Jewish Beer and Brewing

On Sunday, I gave a talk at the Jewish Community of Amherst on “Jewish Beer and Brewing.” I didn’t actually write that much about this topic in my book, Brewing Battles, so this talk was a combination of material from the book and other sources. For this blog post, I will present primarily the new material.

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In 1840, the Jewish population in America was about 15,000. By 1880, there were 250,000. The majority were German Jews. Their reasons for leaving were very similar to non-Jewish Germans. Many of the German Jewish immigrants were involved in business including banking and department stores. German Jews had not been prominently involved in brewing in Germany and thus did not gravitate to that industry in America. The industry that both German and Eastern European Jewish immigrants played a major role in was the garment industry as well as department stores. My father and his family all worked in the garment industry. Continue reading “Jewish Beer and Brewing”

Bye Bye Blue Laws?

Blue Laws  restrict the selling of alcohol on Sundays and date back to the nineteenth century. Blue law legislation can also prohibit other commercial activities on Sunday. Most states have rescinded or overturned this legislation but Connecticut, Georgia, and Indiana still restrict sales of all alcoholic beverages. Fifteen other states , including Texas, prohibit the sale of distilled spirits only.

According to Time, these states may soon join the rest of the country in providing 24/7 liquor sales to their citizens. Although the Christian right opposes overturning the Blue laws, the states feel they are losing a valuable source of revenue by continuing  to prohibit Sunday sales. Connecticut faces competition from both New York and Massachusetts while Texas feels it is losing  revenue from potential sales along the border with Mexico.

The Time article points out how governments turn to alcohol as a source of revenue during hard times. The Repeal of Prohibition at the height of the Great Depression is the most striking parallel to today’s situation. President Obama certainly appears to share President Franklin Roosevelt’s affinity for cocktails but Jessica Warner, The Day George Bush Stopped Drinking: Why Abstinence Matters to the Religious Right, argues that, as a society America needs to abstain from something. If the revenue needs of states move our abstemious gaze away from alcohol, what other substance or behavior will we seek to curtail?

60 Minutes

I just finished watching a segment of 60 Minutes on the drinking age. I have written about this subject before but I guess there is always more to say. The spokesperson for the college presidents who want to lower the drinking age to eighteen was John McCardell, former president of Middleburry College while the head of MADD spoke in opposition. 60 Minutes told a horrific story about an eighteen year old who died of alcohol poisoning following a fraternity initiation rite. His friends left him alone to die. Both his parents and McCardell seem to feel that the situation would have been different if the drinking age was lower. I am not sure if the legal status of the alcohol and the drinkers could change the basic immaturity of the people involved. To my mind, their lack of judgment in every area caused the death of that young man.

McCardell wants to accompany the lowering of the drinking age with mandatory alcohol education and a subsequent license to drink. He proposed this after saying he wasn’t suggesting temperance or prohibition. However, his ideas for alcohol education sound a lot like Scientific Temperance Instruction which was a program of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement and featured a shriveled up liver in a jar. Although McCardell wants to paint his opposition as prohibitionist, his ideas support a temperate or moderate approach to drinking. McCardell acknowledged, to Leslie Stahl, that many people are opposed to lowering the drinking age but he feels history is on his side. After all, according to him, everyone knows that Prohibition failed. If the issue is strictly levels of alcohol consumption, Prohibition did not fail. Levels decreased significantly and did not climb back up to pre-Prohibition levels until the 1970s.

A Day in New York City

Yesterday I had to go to New York City for the day. After my appointment I had about four hours to kill before my train left. First I went to the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum which until 2000 was the Abigail Adams Smith House. I had chosen to go there because I thought it was the headquarters of the Colonial Dames of America. colonial-barbie

The CDA does manage the Museum but their offices and presumably archives are in the building next door. This was built in 1977 to look old. Oddly enough, this building looks worse than the museum, which was built in 1799 as a carriage house for the planned mansion of Abigail Adams Smith, John Adams daughter, and her husband. The museum does not have any artifacts pertaining to the Smiths which may be one reason they changed their mission.In 1826 Joseph Hart purchased the carriage house and turned it into a day resort, equivalent to a spa today.  Hart operated this business for seven years until 1833.

The museum only has a few things that are actually from the hotel. The rest of the artifacts are “of the period.”  This is often the case with small museums. No one was in at the CDA so I couldn’t talk to them.

After the 30 minute tour of the museum I ate lunch and then I went to Bloomingdales. I haven’t been in Bloomies in a very long time. The display windows  are full of Barbie doll mannequins because Barbie is 50 and Bloomingdales is celebrating her birthday. According to the New York Times the store is “leaning on Barbie to salvage its quarterly bottom line.”

On the third floor there must have been over one hundred Barbies from different years dressed as different careers including doctor and stewardess. There were also Barbies as different celebrity figures. Apparently the first one of these was Twiggy in the 70s but there is also one of Beyonce. Most of the dolls are from the 90s. The 1959 Barbie is a replica.I confess I still have my Barbie which dates from that time.

On the second floor the store is selling Barbie purses and replica dolls. There is also a display of life size mannequins in designer clothes. Although I didn’t plan on it, the day turned out to have a theme, Both the  Colonial Dames and Barbie represent American womanhood and ideals of femininity. Now I just have to figure out how they are connected.

Change Has Come

I went to Washington for the Inauguration. It was amazing. My husband and I were there from Saturday until yesterday. Saturday evening we went to a Fairfax County Democratic Ball which was very interesting. It is great that Virginia went Democratic for the first time since 1964.

Sunday we went to see a Lincoln exhibit at the National Museum of American History and also saw Julia Child’s kitchen. She had two copies of Joy of Cooking which I guess means that book was as indispensable to her as to the rest of America. We also met the director of the museum. He gave us directions.

Then we walked toward the Washington Monument to try to attend the We are One concert. We hooked up with a lovely young woman named Rima and her sister. Rima is a Washington native so she was very helpful and extraordinarily nice. The whole time in Washington everyone was very nice. We wound up being pretty close to the stage at the Lincoln Memorial, , and I did see with my own eyes, not on the JumboTron, the bottom half of Obama walk to the podium so I guess that we can count that as my Obama sighting.

The concert was very exciting. Garth Brooks was the best. When Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen sang “This Land is Your Land” everyone was singing. One person near me was pledging allegiance. The concert built as it went along and Obama’s speech was very good. Beyonce closed the concert which was very entertaining.

On Monday we walked completely around the Tidal Basin and saw both the Jefferson Memorial and the Roosevelt Memorial. The Martin Luther King Junior Memorial will also be on the Tidal Basin which is where the Cherry Blossoms are in the spring. The scenery was beautiful. (I will put up pictures in the next few days.) Since it was Martin Luther King Day and President Obama said it should be a day of service, we went and picketed in front of a Hilton Hotel with the workers from the hotel. Apparently they have been working without a contract for a year and a half. All of the candidates for governor of Virginia were there including Terry McAuliffe, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager. He was the biggest celebrity we saw on our trip. He was passing out cookies.

Tuesday morning we go up at 3:15 in the morning and made our way to a subway stop parking garage in Northern Virginia. Even that early there was a line and many, many people on the Metro. We went to my sister-in-law’s office which is relatively close to the Capital We ate some breakfast and had some coffee then set out to get to the Mall to see the swearing-in. There were more people on the street then I have ever seen and it was only 6:30 in the morning.  My brother had two tickets but very nicely gave them away to stay with us and his children, who are eighteen and fifteen. We were trying to get to 7th and Independence which was the start of the non-ticketed standing area on the Mall. At one point a truck needed to get by and everyone had to squeeze together. Near 7th a guard told us that we should go on to 12th or 14th. We wound up getting on to the Mall at 12th – there was no security- and watched the whole on a JumboTron between 9th and 12th.

I feel so fortunate that we actually got onto the Mall and saw the whole thing live. It was very cold and we stood there from 7 a.m. until 1p.m. They showed the concert again as a warm-up and then the ceremony started at 10 a.m. The crowd was enormous  and very friendly. There were millions of flags and every time there was anything to cheer about everyone waved them at the same time. It was so moving to see the flags and to feel so good about my country. To be in Washington for a positive reason and share that with so many people was truly a blessing. When Obama spoke and stood up for the Constitution and civil liberties it was thrilling. Reverend Lowery’s benediction was stunning and it was a great feeling to say Amen with everyone else. Only my feet got cold and I put hand warmers in my shoes. Attending the swearing in feels like I got a  gift. Yes We Can! Yes We Did! Yes We Will!

Beer Books on Amazon

Right now, 12: 55 p.m. on Saturday January 10, 2009, the hardcover version of Brewing Battles is number 87 in Amazon’s  list of  “The most popular items in Beer. Updated hourly.” Yesterday the paperback was 84 and the hardcover 100.

The rankings really do change by the hour so it could all be different by 2 p.m. I have always intended to write at least one blog about Amazon and I have been trying for a while to catch a moment when at least one of the versions of the book was on the list so I could write about the contents  of the list rather than its meaning and value .

Number One right now is How to Brew: Everything You Need to Know to Brew Right the First Time by John Palmer. Of the nine other books in the top ten,  eight are about home brewing, including  Charles Papazian’s classic, The Joy of Homebrewing which is number 3. Number 5 is  The Alaskan Bootlegger’s Bible which, according to Amazon, tells the reader  “how to make beer, wine, liqueurs, cider and moonshine whiskey.” Home distilling is  illegal in the United States.

In my recent AHA talk, I discussed the fact that scholarly work on alcohol and temperance has been more weighted towards temperance than the industry. The reverse is true for popular literature as the Amazon list indicates.

Number 10 on the list is Charles Bamforth, Grape Versus Grain: A Historical, Technological and Social Comparison of Beer and Wine. Bamforth is the Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Brewing Science at the University of California, Davis.

The next fifteen follow the same general path, being either about some aspect of brewing geared toward the home brewer, or about beer styles and types of beer. Number 18 , Stan Hieronymous, tells you how to Brew Like a Monk while number 23 is the late Michael Jackson’s opinion on the best beer in the world, Ultimate Beer. Charlie Papazian makes another appearance with the same book at 24 ( one of the many peculiarities of  Amazon’s list – for another post).Shine on Shiner Beer rounds out the top twenty-five and commemorates the 100 year history of the Texas brewery.

Numbers 25 to 50 cover more brewing how-tos,  a book on beer drinking games, a beer memoir by Steve Hindy, Beer School:Bottling Success at the Brooklyn  Brewery, Brewing For Dummies, another book by Michael Jackson as well as another by Charles Papazian. Numebr 36 New Jersey Breweries by Lew Bryson, is a guide book; the first history on the list is number 49, Maureren Ogle, Ambitious Brew, the hardcover.

Numbers 51 -75 include books on wine, sake, and root beer as well as another book by Charles Bamforth. Number 72 is Maureen Ogle in paperback ( that peculiarity again)

Okay I have been writing this for forty-five minutes . Let’s see if Brewing Battle’s is still on the list. I am but at 89.  Number 77 is Gregg Smith, Beer in America: The Early years 1587-1840 which is a good , popular history of the pre-German American brewing industry. The rest of the groups is more of the same with  beer drinking games, sake, Michael Jackson, The Big Book O’ Beer which is shaped like a beer can, and several cookbooks. Number86 is Ken Wells, Travels with Barley,a  journalistic endeavor. The final book, number 100 is Bill Yenne, Beers of the World. Yenne has written several books on beer.

Even though the list changes every hours and did so while I have been writing, the actual content of the list does not vary very much. You can pretty much count on Jackson and Papazian as well as a  few others; then books on home brewing and beer styles with a very small smattering of more serous works.

It would have been surprising to find an anti-alcohol work on this list, but having examined the beer list, I think I will try to find a similar list for health, temperance, prohibition or the like and see what that holds.

Attending the AHA

I returned yesterday from attending the American Historical Association annual meeting in New York City. The AHA is always very large and the panels are usually not that interesting. Most of the people attending are in some way involved in the job process; either interviewing or being interviewed. I am very glad I do not do that anymore. Smaller conferences like the ones the ADHS sponsors are much nicer and have more interesting panels. The few Berkshire Conferences I have attended have also been very nice.

The Hilton was the headquarters for the conference; it was very poorly run. Our room had no remote control for the TV, no hair dryer and no pen or pad. You could not get a bellman and the check-in was a nightmare. The drinks is the bar were ridiculously expensive; $11 for a Guinness and $4 for a seltzer. Of course it is New York but still.

The ADHS is an affiliate organization and always holds sessions concurrently, mostly due to W. Scott Haine. The first panel was on Friday afternoon and was on “Writers, the Creative Process, and the Influence of Drink and Drugs.” The papers were very interesting; the main question that came up for me was that of sociability and whether the sociability of a psychoactive substance affects how society looks at the substance. Alcohol has always been seen as a social activator while drugs such as opium or heroin are usually characterized as individualistic in their effects. Does society look at alcohol or coffee more favorably because of the perceived sociability of those drugs?

The other ADHS panel was one that I was on; “American Alcohol Studies Matures: The Class of 1979, Thirty Years of Reflection.” I am part of the “Class of 1979” because I helped found the Alcohol Temperance History Group (the former name of the ADHS). Dan Malleck, who is the editor of the ADHS journal, chaired the session. The other panelists either published books in 1979 or were influenced by books published in 1979.

We had a good discussion, both between the panelists and with the audience. There were many questions about transnational history and the study of alcohol and other drugs. David Courtwright, the incoming president of the ADHS, made the point that we too often do the single country or single drug kind of book. This is definitely true but there is also the problem of doability, especially for dissertations. If anyone is interested in my paper, email me and I can send you a copy.

Besides seeing Eric Foner, my dissertation sponsor and a good friend, the only other panel I attended was “Discrimination/Harassment on the Job”, sponsored by the Professional Division of the AHA and other groups. People spoke about the various, ongoing problems facing women, people of color, glbt, and disabled people seeking and retaining employment as historians.

Some of the stories were horrifying; several people remarked that Fortune 500 companies are ahead of academia in dealing with issues of family and work life balance as well as policing discriminatory hiring practices. Although I have not worked at a large corporation, I have worked in non-academic settings – hospitals. These institutions are just as capable of being discriminatory and harassing as your average history department. I think it is a bit of wistful thinking on the part of academics to believe that people working for corporations have it better.

Although I do not make my living as an academic, I do consider myself a professional historian and that is something I am proud of. I am also proud of being a nurse, an author, and a mother. The idea that one’s adult life goes along a linear path was never true for women and is increasing not true for men as well.