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.

Obscurity

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.

 

 

It’s Academic

Several of the associates at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center (FCWSRC) have decided to have a writing group. We met for the first time yesterday. Each person said what they would like to work on while at the center and what help they hoped to get from the group. I have to present a poster at the American Historical Association annual meeting in January. I have never even seen a poster at any conference so I definitely can use some help.

In a discussion of authenticity, which is a subject I wrote about in Brewing Battles, *(see excerpt at end of post) one of the associates said she would like to see my footnotes. I replied that the ideas mainly came from me. In other words, it was my original analysis. This exchange made me realize I have come a long way from my academic roots. Academic scholarship and writing often seeks legitimization by showing that an idea has prestigious pedigree. My current sense of accessible writing is to document the facts and the ideas and analysis are my own.

Another aspect of academe that seems to have changed is literature reviews. When I wrote my dissertation at Columbia University, you had to include a historiographical overview in your prospectus. A prospectus is akin to a book proposal. The actual dissertation did not contain a literature review. Two people in the group who have completed history PhD’s more recently both had to include literature reviews in their dissertations. This seems like a bad idea that will only make it harder to turn the theses into a book.

Before I became a nurse, I had a business, Academic Publicity. It provided promotional services and publicity to academic authors. It was a great idea with a fatal flaw. Most academics don’t think of themselves as writers or authors. Therefore, they do not want to pay to promote their books. By now, I really think of myself as a writer and author. I am writing Dames, Dishes and Degrees from that perspective.

* Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer (New York: Algora Press, 2007, 190.

The emergence of craft brewing highlights a battle within the brewing industry over authenticity and identity. Since World War II the national brewers have connected beer to all things American —  baseball, barbeques, race cars, and pretty, sexy women.1 Yet the nationalizing of the beer industry removed one of the most potent aspects of beer’s identity — localism. The new generation of brewers emphasizes its connection to place and community even more than taste. They stake a claim to authenticity via their roots in a specific locale.

Craft brewers, whether or not they start as home brewers, are entrepreneurs. In this way they are similar to the many hundreds of people who start a business every day. What is interesting about the thousands of people who started breweries and brewpubs since the late 1970s is that they created these businesses in an industry dominated by some of America’s biggest companies.

Craft brewers have been able to exploit a hole, a gap, in the huge edifice of American brewing. Some three to fifteen percent of the American beer drinking population didn’t and still doesn’t like drinking Bud, Schlitz, Miller, or Pabst. In the nineteenth century ten percent of Pabst’s customers wanted pure malt beer; craft beer drinkers of the twenty-first century are their  descendants. 2


Academic Publishing

Today I attended a panel on Publishing cosponsored by the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center and Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism. The panelists were: Marilyn Billings, Scholarly Communication and Special Initiatives Librarian, UMass Amherst, Ralph Faulkingham, Professor of Anthropology, UMass Amherst and Co-Editor of the African Studies Review, Paula Giddings, Senior Editor, Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism,  Laura Lovett, Associate Professor of History, UMass Amherst/Director, Five College Women’s Studies Research Center/Editorial Staff, The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, Karen Sanchez-Eppler, Professor of English and American Studies, Amherst College and Editorial Staff, The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, and Bruce Wilcox, Director, University Press, UMass Amherst.

The discussion was mainly about publishing articles in scholarly journals, which seems like an arduous task. Several of the speakers connected publishing to advancement in one’s career. Given that it can sometimes take up to two and a half years for an article to be published, the process seems designed to be very anxiety provoking.

One of the questions from the audience was about journals not wanting an author to submit to more than one journal at a time. Karen Sanchez-Eppler said she feels it is because the peer reviewers are volunteers so the journals’ editors want to be protective of their time and energy. She suggested that it is a system of collegiality. Of course, whether they mean it or not, it also acts as a barrier to entry for aspiring academics. The journals’ editors and reviewers are already in, to a greater or less extent, and their decision on your journal article submission can play a role in whether you rise up the tenure track ladder or not.

Another group of questions was about images and copyright issues more generally. This is a very grey area since a lot depends on whether you think somebody will notice if you have used an image or not. I tried very hard to acquire permission for all the images in Brewing Battles but I know that other authors are sometimes not as scrupulous. It can cost you a lot of money to use images; authors usually bear the cost.

Marilyn Billings is a librarian at the University of Massachusetts where they are encouraging PhD students to place their completed dissertations in an open access format, Scholarworks, that the University maintains. This is not a replacement for what in my day was UMI and is now Proquest UMI Dissertation Publishing.  Although Scholarworks is not competing with UMI, I wonder about its future.  As both print on demand companies and open access services provided by universities increase, the option of placing your thesis with UMI to be “published” seems less automatic.

I am not an academic although I am a historian and I do have a PhD. Listening to both the speakers and the audience, I realized once again what a difficult career choice academia is, certainly, until you get tenure.

Sin Taxes

There is a very lively discussion of the proposed fee increase in the federal beer tax going on in the blogosphere. Two places that have interesting discussions are Alan McLeod, at A Good Beer Blog, and Steve Sullivan, guest blogging yesterday on Kasper On Tap on the Baltimore Sun site. Sullivan provides a roundup of the current blogging on proposed increases in liquor taxes to finance health care reform. I have posted a bunch on this topic and my dissertation and a large part of my book dealt with the federal government and liquor taxes.

Last April I posted about a proposed increase in the Wisconsin beer tax. Many of the points are also relevant for the federal situation so I am re-posting it.

April 14, 2008

The  website Wausau Daily Herald.com had a posting yesterday suggesting that Wisconsin raise its beer tax. Apparently the state is facing a rising problem of underage drinking and some legislators as well as police officers  believe one response should be increased beer taxes. The state is also facing a budget deficit of $250 million.

Wisconsin has not increased the beer tax since 1969. It remains at six cents a gallon; the national average is twenty-six cents. During the forty years that the Wisconsin beer tax has remained stationary, tobacco taxes in the state have increased eight times. They are currently $1.77 a pack. Wisconsin ranks first both in percentage of high school students that drink and  binge drinkers.

Given Wisconsin’s historical image as a center of brewing, the author of the posting suggested that, “Proposing a beer tax increase here is like suggesting higher tobacco taxes in North Carolina.” The author actually understates the potential opposition to a beer tax increase since he cites only Miller as a factor in the current Wisconsin brewing industry and claims primarily sentimental value for the industry today. However there are over fifty breweries and brew pubs in Wisconsin; several of which are among the top fifty brewers in the  country. Miller Brewing is of course the country’s third largest brewers while  Minhas Craft Brewery of Monroe, Wisconsin is fifteenth.

In 1991, when the brewing industry faced the first tax increase for beer in forty years, brewers large and small joined to fight the proposed increase. In fact most brewing industry organizations including the Beer Institute, the Brewers Association, and the National Beer Wholesalers Association maintain that tax should be rolled back.

Although craft brewing has a certain cachet that would imply it is something other than a business, craft brewers are no different from Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors  in seeking the least possible federal and state interference and regulation via  taxation or other means. Given the poor economic landscape as well as the particular problems facing brewers such as the hops shortage, it is very likely that the brewing industry will argue against the tax as a regressive measure that would fall unfairly on middle class and working people. Because the brewing industry has always emphasized the heavy tax burden it already bears, it will argue that further taxes are not appropriate.

Increasing taxes to  cover the societal costs of alcohol and abuse is something that the brewing industry has always rejected and will most probably continue to. It is very interesting that these arguments date back to the the beginning of federal taxation of beer and distilled spirits in 1862 and have not changed very much.

What’s Next

I have started thinking about my next project. Brewing Battles was my attempt to get into print some of the ideas, concepts, and research contained in my dissertation. Publishing the book has given me a good sense of closure yet I am not sure if I am done yet. My dissertation, “The Politics of Alcohol Production: The Liquor Industry and the Federal Government 1862 – 1900” dealt both with distilled spirits and beer. The parts of the dissertation that dealt with distilling remain unpublished; there is limited access to the material. I would like more people to read the ideas contained in those chapters but I do not feel that I necessarily want to write a companion book, Distilling Duels: The History of the Distilled Spirits Industry in America.



For the book, I chose to focus on beer because the story of brewing and brewers in America seemed both more cohesive and more integral to American history. The history of distilled spirits in America is a more predictable one, with concentration and consolidation occurring earlier and more completely. A notable exception was bourbon which claimed a more distinctive heritage and marketing.

Recently the same impulse that prompted home brewers, craft brewers, and regional brewers to reinvent American brewing on a small, local, artisanal basis has spread to distilled spirits. Anchor Steam now has a distillery, V1 Vodka produces small batch vodka in Western Massachusetts, and there are artisanal producers of rum and other alcoholic beverages.

To order my dissertation you can go to Dissertation Express . Type in my name, Amy Mittelman and or the title of the dissertation, “The Politics of Alcohol Production: TheLiquor Industry and the Federal Government, 1862 – 1900.”

You can also try to get a copy of the dissertation through inter library loan.