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Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer Paperback – October 8, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (October 8, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156033593
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156033596
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #393,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Conventional wisdom has it that giant breweries, driven by corporate greed, have flooded the U.S. with inferior-tasting swill, and the only beer worth drinking is from scattered boutique microbrewers. Nonsense, says Ogle: companies like Miller and Anheuser-Busch are actually near-perfect embodiments of the American dream (in which "liberty nurtured ambition, and ambition fostered success")—and if their beers became noticeably blander 50 years ago, it's because consumers wanted it that way. Ogle (All the Modern Conveniences) looks back at the early years of brewers like Phillip Best, Frederick Pabst and Adolphus Busch as they rose to success making European-style beers for fellow immigrants, converting plenty of native palates along the way. Such men, she claims, should be heralded as captains of industry like Gilded Age icon J.P. Morgan. This material is strong, as is Ogle's analysis of the slow but steady rise of the Prohibition movement, but her narrative loses momentum as she tries to encompass the post–WWII era and add the most successful microbrewers to her list of heroes. Her exuberant musings on the American spirit become distracting, but there's more than enough drama in the family sagas to keep even the soberest of readers turning the pages. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

PRAISE FOR AMBITIOUS BREW
 
"A fascinating and well-documented social history that sheds fresh light on the bubbly sociable beverage."--Chicago Tribune
 
"From lager-making German immigrants to today's microbrew-meisters, a sudsy, briskly told survey of American beer. B+."--Entertainment Weekly


More About the Author

I'm a historian and ranter living three-dimensionally in Iowa and digitally at maureenogle.com.

My mission, which, yes, I've decided to accept, is to convert history haters into history lovers. Because let's face it: just about everyone leaves high school hating history. And that's too bad, because history is the story of the human experience --- and what's not to love about humanity?

For more information (because you DO want to know more, right?) visit maureenogle.com. And thanks for making reading part of your life.

Customer Reviews

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Very interesting read.
Tyson Dillow
Mauren Ogle has shown herself to be a historian of the first order with he latest book Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer.
M. Stoughton
And I now give the guys much more credit for making a very good beer in that style.
S. Koue

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Brett A. Saffell on November 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Once I had penetrated the first three chapters of this book, I found it a fascinating and quick read. However, those first three chapters took about two weeks, despite a persistent interest in beer and brewing. I covered the remaining five chapters in two days.

The first several chapters (and 40 or so years of chronology) cover the beginnings of American brewing by explaining the origins of the Best brewery (which would become Pabst), the Uihlein's (Schlitz), and Adolphus Busch. These chapters passed slowly, and didn't entertain the way that popular history can (like Winchester's A Crack in the Edge of the World or Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, Stephen Ambrose, etc).

However, I was extremely engaged by everything that followed. I thought the explanation of the causes and context of Prohibition was excellent. The narrative of changes in brewing in post-World War II America (consolidation, the dawn of modern marketing) was also very interesting, and did a nice job integrating societal and business changes into that story. I erroneously thought I'd experienced first-hand the rise of craft beer in America, but Maureen did a very nice job educating me on the true origins of this trend.

I was bogged down by the beginning of this book, but thrilled with the middle and end of it. This book would be a great resource for beer connoisseurs looking for an understanding of why American brewing is what it is, and as a cautionary tale for brewing executives.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Puck Mendelssohn on March 9, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is a great book if you're looking to learn something about the history of American lager brewing, and in particular about the giants (and now-deceased giants) of the industry. It covers quite a bit of ground I have never seen covered in any other book on the subject.

The author does have some biases which I think do color the book a bit. She has a contrarian tilt which seems to lead her to the view that big "industrial beer" from the giant lager-brewers is a better product than it really is. She does not seem to be as familiar as might be hoped with brewing itself, and consequently does not appreciate the extent to which the American brewing industry compromised product quality by relying on highly tannic, six-row malts and the notoriously bad-smelling Cluster hop, for example. And her interest in American brewing does not extend to ale (apart from the ales of the microbrew era); she seems to accept all too readily the notion that American ale-brewing in the pre-lager era was a cesspool of bad beer.

The upshot is that the book is perhaps a bit too favorable to the point of view of the great national brewers, and to their insipid style of high-adjunct, low-hop lager. But the early history of the large brewers is fascinating, and she shows genuine interest in the microbrew movement and its impact upon American tastes. A very, very enjoyable book.
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Format: Paperback
I'd first like to note that the edition I'm reviewing is the hardcover version from 2006.

I'll keep it simple. This is an extremely well-written, well-researched, and well-sourced book on a history of many things. This book goes much deeper than just the history of beer in America, which is a much more intriguing subject than it sounds. This is a history of the human spirit, assimilation, Prohibition, entrepreneurship, and several other products of beers' influence on American culture. The author, Maureen Ogle, writes in a manner that is understandable and at times humorous. She also remains unbiased, making a case for "Big Beer" (A-B and the few other gigantic beer makers) and its place in history as well as craft beer and microbreweries writing the pages of history as you read this. I will recommend this book to all my friends and family and hope you take the time to read this great book on the history of beer in America.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Carolyn Smagalski on January 20, 2008
Format: Paperback
Ambitious Brew takes you on a journey through America, often peering with a European's eye at the wealth of opportunity in an unfolding land. Maureen Ogle's tale gives little attention to the colonists, but begins with German immigrant Phillip Best in the mid-1840's. Throughout this complex story, she is like Cezanne, creating the picture with pieces of paint until the canvas takes form and presents the picture as a whole.

Ogle not only tells of the development of beer, but also connects this development with key pivotal points in history - points that had served to initiate new patterns within American society. The story swings back to the seventeenth century, when rum from the West Indian and Caribbean plantations seized the market; then surges forward again, to the early nineteenth century, when "...fourteen thousand distillers were producing some twenty-five million gallons [of whiskey] each year..."

Her findings portray such giants as Adolphus Busch, August Uihlein, and Frederick Pabst as men who fell into brewing by accident, and not by design. Rivalries for market share between the largest brewers were a constant, dampened only by occasional waves of temperance talk...indirect prejudices aimed at specific groups - saloon owners, corporate magnates (seen as sleazy crooks by the general public), German immigrants (targeted as a result of anti-German sentiment following WWI), liberated, loose women, and those who professed atheistic beliefs.

Ogle closely analyzes the events that lead up to Prohibition, but passes quickly through the dark days like Alice through the Looking Glass. She compresses the years following WWII, portraying the post-war beer world as a conglomerate of marketers and accountants, vying for the bottom line.
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