Beer History

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History recently hires Theresa McCulla to oversee its American Brewing History Initiative. The Brewers Association, the trade organization for small and craft brewers is funding the three-year position. McCulla is completing a Ph.D at Harvard in American Studies.   From reading about her and the position here, it appears that the project will focus on beer, particularly craft beer as a food and cultural phenomenon.

The posting of this position in July and the hiring of McCulla has made me think, again, about beer history and how I conceptualize the subject. Before I had this WordPress blog, I had an ersatz blog on my website which was then hosted by Network Solutions.

On April 3 2008 I published the following post which fairly accurately explains ow I approached writing my book, Brewing Battles. Since it is almost nine years old I have done some editing.


These are some thoughts I have been having about beer history and the history of Repeal and Prohibition. Sometimes it feels like I am writing this bog for myself since no one ever comments although I continue to hope that people will.  I wrote the book I wanted to write. In many ways writing Brewing Battles was the fulfillment of long-held ambitions. This is what is important to me.

Through various marketing and advertising campaigns the post-repeal brewing industry sought to generate mass consumption and a prominent place for beer in American society. These goals are not that different from the goals of the 2008 brewing industry as they seek to promote April 7th as the end of Repeal. It is interesting that the Beer Institute, the arm of the big brewers, the Brewers Association,  and beer bloggers all want April 7 1933 to be the historical moment that is celebrated.

Historians, of course, realize that the whole period from April to December 1933 constituted Repeal and that the interaction between the federal government and the liquor industry is essential to understanding both the 18th and 21st amendments.

Most modern industries have trade associations to facilitate their relationship with federal, state, and local governments as well as promote a positive image of the industry. From 1862 to 1986 the brewing industry had the United States Brewers Association to fulfill these services. In 1933 the USBA, founded by brewers whose breweries no longer exist and thus could be considered obscure, stood ready to join the government in reestablishing beer as a legal beverage.

History is on one level about winners and losers. The nature of battle is that the winners often write the history.  In the brewing industry of 2008, Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Coors, Boston Beer, and some other craft beers are the winners. But how did they obtain their winning status? If we tell that story from today back solely from their perspective we lose much of the richness that is historical narrative.  Frederick Lauer, Christian Moerlein, George Ehret and Frank Jones are no longer household names, This fact alone doe not mean they do not have historical significance.

I began Brewing Battles in the colonial period because the early colonists came from beer drinking societies and they sought to replicate that practice in their new home. The early American brewing industry was small and fragile; it existed as one among many beverages competing for colonial favor. This early period set the stage f or the subsequent rise of beer as America’s premier alcoholic beverage.

My book is heavily footnoted; interested readers can easily find the sources for my analysis. Many non-fiction books toady do not have any footnotes. The reader must take on faith that the author could substantiate his or her claims. Other books footnote only the quotations. Once again the reader must take the validity of the rest of the information on faith.  I was determined to write a book that would have high scholarly standards while being interesting and accessible to readers. The many positive reviews I have received indicate that I have succeeded.



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