As recently discussed, the past is a foreign land when it comes to US beer history. More like another planet it seems sometimes. I am not sure why this is but I suspect it has something to do with the drive to be authoritative rather than innovative when it comes to so many of the beer books being published. Sadly, there is more than enough problematic high level description of various qualities out there but far too little of the more interesting and accurate detail.
Then one comes across a book like Philadelphia Beer by Rich Wagner - or rather just pages 17 to 34 - and all my despair falls away. Why? Because Mr. Wagner admitted and actually investigated a portion of that seemingly secret or perhaps oddly discomforting tale of pre-lager moderate to large scale ale production that not only existed but thrived in America from somewhere around the 1630s into the late 1800s. In those few pages, he identifies brewers and breweries by name, location, production and beer brands that existed not only before lager in the 1840s or so but he does the same for pre-Revolutionary Philadelphia, the city that becomes the first US capital. And in doing so, he adds credence to all that follows. I trust his writing on what comes later in the first German lager breweries, the later industrial macro-lager breweries and the craft breweries because of it.
Why have we found ourselves here? There may be a reason for this lack of collective long term memory. The introduction of lager roughly coincides with the expansion of the US from a coastal eastern nation built on a colonial footprint to the nation we know today, care of the Erie Canal and resolution of First Nation, French, Spanish and Russian control of large tracts of what are now the central and western states... and Florida. In a way, American ale was an Atlantic focused thing while lager is mid-western to Pacific. The path of lager, as Maureen Ogle so well describes, defines America as much as the wild west and California surfers so. It is in itself exceptional in all the meanings of that word. This burden of national history bears upon the topic. And it is in addition to the simple fact that a deeper longer view takes the sort of hard work that Wagner takes on himself and builds upon from the few earlier studies. Too often we only see what happens when one confuses facts as they were and the evidence that is available today.
Get yourself a copy of this book. Then, start thinking about how the structure of this small book, applied large, might change the way we see the extraordinary phenomenon that is American brewing. And might create a new tie between craft movement of recent decades and that small scale craftmanship of hundreds of years ago. And then maybe we'll start seeing not only the similarities but maybe even the links. I had a Yuengling yesterday as it turns out.