Sunday, July 08, 2001

World-class beers lie within our own borders

By Ed Westemeier

        Welcome to American Beer Month. July is reserved by the beer industry to show our appreciation for the top quality brews offered by our homegrown breweries. I'll certainly drink to that.

        The average European import used to be better than the average American mainstream beer, but that's no longer a sure bet. In fact, many American craft breweries consistently produce ales and lagers far more flavorful than the most popular imports.

        We're fortunate, in many ways, that American craft beer's popularity has continued to rise. Without this small but growing segment of the market, we'd be stuck between the bland, boring products of the mega-breweries, and expensive imports that often suffer from poor handling in transit.

        In my next column, I'll showcase some of the very best beers America has to offer.

Regionals favor flavor

               The roots of modern American craft beer can be traced to the bold move by Fritz Maytag, who abandoned the family appliance business and bought the Anchor brewery in San Francisco more than 30 years ago. Carefully preserving the tradition of Anchor Steam Beer, he insisted on a quality product at any cost. Moreover, he refused to expand distribution despite the huge demand. Instead, he gradually added more states as production capacity increased, always keeping the quality high.

        This formula has worked just as well for Sierra Nevada, Redhook and other breweries. Also, as old regional brands declined, excess capacity let new entrants join the fun through contract brewing, giving us brands such as Samuel Adams and Pete's.

        Today, we're seeing the rise of new regional breweries such as Great Lakes and Goose Island. What distinguishes them from the old-fashioned regional brands is their emphasis on flavor instead of low price.

        One of the most interesting, although bittersweet stories about the regional breweries is our own Cincinnati brand, Hudepohl-Schoenling. Although few Tristaters realize it, Hudepohl's sale to Snyder International Brewing Group in 1999 means that “Cincinnati's beer” is now brewed by a Cleveland-based company.

History book
               For a marvelous exposition about this, and all the other old Tristate breweries, I recommend reading Over The Barrel: The Brewing History and Beer Culture of Cincinnati, Volume One, 1800 -Prohibition (Sudhaus; $24.95) ) by Timothy J. Holian.

        This first volume provides a rich tapestry of background on what was once the premier brewing city of North America. It opens with the earliest commercial brewing operation in the area, the Embree brewery in 1812, and closes as alcohol is outlawed in 1919.

        Over the Barrel is available at bookstores. Visit for an update and hints about Volume Two.

        For a light-hearted look at American Beer Month, along with beer trivia, visit

        Contact Ed Westemeier by e-mail:


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