbrewers to her list of heroes. Her exuberant musings on the American spirit become distracting, but there's more than enough drama in the family sagas to keep even the soberest of readers turning the pages. (Oct.)
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About the Author
A story for beer aficionado's, history buffs, or brewing insiders
Once I had penetrated the first three chapters of this book, I found it a fascinating and quick read. However, those first three chapters took about two weeks, despite a persistent interest in beer and brewing. I covered the remaining five chapters in two days.
The first several chapters (and 40 or so years of chronology) cover the beginnings of American brewing by explaining the origins of the Best brewery (which would become Pabst), the Uihlein's (Schlitz), and Adolphus Busch. These chapters passed slowly, and didn't entertain the way that popular history can (like Winchester's A Crack in the Edge of the World or Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, Stephen Ambrose, etc).
However, I was extremely engaged by everything that followed. I thought the explanation of the causes and context of Prohibition was excellent. The narrative of changes in brewing in post-World War II America (consolidation, the dawn of modern marketing) was also very interesting, and did a nice job integrating societal and business changes into that story. I erroneously thought I'd experienced first-hand the rise of craft beer in America, but Maureen did a very nice job educating me on the true origins of this trend.
I was bogged down by the beginning of this book, but thrilled with the middle and end of it. This book would be a great resource for beer connoisseurs looking for an understanding of why American brewing is what it is, and as a cautionary tale for brewing executives.
Interesting survey of American lager-brewing history
This is a great book if you're looking to learn something about the history of American lager brewing, and in particular about the giants (and now-deceased giants) of the industry. It covers quite a bit of ground I have never seen covered in any other book on the subject.
The author does have some biases which I think do color the book a bit. She has a contrarian tilt which seems to lead her to the view that big "industrial beer" from the giant lager-brewers is a better product than it really is. She does not seem to be as familiar as might be hoped with brewing itself, and consequently does not appreciate the extent to which the American brewing industry compromised product quality by relying on highly tannic, six-row malts and the notoriously bad-smelling Cluster hop, for example. And her interest in American brewing does not extend to ale (apart from the ales of the microbrew era); she seems to accept all too readily the notion that American ale-brewing in the pre-lager era was a cesspool of bad beer.
The upshot is that the book is perhaps a bit too favorable to the point of view of the great national brewers, and to their insipid style of high-adjunct, low-hop lager. But the early history of the large brewers is fascinating, and she shows genuine interest in the microbrew movement and its impact upon American tastes. A very, very enjoyable book.
Great history of American beer industry
This is a very good book about the history of American brewing post-1850. If you're looking for a book that looks at brewing in colonial or early American history, this isn't going to help you. It's basically about the roots of the current American brewing industry and how it got its start with German immigrants. A lot of detail is spent on why pilsner was so popular, why American tastes changed for blander beer, and how microbrewing has changed the industry. The author's research shows that the industry was less to blame for light, pale, bland beer, and was instead a response to changing tastes of the American public. There's quite a bit of information about the interesting characters who ran the big breweries and the rise and fall of various brewing companies.