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

4.3 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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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
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harvest Books; 1 edition (October 8, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156033593
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156033596
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #601,614 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
“Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer” is an ambitious title. No surprise that the book is a hefty 452 pages. The good news is that historian Maureen Ogle achieves her lofty goal and then some in this thoroughly researched and well-organized book. She weaves together the tales of all the major players throughout the history of American beer—the numerous Busches, Millers, Pabsts, Uihleins and many more. The result is a highly engaging book for anyone interested in the topic.

Among all the books on the market today, there’s not a more definitive history of beer in the United States. That’s even more laudable considering that “Ambitious Brew” was published in 2007. The fact that it’s nearly eight years old is the only bad thing about the book.

Wouldn’t it be cool if Ms. Ogle put out a 10th anniversary edition with her take on developments in the U.S. beer scene—particularly the rapid growth of the craft beer movement—over the last decade?
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Reading this from across the Atlantic ocean gave some interesting insights into the U.S. consumption and production of beer. It is rather slanted towards the beginning of the history, where it paints both broad and vivid pictures of the immigrant community and their roots.

The parts related to the prohibition seem a bit rushed, with some minor editing flaws. Which leads into a bit disjointed post war part. The book is packed with notes, bibliography and index (1/3 of kindle edition), and as such a good asset for the future.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ogle is a historian but not an academic. So while this is carefully researched, it's superlatively written, a good read that I assign to students in a course on the Economics of Strategy (aka "Industrial Organization"). It contains a lot of material on the impact of technology on the industry, from the rise of microbiology and refrigeration in the late 1800s to advertising, to the impact of Prohibition on the industry (including downstream distribution) and logistics in the 1960s to the rise of microbreweries today. In class I pair it with a visit to a local, exceptionally well-run microbrewery (Devils Backbone) whose COO can explain how their cost structure has shifted as they've expanded in scale, as well as the impact of the post-Prohibition tiered distribution system in Virginia and surrounding states that prevents them from setting prices to retailers (they charge xxx to their distributor, who then sells on to retailers – Kroger, Food Lion and Giant in this case – who then set their own prices... Ogle provides a great foundation for their being able to ask intelligent questions, and for writing papers.
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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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