For many of us enthusiasts, beer is not about the large national macro-brands, but instead about the smaller breweries that are popping up in towns along the blue highways of America. These are the family owned businesses that make the Midwest, America's brewing heartland. Locally Brewed is exciting to me because it profiles breweries that are in my Michiana backyard and also some of my favorites. When I received this book for review from the publisher, I couldn't put it down until I had finished it.
Author Anna Blessing features anecdotes from interviews with owners and brewmasters, and shares the stories of 20 influential breweries of the Midwest, almost half of which are located either in Indiana or Michigan. Blessing is no stranger to beer and brewing. Beyond simply enjoying craft beer as a consumer, she states, "I like to think that it's in my blood. My great, great, great, grandfather, John Stenger, opened the Stenger Brewery with his brother in Naperville, IL, in 1848." She felt that Locally Brewed, was a natural progression form her previous project, Locally Grown, to look at another fast-growing local movement in the midwest: craft beer.
Each brewery in the book is presented in chronological order of when they were established, starting with the second-oldest family-owned brewery in the country, August Schell (New Ulm, MN, established 1860). Then we take a big jump to the brewery that is often credited with being the first micro-brewery east of the Mississippi River, Bell's Brewery (Kalamazoo, MI, established 1985), and continue on through Moody Tongue Brewing (Chicago, IL, established 2013).
In between we get to know the flavor and culture of the following breweries, Lakefront Brewery (Milwaukee, WI), Great Lakes Brewing (Cleveland, OH), New Glarus, (New Glarus, WI), Three Floyds (Munster, IN), Two Brothers (Warrenville, IL), Founders (Gr. Rapids, MI), Central Waters, (Amherst, WI), Dark Horse, (Marshall, MI), Piece Brewery and Pizzeria, (Chicago, IL), Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, (Dexter, MI), Short's (Bellaire and Elk Rapids, MI), Surly, (Brooklyn Center, MN), Metropolitan Brewing, (Chicago, IL), 5 Rabbit Cerveceria (Beford Park, IL), Greenbush (Sawyer, MI), Steel Toe (St. Louis Park, MN), Virtue Cider, (Fennville, MI). If you read Hop Notes even somewhat regularly, you should recognize many of these breweries.
But this book is as much about the people behind the beer as it is about the beer they brew. As a musician myself, one of my favorite aspects of the book is a “brewer's playlist” from each brewer. When I am working in my studio, or doing just about anything else, music is always playing. And I have always felt that I can learn a great deal about someone by perusing through their music collection. So, it is no surprise that Blessing states what I already knew - brewers are as passionate about their music as their beer, and “control of the speakers is usually more competitive than control of the brewhouse.”
Large colorful photos (also taken by the author) accompany each story - photos of brewing equipment, label art, hand-pull designs, bottling/canning lines, and the brewers themselves. Each help connect the reader to the story. Even though I already knew several of the brewers, after reading the book, I felt like each brewer was a good friend, ready to share a pint with me.
Whether a “beer geek” or casual beer enthusiast, this is a great read. Get to know some of your regional brewers in this book, then make a plan to visit them. Every brewery in this book has a tasting room or pub. And even if you don't visit the brewery itself, check them out in your local bottle shop or pub. About half of the breweries in this book distribute to the Michiana area.
Locally Brewed was available as of February 13th of this year, and you will find copies at Better World Books, Goshen, IN. Come down to the book store this coming Friday to celebrate March – Beer Book Month. I will be there with some other beer book titles for giveaway, and I will have some swag from Bell's Brewery. Just a quick teaser here, the following Friday, March 14, there will be a Bell's tap takeover at the Constant Spring, next door to Better World Books. We will be tapping Black Note (bourbon barrel aged stout, 11.5% ABV), Smitten (golden rye ale, 6% ABV), Hopslam (imperial IPA, 10% ABV), and Two Hearted (IPA, 7% ABV).
About the author:
Anna Blessing is the author and photographer of Locally Grown: Portraits of Artisanal Farms from America's Heartland (Agate Midway, 2012) as well as 14 editions of the eas.shop/rather city guides. She lives in Chicago with her husband and daughter.