Archive | Books

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

This review originally appeared at Appellation Beer.

Last CallDuring a recent episode of the television series “Mad Men” newcomer Faye Miller told the iconic Don Draper, “I don’t know how people drink the way you do around here. I’d fall asleep.”

Miller serves as a proxy for those in the twenty-first century who are astonished at the amount of alcohol consumed during working hours on Madison Avenue in the 1960s. But why would we be? After all, as Daniel Okrent explains in Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition president James Madison drank an entire pint of whiskey daily. America and booze have always been on a first name basis, even during Prohibition.

Prohibition books come along quite regularly, but Okrent combines the sense of a historian with a great eye for detail and and ability to to entertain. For instance, one story about a sequence of events in the remote upper Michigan mining town of Iron River ultimately makes it clear why many hard working, middle class Americans would never obey the laws of Prohibition. It’s a little long to recount in detail here, so one paragraph from page 123:

Mostly, though, the press contingent got indoor pictures of Dalrymple staring down the thrity-four-year-old Mcdonough in the lobby of the Iron Inn or exterior shots of him out in the frigid February weather, sledgehammer in hand, smashing open the barrels of wine his men had managed to intercept. As vivid gouts of Dago Red saturated a nhearby snowbank, turning it a deep, grapy purple, a camerman from Pathé News gave a local man called “Necktie” Sensiba fifty cents to drop to his knees and eat the snow. The high school kids who joined him didn’t have to be paid.

His is a tale of politics — every beginning political science class should study how a collection of minorities managed to get a congressional amendment (nothing as simple as a law) passed that a clear majority clearly opposed — and thus politicians and other bigger than life characters. Grade schoolers today may not learn about Anti-Saloon League honcho Wayne B. Wheeler but Philip Seymour Hoffman would be mighty fine playing the part in a movie.

(The cover of the book says, “To be featured in a forthcoming Ken Burns documentary on PBS,” and that Okrent uses these characters to advance the plot surely appeals to Burns.)

Last Call is all encompassing — though it’s greatest strength is the chapters describing what happened during Prohibition itself — with plenty of before, during and after.

This seems almost like an aside, but although there’s plenty of beer inside it’s not really a beer book. Yet it fits quite neatly on the shelf next to Maureen Ogle’s Ambitious Brew. Okrent doesn’t detail how beer changed because of Prohibition, since, as Ogle explained, it didn’t. The road toward consolidation and a beer monoculture (dramatically reversed in the 1970s and ’80s) was paved before Prohibition.

New book: Colorado has its own BrewDogs

No, not BrewDog, the Scottish brewery that seems to constantly gives us reason to talk about it.

The BrewDogs of Colorado is a photo book of, you guessed it, dogs and arrived in Colorado bookstores and breweries this week. The book (152 pages) includes images of over 70 brew dogs and over 200 color photos of breweries throughout Colorado, was produced by a Colorado Springs family.

“While the idea was not exactly born over a beer, the connection between beer and dogs is not too far ‘fetched,’” co-authors Brian and Becky Bennett state for a press release. “We realized that not only are most Colorado breweries dog-friendly, but a lot of beers are named after dogs.”

The book sells for $29.95 and can bee ordered online.

Amber, Gold & Black

Think it’s too late to get a last minute gift for your beer connoisseur? Think again. British beer writer and historian Martyn Cornell published an e-book entitled Amber, Gold & Black: The Story of Britain’s Great Beers. Best of all, it’s only available as a pdf so you can buy it online right now at the Corner Pub and have it in plenty of time for Christmas.

Amber Gold & Black

And not only is it easy to buy online, but it’s one of best books on beer styles ever written, the result of years of painstaking research that shatters many of the myths surrounding the origins of famous beer styles like Porters and India Pale Ales.

Chapters cover sixteen different beer styles and go into great detail about each one of them. Did I mention it’s also a pleasure to read? And it’s filled with photographs, graphics, beer labels and old brewery advertisements. No matter how much you think you know about beer, you’ll learn a great deal from Cornell’s efforts. Oh, and did I mention it’s a mere fiver? At just five pounds, it may well be the bargain of the year, too. Seriously, take it from me. You should buy this book. One for yourself and at least one as a gift. It’s that good.

Here’s more information from the publisher:

Amber, Gold and Black, The Story of Britain’s Great Beers, by the award-winning beer writer Martyn Cornell, is the most comprehensive history of British beer styles of all kinds ever written, the true stories behind Porter, Bitter, Mild, Stout, IPA, Brown Ale, Burton Ale, Old Ale, Barley Wine, and all the other beers produced in Britain.

This ebook is a celebration of the depths of British beer, a look at the roots of the styles we enjoy today, as well as those ales and beers we have lost, and a study into how the liquids that fill our beer glasses, amber gold and black, developed over the years.

Astonishingly, this is the first book devoted solely to looking at the unique history of the different styles of beer produced in Britain.

Martyn Cornell also writes online as The Zythophile, easily one of the most informative and interesting beer blogs on the planet. You can get a sample of his writing there, too, if you’re not yet convinced that you should buy Amber, Gold & Black.


Great Beers of Belgium, 6th Edition

Michael Jackson’s legacy as “the beer hunter” prevails in the new sixth edition of the Great Beers of Belgium. This final text, 15 years in the making, displays Jackson’s superior talent as a writer and his tireless passion as a lover of beer.

This updated version contains listings covering 326 different beers across 13 style groups, on more than 500 pages of text and enhanced with nearly 800 color photographs. The text includes over 50% more information than the third and last edition published in the U.S. in 1998.

“Michael Jackson’s fascination with Belgian beer drove him to continuously research and expand this book,” said Ray Daniels, Director of Publications at the Brewers Association. “This final revision gives the most complete picture of Belgian beer ever assembled in the English language.”

Great Beers of Belgium

Along with an image of the beer bottle and appropriate glass, Jackson intricately describes each beer’s character and flavor. He takes care to provide the reader with the background of each brewery and the personal stories of the people behind these amazing beers.

“Revised and updated shortly before his death, this work represents the pinnacle of Jackson’s meticulous research and masterful writing, presented in a beautifully illustrated visual environment,” said Daniels.

Originally a newspaper reporter, Jackson began to fully focus on the worldwide resurgence of beer in the mid 1970’s. His award winning television series, “The Beer Hunter” has been shown in 15 different countries. Jackson’s accolades extend to all mediums of journalism and in 1997, he was the first non-brewer to be inducted into the Confédération des Brasseries de Belgique, The Union of Belgian Brewers.

The book is supplemented with practical information for travelers to Belgium and those who seek good Belgian beer in communities around the world. It is perfect for at-home reference and as a travel companion. Visit Great Beers of Belgium for more information and sample listings. The book may also be purchased online at the Brewers Association’s Beer Enthusiast Store, at

Shine On

In the early 1900s, German and Czech immigrants in the town of Shiner, Texas, started a brewery to make the kind of beer they’d left behind in their homelands. They ultimately decided to hire a real brewmaster, and looked to one of the old countries for the right guy. And what a guy they found. Kosmos Spoetzl. A one-time Bavarian army soldier and classically trained brewmaster who came to Texas by way of Egypt and Canada.

Kosmos was a larger-than-life character and, it turns out, a great brewmaster who eventually bought the brewery, gave it his name and kick-started Shiner Beers down the dirt road to fame. Jump ahead to the present day. “The Little Brewery in Shiner” survived hard-scrabble beginnings and tough times to become a legend and one of America’s oldest and most successful independent breweries. The flagship beer, Shiner Bock, has achieved iconic status, with millions of passionate fans around the world. What happened between founding of the brewery and where it is today reads like fiction. But it isn’t. It’s all true.

Shine On

And if you want to find out what happened, you’ll have to read Shine On, the story of the first 100 years of the Spoetzl Brewery and Shiner Beer. The author is native Texan and longtime Shiner drinker Mike Renfro. And he’s about to be loved by Shiner fans nearly as much as Kosmos himself. Mike had access to records and photographs that few people have ever seen, plus an army of Shiner citizens, current and former brewery workers and Shiner lovers whose personal stories helped shape the book. Armed with all of that, Mike put together a fascinating and entertaining tale that’s part history, part love story and all Shiner.

More than that, it’s also a beautiful book, with historic photos and original illustrations that bring the narrative to life. Every Shiner fan will want to sit and savor Shine On, accompanied by some cold beer, of course.

McGarrah Jessee, known for creating Shiner’s familiar advertising and packaging designed the book, which was published by Bright Sky Press. It’s available at bookstores, on and at many beer retailers.