About the book:
Ambitious Brew, the first-ever history of American beer, tells an epic story of American ingenuity and the beverage that became a national standard. Not always America’s drink of choice, beer finally took its top spot in the nation’s glasses when a wave of German immigrants arrived in the mid-nineteenth century and settled in to re-create the beloved biergartens they had left behind. Fifty years later, the American-style lager beer they invented was the nation’s most popular beverage—and brewing was the nation’s fifth-largest industry, ruled over by titans Frederick Pabst and Adolphus Busch. Anti-German sentiments aroused by World War I fed the flames of the temperance movement and brought on Prohibition. After its repeal, brewers replaced flavor with innovations such as flashy marketing and lite beer, setting the stage for the generation of microbrewers whose ambitions would reshape the brew once again.
Grab a glass and a stool as Maureen Ogle pours out the surprising story behind your favorite pint.
About the author:
MAUREEN OGLE is a historian whose previous books include All the Modern Conveniences and Key West. She lives in Ames, Iowa.
1. The setting for chapter one—the United States in the 1840s and 1850s—almost feels like a character in the story. How much do you think that era affected the German immigrants? Would they have been as successful if they had come earlier or later? Do you think Americans had more opportunity then than they do now?
2. During the colonial and Puritan eras, Americans accepted drink as a natural part of life. But that changed after the colonies became independent. Why do you think Americans are less comfortable with alcohol than people in other countries? In the 1850s, did Americans use drink as a way to attack immigrants or because they were uncomfortable with drink and that’s what they noticed about the Irish and Germans?
3. There’s no way to prove or disprove the story that Phillip and Jacob Best rolled dice for ownership of the brewery. Do you think it’s true?
4. Busch, Pabst, and the Uihleins seized the moment—or did they? Do you think they became successful because they were exceptional men or because of the extraordinary times in which they lived?
5. In chapter two, the author argues that Americans wanted a lighter, less filling beer than Europeans did. Do you agree with that argument? If so, why do you think American tastes are so different from those of European beer drinkers?
6. All’s fair in love and war–but is that also the case in business? Was the jury right in finding Otto Lademan guilty of deception?
7. Saloons clearly played an important role in the lives of working Americans in the 1880s and 1890s. Do Americans have a similar social institution today?
8. In the 1880s and 1890s, Americans praised manufacturing and treasured the huge factories that dominated the nation’s landscape. Do Americans feel the same way about large-scale manufacturing now?
9. There’s no way to prove or disprove the rumors that circulated about the great brewers at the World’s Columbian Exposition. What do you believe is the truth about that contest?
10. In chapter four, temperance and prohibition re-enter the story. How sympathetic do you find the prohibitionists’ cause? Do you think their goal of eradicating alcohol was realistic?
11. In the early twentieth century, many anti-prohibitionists argued that the federal government ought to compensate brewers for their lost property. Do you agree? How does a nation balance the greater good against private property?
12. Americans themselves never voted directly for or against constitutional Prohibition. What do you think the outcome would have been if they had been given the chance to vote?
13. Do you think the history of late-twentieth-century brewing would have turned out differently if Fred Miller had not died in a plane crash? Can the life or death of one man alter history?
14. Many people argue that after World War II, brewers “ruined” beer by making it weaker and blander. Do you agree with the author’s argument that brewers had to do this in order to survive? Or do you think brewers acted first and rationalized their actions later?
15. Assess the actions of the Uihlein and Busch families in the 1950s and 1960s. Did their bank accounts give them an unfair advantage over others or did they simply make better business decisions than other beer makers?
16. Why do you think American food and drink underwent such a dramatic transformation in the 1970s? Was it due to affluence, education, or some other factor?
17. In what ways do men like Maytag, McAuliffe, Grossman, and Koch resemble or differ from their brewing ancestors such as Busch and Pabst? Do you think the craft brewers had advantages over the brewers of the 1860s? Or did the microbrewers have a harder time creating new businesses?
18. What does the brewing renaissance of the 1980s tell you about the United States? Can you find similarities between the U.S. in the 1870s and 1880s, and the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s? In what ways are those eras different?