Tuesday, May 15, 2007


What follows is a book proposal that has been sitting with a publisher for a very long time now. Last time I heard from the publisher, in the fall, he said, "If I didn't like it, I would have sent it back already." All I can say is, I'm relieved I haven't had to work on it lately.

Water, grains, hops and yeast…it’s almost hard to believe empires were built – and are being built still – using those four simple ingredients. But it’s true, and Wisconsin has seen more empires rise – and fall – around those four ingredients than just about any other place in America.
The story of beer and brewing in Wisconsin is a story of assimilation and acculturation. The Northern European beer culture brought to this land by immigrants two centuries ago has become as much a part of what Wisconsin is as the pitiful cheesehead, the ignoble bratwurst and the evergreen Green Bay Packers.
When we think of the birth of beer culture in Wisconsin, we think of Germans, people such as Valentin Blatz, Joseph Schlitz and Frederick Miller, but the first brewers in the territory that was to become Wisconsin were Welshmen. The first documented brewery was opened in Mineral Point in 1835 among the community of Welsh miners.
Another Welshman, Richard G. Owens, is credited with opening the first Milwaukee brewery in 1840. By the end of that decade, 22 breweries were in operation in the new state, and 10 years later 166 more had opened.
German immigrants did play a huge part in the explosion of breweries and the demand for beer in Wisconsin. Most early brewers’ roots were there, but the odd Englishman or Bohemian was among them.
That’s what we’re here for, the history of beer and brewing in Wisconsin, but we’ll also take a look at what’s brewing in the 21st century, from megabrewer Miller to a mom-and-pop operation like Rowland’s Calumet Brewery in beautiful downtown Chilton.
We’ve got road trips, festivals and unique watering holes where you can find some of Wisconsin’s finest and freshest on tap.
So, pour a glass of your favorite beverage and dig in.

In which we explain the importance of beer to the people who settled this land, and how it came to be a major industry that has given Wisconsin an identity far beyond its borders.
In which we restore the title of first brewers in Wisconsin to these hard-working, beer-loving immigrants. We’ll look at the first documented brewery at Mineral Point (1835) and the Welsh community that developed there for the mine work. Also look into the beginnings of Milwaukee’s first brewery, opened by a Welshman in 1840.
Through the 1960s Milwaukee was the beer capital of these United States. We look at how it all began in the mid-1800s with the men who built the American Brewing industry in Cream City – Jacob Best, Val Blatz, Frederick Miller, Capt. Frederick Pabst and Joseph Schlitz. Includes details on what happened to each brewery.
A look at the beer empires that grew in other parts of the state – Jacob Leinenkugel in Chippewa Falls, Gottleib Heilemann in La Crosse, Frank Wahle and George Ruder in Stevens Point, and the Walter brothers, who spread their brewing empire across the state, John in eau Claire, George in Appleton, Martin and Christian in Menasha (and later Colorado).
Many breweries could not survive the dark years of Prohibition. We’ll look at those that bit the dust, and learn how survivors made it by producing soft drinks and malt extract for the growing – and illegal – homebrew market.
In 1970, People’s Brewery of Oshkosh was sold to a consortium of black businessmen from Milwaukee (they had previously bid on the Blatz operation in Milwaukee, but were outbid), making it the first black-owned brewery in the country. We look at the problems encountered trying make headway in the steel-toed, blue-collar town. By 1974, the brewery was finished, the victim of racism, pinning hopes on government contracts and the times…regionally breweries were dropping like flies in the mid-70s.
A look at the successful regional breweries that survived Prohibition, acquisitions and changing tastes – Joseph Huber Brewing in Monroe, City Brewery in LaCrosse, Stevens Point Brewery and Leinenkugel in Chippewa Falls.
A short history of microbrewing revolution – what sparked it, who started it here, and a look at some of the industry standouts such as Sprecher in Milwaukee, Capital in Madison and New Glarus in New Glarus.
Briess Malting in the city of Chilton (pop. 3,000) is a major player in the microbrewing revolution, producing specialty malts for brewers across the country and malt extracts for homebrewers.
We suggest a few major thoroughfare road trips in each region of the state, taking in as much brewing history and lore with as little effort as possible. For example, in the case of Milwaukee, it will be a river trip aboard the City Queen brewery boat tour. Includes both breweries and standout beer bars.
APPENDIX I: The Breweries
An alphabetical listing of every brewery in the state – both operating and closed. Operating brewery information will include websites, tour info and whatever else seems pertinent as I’m compiling.
APPENDIX II: The Festivals
A comprehensive listing of every established beer festival in the state, with dates, websites, contact info.
VALUE ADDED STORIES: Concise sidebars sprinkled throughout the text.
-- John Gund Brewing of La Crosse had an international reputation for its Peerless brand beer in the early 1900s.
-- Effinger Brewery, producers of Bader Brew and Brite. Is now the office of the Circus World Museum in Baraboo.
-- Museum of Beer and Brewing, a group of mostly Milwaukee-are a people either in the beer industry or retired from it, who are hoping to find a home to tell the story of brewing in Wisconsin.
-- Electric City Brewing of Kaukauna, which ran at full production during World War II, supplying its Mellow Brew and Pilsner Club beers to camps where U.S. soldiers were preparing for the D-Day invasion.
-- Gipfel Union Brewery, Milwaukee, is believed to be the oldest standing brewery in Wisconsin. It opened in 1843 and today is home to a restaurant supply business.
-- Kingsbury Brewery of Manitowoc actually created the famous Old Style beer that was made famous when the brewery merged with Heilemann of La Crosse in 1963. They also made a Prohibition near beer that was so popular it was brewed into the 1960s.
-- The Put-A-Little-Pepper-In-There Boys, a group of 70-somethings who frequent a Menasha tavern to drink beer and shoot the bull. The bartender knows to add a shot of black pepper to their glasses. They claim it’s good for head retention.
-- And any other significant trivia and/or short stories that might pop up in my continuing research.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Lagers and larger-than-life characters are the star of new book on American brewing

By Jim Lundstrom
Maureen Ogle has been called a corporate lackey, a shill, a patsy and, perhaps most disturbing of all, a neo-conservative.
Some have even called the down-to-earth 53-year-old historian’s abilities into question, which are fighting words for Ogle.
“The only thing that upsets me is when someone challenges my professional integrity,” she said by telephone from her home in Ames, Iowa. “I’m a very thorough, careful, honest historian, unlike a lot of people who write histories. I don’t plagiarize. I don’t hire people to do my research. As far as I’m concerned, my professional integrity is my most important asset.”
What prompted these outbursts against Ogle?
She dared to write a book called “Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer.”
Worse, she dared to start her history not with thirsty Pilgrim fathers sucking murky brews from pumpkins or even thirsty fathers of the Revolution clanking piney tankards o’ ale while plotting against King George, but with German immigrants who introduced sparkling lager to the American palate in the 1850s.
“It’s really a love song to the American dream,” Ogle said of her book. “I thought I was just going to write a book about beer, but it became clear to me about three years into it that I was really writing a song of praise to American opportunism and the opportunities in America. I’m pretty fascinated by the American experience and that’s what this book turns out to be.”
The founders of today’s macrobrews and the golden lagers they produced are the stars of her story, a story publisher Harcourt Books is calling the “first-ever history of American beer,” which was bound to bring the Beer Geeks out of the woodwork, and they were like barflies on free beer day when “Ambitious Brew” hit the shelves in October.
But, as Ogle will tell you, Beer Geeks were not the intended audience for her book.
“I wrote it for a bigger audience,” she said.
She writes not for other historians or academicians, but for the masses. Even so, she realizes a work takes on a life of its own.
“One thing bout being a writer, once it’s out there, it doesn’t really belong to you anymore,” she said. “People are going to make of it what they will. You can’t make everybody see a piece of writing the way you intended it.”
The aspersions cast on Ogle and her book come largely from the minority crackpot wing of Beer Geekdom known as the Beer Snobs. You can tell them by their massive, jutting foreheads and a superior, all-knowing attitude that is always in conflict with their complete lack of social skills.
“The Beer Snobs, they’re not happy,” Ogle said.
They assume many things about Ogle and her book, the most absurd of which is that since Ogle picked up the history of American brewing in mid-19th century when America’s beer barons were just getting their starts in Milwaukee and St. Louis, she must be in the deep pockets of the megabrewers.
But, no, she just did not find colonial ale to be historically significant to her tale of American brewing, which is the story of lager and larger-than-life characters such as Phillip Best and Adolphus Busch and Frederick Pabst.
Later it becomes the story of Prohibition, and later still, the story of the equally larger-than-life characters like Fritz Maytag, Jim Koch and Charlie Papazian, the frontmen in the microbrewing revolution.
But lager is the No. 1 hero and star of “Ambitious Brew,” which has ignited the crank factor on countless beer blogs.
“It’s mostly people really vested in beer, especially homebrewers and people whose hobby is to drink craft beers,” Ogle said. “There are a lot of people who are really invested in craft brewing, emotionally. It’s really important for them to think of other brewers, like Anheuser-Busch, as the enemy. So if you say anything positive at all about Anheuser-Busch, these people just go insane. Their response to me is, ‘You obviously don’t know anything about history, and, look, she did some of her research at the Anheuser corporate library. Clearly that proves she’s just working on their behalf. They’re probably paying her.’ I’ve been told this a lot. Which, of course, is not true. At all. In fact, they wouldn’t let me in the door except to use their corporate library, which they will let any researcher use.”
In fact, her greatest regret is that Anheuser-Busch – who she has heard love the book – would not allow her more access to historic documents.
“I found out pretty quickly Anheuser-Busch wasn’t going to let me look at anything,” she said. “They have hundreds, maybe even a few thousand, letters Adolphus wrote during his lifetime, and they wouldn’t let me look at those. My great sorrow about this book is that I wasn’t allowed to look at those. I don’t know if it would have changed the story, but it would have given the story more texture.”
Ogle has two previous books to her credit – “All the Modern Conveniences: American Household Plumbing, 1840-1890” and “Key West: History of an Island of Dreams.”
Five years ago she began searching for the topic of what was to be her third book when it literally popped into her head upon seeing a Budweiser truck pull into her line of vision.
“I will tell you when I saw that truck, I didn’t know if Budweiser was the name of a company or the name of a beer. That’s how completely clueless I was,” she said.
“It’s clear when I’m working on a book, my brain is hard at work and I really don’t realize it,” she said. “It comes up with this idea, and, of course, my immediate reaction when I saw that truck, I thought that was a fabulous idea. I‘d been trying to come up with something for a couple of months and was coming up empty. Because it was such a great idea, I was absolutely convinced as well, surely it had been done. There must be at least 100, 200 books out there on beer. I was really surprised to discover no historian had ever tried to tackle the subject. There are a few books written by, essentially, beer geeks – and I don’t mean beer geeks in a negative way, beer geeks liked to be called beer geeks – there are some books written by people who don’t really understand how to do history and just repeated the same old anecdotes over and over again. Nobody actually had taken the time to investigate it. My perspective as a historian was a completely blank slate because I didn’t know anything. I had no agenda.”
Ogle said “Ambitious Brew” presented several new challenges, not the least of which was dealing with modern history and the people who made it.
“Interviewing living people is maddening because when people are dead, there’s an end to what you can know about them. There’s a kind of finite story to their life,” she said. “I’d interview six people and there would be six different version of one event. I had to really figure out which version came closest to being the truth. I also discovered there are a lot of personality conflicts. And there are some old animosities that date roughly from 1985 to 1995, that have been resolved, but it was clear that those animosities were still coloring what some people were telling me.
“I also will say getting to know these people absolutely changed my life,” she said. “They are some of the most extraordinarily talented people I’ve ever met in my life, some of the smartest people. I was really inspired by all of them to reach harder and higher in my own life. Jim Koch (founder of Boston Beer Co., maker of Samuel Adams) I think is so smart, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He has a law degree from Harvard. He could have easily been the chief justice of the Supreme Court, but he chose beer.”
Like most people, Ogle said she mindlessly drank cheap beer in college, but working on “Ambitious Brew” has actually turned her into something of a Beer Geek.
Ogle wanted to understand what was attracting all these talented people to beer.
“So one day I went to the grocery store and bought a bunch of beer and brought it home, and for the first time really started taking it seriously,” she said. “I got converted to beer.”
Just don’t ask what her favorite beer is, because, like most Beer Geeks, there is no one favorite brew.
“When people ask me what my favorite beer is I just tell them whatever I’m in the mood for and whatever I think is going to be good with whatever I’m eating,” she said. “My refrigerator has everything from Budweiser Select to Leinenkugel’s Creamy Dark. If I had to pick one it would probably be Saranac Adirondack Lager (from Matt Brewing of Utica, N.Y.), a perfect balance of malt and hops. I really like the graininess of malt.”
While working on “Ambitious Brew” changed her life and introduced her to the rarified world of Beer Geekdom, Ogle has already opened the door (a door she says is marked “Chaos”) on her next subject – meat.
“If the beer book was the bright side of American optimism, meat is the dark side,” she said. “Americans have a fundamental optimism that makes us want to have it all. We really believe that we can have it all. I think meat has become a classic example of that.”
Oh, oh. I can already hear the Meat Geeks and Vegetarians sharpening their knives.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A pint equals a pound the world ’round, or, How the humble cocktail mixer became America’s favorite personal beer delivery system

It happened at an unfamiliar bar where I had a meeting.
The place had a couple of interesting tap beers, so I ordered one. But when the bartender reached for a pint glass, I said, “Whoa! Do you have any other sizes?”
Didn’t feel like a pint of beer, but, as it turned out, like so many places these days, this place served beer only in pints.
“When,” I asked the bartender, “did the 16-ounce pint glass become the personal beer delivery system of America?”
“I don’t know,” she said, mentally adding, I could tell, “what you are talking about.”
Just being above the legal drinking age herself, she was too young to remember a happier time when bars served tap beer in a variety of glasses – 10- and 12-ounce mugs, schooners (also known as goblets, chalices and, only in Milwaukee, bumbas), 7- to 12-ounce pilsner and faux pilsner glasses, and, my personal favorite, the 6-ounce barrel glass.
It got me thinking about where the 16-ounce pint originated.
The British have their pints, but they are 20-ounce Imperial pints and come either in the attractive dimpled mug or the statuesque Nonic, which features a bulge about a third of the way down that makes it easy to hold on to in a crowded pub.
So how did this ugly, utilitarian chunk of glass become so popular? More importantly, where did it come from? Who started serving beer in these sawed-off bastard sons of the elegant British pint?
Turns out is was a Seattle restaurateur by the name of Mick McHugh.
“I didn’t think anybody would care or remember,” said the owner of FX McRory’s Steak Chop & Oyster House in downtown Seattle.
McHugh said it all began in 1975 when he and his then partner, Tim Firnstahl, opened a place called Jake O’Shaughnessy’s Saloon & Eatery next to the Seattle Center.
“We built on our back bar the largest collection of individual spirits in the world,” McHugh said. “It was rightly noted in the Guinness Book of World Records a few years later.”
They also prided themselves on a fine selection of draft beers, and Jake’s became the first place north of San Francisco to serve Guinness. McHugh wanted the appropriate vessels to serve the black nectar.
“I asked our Guinness salesman, what do they say in Ireland when they want a Guinness? He said, ‘Give me a jar’.”
The Guinness rep then explained that a jar is a pint.
“I loved the jargon, pardon my pun,” McHugh said.
But he thought a 20-ounce pint would be a tough sell.
"It would be too pricey, especially when you’re trying to get people to try Guinness or Harp for the first time,” he said. “I thought 16 ounces would be a better marketing idea.”
He paged through glassware catalogs and could not find an appropriate jar. The closest thing was a 16-ounce Mason jar.
“Some restaurants were drinking our of Mason jars, but I didn’t think that was good enough for Guinness,” he said.
Then he saw what he recognized as a 16-ounce bartender’s mixing glass – also known as a shaker – in a catalog from Libbey, the Toledo, Ohio-based glassware company.
“That’s what we would use to stir our Manhattans and martinis in, then strain them out,” McHugh said.
He called his Libbey rep and ordered 10 cases of the 16-ounce shaker. The rep was shocked and wondered if McHugh’s staff was breaking that many mixing glasses because the company usually sold one to a bar every few years. McHugh shocked the rep again when he said he intended to serve beer in the mixing glass.
Turned out the factory didn’t even have 10 cases, but the rep managed to go to distributors around the country and delivered 10 cases to Jake’s for the Feb. 1, 1975, opening.”We did little table tents that said, ‘Order a jar of Guinness,’” McHugh said. “People were fascinated with the term.”
It wasn’t long before the 16-ounce mixing glass started showing up in other Seattle establishments.
“After about a year or so, we started seeing them in other bars, then in airports,” he said. “Then we saw Miller doing all their advertising with a jar, and Miller was the first to call them pounders (based on the British ditty, a pint equals a pound the world ’round). They went from being the slowest-selling Libbey glass to probably the biggest-selling glass Libbey makes. Everybody uses them now.”
The first microbrewer to both use and brand the shaker pint was Redhook Brewery in Seattle. Founder Paul Shipman had taken note of the Shaker pints at McHugh’s restaurant.
“Paul’s a good friend,” McHugh said. “We poured the first pint of Redhook in one of those when he went to market.”
“When Redhook rolled out on Aug. 12, 1982, there were no other micros in the market,” Shipman said. “When Mick decided to use the shaker, it became the staple glass in Seattle and then everywhere. I remember the glass company marveling at how sales of the glass skyrocketed.”
Shipman added that he is a fan of the English 20-ounce pint, which prompted me to contact a few other beer experts around the country to get their take on glassware.
JULIE BRADFORD, editor, All About Beer magazine (www.allaboutbeer.com): “We have a beer bar here in Durham (N.C.), a multi-tap where they really go to the effort of having the right glass. It does take an awful lot more work, but it elevates the whole experience. It makes the point to the drinker that the server takes the beer seriously.
“I really like the stemmed glassware, the sort you would use for barley wine. It lets it open up. You’re drinking a small amount. It sets a different tone. This is a long ways from the frosty mug. It tells the drinker there’s an occasion. I think the right glass underscores that sense of occasion.”
DANIEL BRADFORD, publisher, All About Beer Magazine: “I really enjoy the Imperial pint because I’m quite a stout fan. The Nonic Imperial pint, not the dimpled mug.
“For the Belgians, I love the tulip shape because they concentrate the aroma and give you a large amount of space to warm the beer up. You’re holding it like you hold a cabernet bulb glass.
“I loathe frosted glasses and mugs of any shape whatsoever. It actually drops the temperature and adds a little water because the ice melts. The glass should be presenting the beer, not messing with it. I’ll send them back.”
CHARLIE PAPAZIAN, homebrewing guru and president of the Brewers Association (wwwbeetown.org): I must have 50 of these ‘pint’ glasses at home. While the logos of various breweries are fun, I most often do not drink out of them because I prefer elegant handled mugs, long, slender pilsner glasses or even unique straight-up, thinner-walled alt glasses.
“For those beers that are aromatic, I reach for a stemmed brandy-type beer glass. Great glasses bring out more of the character of the beer. Most of my visiting friends go for the interesting logo’d shaker pints.”
LEW BRYSON, Pennsylvania-based drinks writer and author of several East coast brewery books (lewbryson.com): “I actually like American pints. They stack well, they’re simple, they don’t break that easily, and they’re cheap. But they’re not well-sized for any standard bottle size – and they’re for sure not a pint. They’re clunky and not as attractive as most other beer glasses. They’re a clunky compromise.
“My favorite? The willibecker, which is a BEAUTIFUL compromise between the Nonic pint, the pilsner, the shaker pint, and even a little weissbier – thin glass, the reverse curve to force the head up (the beer push-up bra), tall and slender and just the right size for a hand like mine. I love ’em in half- and third-liter sizes.”
MICHAEL ROPER, Hopleaf Bar, 548 N. Clark St., Chicago (www.hopleaf.com): “We have about 80 different beer glasses, mostly for the Belgian beers. The Belgians are very obsessed with the correct glass for the correct beer. Each glass, reputedly, at least, accents some particular quality of the beer that they want to be prominent. It’s a big part of the identity of these products.
“The 16-ounce mixing glass, as it is sold, is an uncommonly sturdy glass. It is definitely something that the standardized glass washing machines are set up for. It’s something that can be often dropped and not broken. The lip does not chip. We use it for the pale ales, lagers and stouts and things that are British style. It’s boring and not very stylish, but it’s also very workmanlike.
“The most important thing I say, and it’s on my menu, no matter what glass you choose to pour your beer, at least choose to drink it out of a glass. Why drink beer out of a glass? There is a reason. The beer isn’t finished until it’s poured into a glass. That opens it up, exposes it to oxygen and releases the flavors, from the hops, not so much for the taste but he smell. So when you drink beer out of the bottle you cut your nose out of the experience completely.”