Teaser Tuesdays: We Make Beer: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America’s Craft Brewers by Sean Lewis

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

beer

I was all over this title, as you can imagine. (Husband would like to point out that “we” don’t make beer. He does. I am quality control.) Sure enough, it only took a few pages to find a few memorable and evocative lines to tease you with:

As the glass is set gently back on the table, the beer drinker’s tongue pokes out to get one more taste off the lips before they open to reveal a quick smile. The stresses of the day’s work are slowly washed away, with layers of lacing on the glass standing as tombstones memorializing each of the annoyances from the previous eight hours.

Anybody else ready to knock off for the day already?

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

beer and books

Well. This is about as easy as it gets: 13 of the Best Literary Quotes About Beer were clearly compiled with me specifically in mind. From beer brewed by “noble twins… in their divine alevats, cunning as the sons of deathless Leda,” to “a great pot, filled with some very fragrant compound, which sent forth a grateful steam,” these lines will make you… thirsty.

I can’t quite decide about Ray Bradbury’s statement that “Beer’s intellectual. What a shame so many idiots drink it.” (Maybe I’m afraid he’s talking about me?) And I rather disagree, respectfully, with Haruki Murakami’s preferences as to temperature, although I concur with his feelings about the progression of temperature as one drinks.

Edgar Allen Poe’s lines are among my very favorite:

Fill with mingled cream and amber,
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chambers of my brain.
Quaintest thoughts — queerest fancies,
Come to life and fade away:
What care I how time advances?
I am drinking ale today.

I am a little saddened by Hemingway’s lines. On the one hand they are a fine example of what I love about his writing: Papa’s descriptions of food and drink are in fact some of the best things he does, and I can’t read those passages without watering mouth. But that this example comes from an ad cheapens it.

And as for the best final line… it had to be the Bard: “a quart of Ale is a dish for a king.” Indeed, sir.

Here’s a tip: ale will make a fine accompaniment to your reading pleasure, too.

great beer quotations in literature: Boule de Suif by Guy de Maupassant

Friends, I proudly come from a family of beer lovers, and have my eyes peeled not only for bicycle quotations in the books I read, but for those concerned with beer as well. I dipped into my very first de Maupassant the other day, and he satisfied.


He had his own fashion of uncorking the bottle and making the beer foam, gazing at it as he inclined his glass and then raised it to a position between the lamp and his eye that he might judge of its color. When he drank, his great beard, which matched the color of his favorite beverage, seemed to tremble with affection; his eyes positively squinted in the endeavor not to lose sight of the beloved glass, and he looked for all the world as if he were fulfilling the only function for which he was born. He seemed to have established in his mind an affinity between the two great passions of his life–pale ale and revolution–and assuredly he could not taste the one without dreaming of the other.

This evocation of trembling beer appreciation captivated me entirely. I am easily charmed.

It’s a great short story, too. Review to come.

Houston Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Bayou City by Ronnie Crocker

If you know anything about me, you should realize that Houston + beer = I will read your book. I am so enthused about my hometown, and about beer, and about my hometown beer (that is experiencing a huge boom as we speak – more on that to come, obviously), that all you would have to do to gain my undivided attention is write a book about Houston + beer. Even poorly written and sloppy. Luckily, I can say that this book goes a step further and does it properly.

Ronnie Crocker writes for the Houston Chronicle, and blogs for same under the name Beer, TX. His book is slim – under 150 pages – but not lightweight; he did his research, and uncovers new details about the history of beer in Houston. This is a surprisingly undersung (and under-researched) topic, apparently.

Beginning with the beginnings of the city (see my earlier teaser), Crocker studies us as a drinking city, and those who have served our thirst. Like many cities in this country, we had something of a boom going before Prohibition, and struggled to make a comeback after that failed experiment. We were a Bud town for a while, and Anheuser-Busch (in its new InBev-conglomerate form) still brews in Houston today, to the tune of …so many millions of barrels that it boggles the mind, and I can’t hold numbers that big in my head. [For more on the AB-InBev merger, check out my review of the excellent Dethroning the King.] Fast forward still more, and we’re seeing a veritable, and delightful, renaissance: the long-standing Saint Arnold Brewing Company (hey, seriously, 18 years is a long time in this business in these parts) joined by a promising handful of new brewers. My favorite is Karbach, of course, but I give a head-nod to Southern Star, No Label, and Buffalo Bayou, too. And I’m still anxiously awaiting the announcement that Yard Sale is in business!

Crocker’s book is admittedly reluctant to criticize; it leans towards the positive, even approaching boosterism. And it ends strangely, with an exhortation to support (i.e. buy from) your locals. But I’m with him! I, too, am excited about Houston beer. So, perhaps Houston Beer isn’t impartial journalism – but it’s an invaluable, unique history. I found it enjoyable, just what I wanted and no, never poorly written or relying on my devotion to the subject to keep me engaged. And it was great fun to see a number of people I know pictured, as a bonus!


Rating: 5 pints.

Teaser Tuesdays: Houston Beer by Ronnie Crocker

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just open your current read to a random page and share a few sentences. Be careful not to include spoilers!

What? A book about beer in Houston? I’m sold. Here’s a teaser for you that provides a quick sketch of my hometown:

By 1838, a deputy constable could count forty-seven establishments selling alcoholic drinks in a city of probably fewer than two thousand residents; the first church wasn’t built until two years later. Despite the city’s first Abstinence Society meetings in February 1839 and what has been described as a “wave of temperance” activity three years later, Houstonians never lost their thirst for strong drink.

Yep, that’s us. I’m excited about the subject of this one.

quick miscellany

Link:

I discovered a tumblr the other day that I fell in love with. Check it out: Awesome People Reading. My favorites include Sid Vicious, Kurt Cobain, and Steve McQueen just for their incongruity; and of course I take all the Hemingway I can get (there are several of him).

Fun news item:

I just want to say I’m excited about the intersection of two things I love: the best of beer, and the best of books. The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award has just been awarded to Lee Child’s 61 Hours. I love this beer and I love this book (and author). Great fun. Perhaps I should begin taking more book advice from beer companies! I didn’t know Theakstons Old Peculier gave a book award. Quick quiz item: which mystery series features a likeable detective’s sidekick who drinks Old Peculier?

Dethroning the King: the hostile takeover of Anheuser-Busch, an American icon, by Julie Macintosh


Wow. Where to begin? I found this book riveting, cover to cover. I took my time, and I took breaks, and I read other books – all this is true. But my interest in this one never waned. I have been raving a bit manically to anyone who will listen ever since I finished it last Friday night. I’ve taken my time writing about it here because I was trying to be less hysterical in my praise.

I’ll give you a quick synopsis if the subject area is unfamiliar to you:

Anheuser-Busch was the last U.S.-owned big beer company in 2008, and was also still family-controlled, by the Busches. (Coors was already part of Canadian-owned Molson-Coors, and Miller was part of South-African-owned SAB-Miller.) A few Brazilian bankers had started, years earlier, by buying out Brazilian Brahma beer, but they quickly grew into a large brewing concern known as AmBev who then joined with Belgian brewers Interbrew to become InBev, which ended up Belgian-based, but mostly Brazilian-controlled. In 2008, AB was suffering, and InBev made their play by offering an impressive bid. AB made a rather half-hearted effort to defend itself by merging with Mexican brewing powerhouse Modelo, but ended up selling to InBev to create Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI).

Macintosh is the journalist who covered the takeover of Anheuser-Busch by InBev, for the Financial Times. She had me right from the start, when she described (in the Author’s Note) her experience as a woman – and a visibly pregnant one, at that – in the doubly male-dominated worlds of finance and beer. This resonated with me, as I’ve worked in beer and in bicycles in the past and am also familiar with the concept of male-dominated industries. This personal relationship to her work foreshadowed to me that she was going to handle her subject from a human perspective, and she did. I like my nonfiction full of narrative and personalities – human characters. This was a fascinating treatment of a story I was already prepared to be interested in. My ties to beer, and the beer industry, originally drew me to this book. But I stayed for the human element.

This story is full of characters. (Forgive me for broadly generalizing, but people in Big Beer and finance are wealthy, and wealthy people tend to be eccentric, yes?) Macintosh kindly includes a “Cast of Characters” (and I also referred to the index to flip back to the earliest mention of a character here and there) to help us keep them straight; but really I had minimal trouble. They’re all so quirky and real (notice I didn’t necessarily say likeable! but interesting, yes). Like I said, the beer got me in the door; but the people and the plot twists kept me in my seat.

The world of finance is thoroughly new and mysterious to me. (I have been harassing my finance-friends to help me understand certain concepts. They have been mostly helpful; or, unavailable. Probably on purpose. That’s you Will.) But it speaks to my engagement in this book, that I am now hyper-motivated to learn all about mergers & acquisitions (independent v. dependent board members… fiduciary duty… private equity firms…) JUST so I can better follow the action in this plot. For me to have found a book of finance this unputdownable seems rather a feat. I can’t recommend it enough.

The more I try and explain my appreciation, the more I think this story wears several hats. It’s actually suspenseful and full of intrigue, like a lot of the novels I enjoy – like a murder/mystery/international intrigue. It also has certain elements of classic tragedy – ambition and hubris being (among) the tragic flaws of the Busch players. And the fate of Anheuser, in mid- and late-2008, is also an allegory for what the United States went through simultaneously. Our national hubris and feeling of this-can’t-happen-to-us led to a shocking (to varying degrees I suppose) downfall. Of course I’m just paraphrasing Macintosh in this; she says on page 22,

Anheuser’s hubris and naivete had led to its fall from grace, and it provided an apt comparison to the broader state of American at the time.

Or again, page 341, in the words of an (unnamed) advisor to AB,

The way this played out was Shakespearean in nature. I haven’t decided which play. The dynamic between father and son was just Shakespearean and tragic.

(The father and son referred to here are August Busch III and IV.)

My notes at the end of reading this book say, “I <3 gray areas." It's always easy to love and hate characters in books when they're all good or all bad; but isn't it more satisfying to feel conflict? Aren’t they more human and thereby more evocative of complex emotions, when they have redeeming characteristics, or confuse us a little bit? These are, of course, real humans; but it’s Macintosh’s journalistic thoroughness that rounds them out. I didn’t find it easy, in the end, to see any of these characters in black and white. Instead, the complexities and gray areas make it echo for me.

If you’re interested in big business, or finance, or the beer industry, or the consolidation of the world market into very few giant conglomerates, or U.S. businesses’ place in an international world, or if you enjoy readable nonfiction… I really can’t overestimate my recommendation of this book.

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