Beer Journal

A quasi-daily examination of beer and things related to beer.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Book Review: Ambitious Brew

Ambitious Brews: The Story of American Beer is the third book written by Maureen Ogle, and the first, as the title would suggest, that piques the interest of the Beer Journal. In it, Ogle attempts to chronicle our nation's history of commercial and marketed beer. There are short mentions of independent brewers, microbreweries and home brewing, but make no mistake about it: this book is primarily about the big names. Specifically, we are treated to the familial and company histories of the Anheuser-Busch, Pabst and Miller. Starting in the 1840's and progressing along a time line that mirrors the most notable dates in United States history (the Civil War, the Great Depression, Prohibition, both World Wars, etc.), Ogle tells the tale of the cultural, political and social importance and influence of our favorite drink.

Most subject-specific histories tend to be just that and this author follows suit, constantly giving the reader the reoccurring impression that beer didn't just play a part in this nations history, it damn-near formed it. For instance, why did Coca-Cola and other soda brands become so popular? If you are to believe Ogle, it's because during Prohibition, Americans had to find something new to drink.

As mentioned earlier, Ogle focuses mainly on the two giants of early American brewing, not even mentioning Coors until the 1970's. And outside of a few sections covering Sierra Nevada and Boston Beer Company, smaller - and let's face it better - brewers are hardly mentioned. For that matter, any mentions as to what makes a good beer (or not) are absent. Also missing is much of the litigation against the industry; I understand that Ogle is attempting to paint beer in a positive light, but how can you provide an objective history and not talk about the numerous ill effects of drinking?

What is present is an abundance of hands-to-paper research, particularly of American brewing's early days, research that can't easily be done online, and for that, Ambitious Brew is probably the cumulative standard-bearer of its kind. But that also makes the book's read a front-heavy one: as far as beer books go, it's very good; as a history, it's lacking.

Rating: 7.8

Ogle, Maureen. Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer. Harcourt, Inc. New York, NY: 2006.


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