Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cool Yule #5(b)! Beer Books for 2011: Brewing in Baltimore

Cool Yule! #5

Cool Yule! 12 Beer Books for 2011

Not a list of the dozen best-of-the-best books about beer of 2011, but, rather, my list of 12, some personal delights, others of unique or deserved merit. Some of the books have been published this year, while others are worthy chestnuts. I was planning to reveal my selections between 20 November and the Winter Solstice New Year's Eve. Now, I'll be posting my final choices in the new year. Delayed, but still valid.

So ... cue Five Go-old Rings.

Cool Yule Beer Book for 2011

Brewing in Baltimore

Brewing in Baltimore
(Images of America)
Maureen O'Prey
Paperback: 128 pages
Arcadia Publishing, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0738588131

For Cool Yule beer book suggestion #5 (a), I reached out for fellow Virginia beer blogger Eric Delia, who reviewed the book, Richmond Beers. Staying regional, Brewing in Baltimore is a bookend to that.


I recently read a review of George F. Kennan: An American Life, a biography of the creator of the U.S. Cold War containment of the Soviet Union strategy, by Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis. That does not have much to do with the book Brewing in Baltimore, except for this quote from the book concerning Kennan:
He saw what others saw but in different colors. . . . He had a historian’s consciousness of the past, which gave him a visionary’s perspective on the future.” That is as good as any description of an historian.

Author of Brewing in Baltimore, Maureen O'Prey is indeed an historian. She holds a Masters in Historical Studies from the University of Maryland, and is a professor of history at Baltimore City Community College, Maryland. And, she loves a good beer.

Author of "Brewing in Baltimore"

Ms. O'Prey began her research with Brewing in Maryland, a self-published book in the mid-1960s by William J. Kelley, a local beer aficionado and amateur historian. Then, serendipitously, Catherine Scott, the archivist of the Baltimore Museum of Industry alerted her to a treasure trove: original documents dating from the late 19th century of Baltimore Gas & Electric, then known as Consolidated Gas & Electric. Why would this be crucial? Because the breweries were among the first industries to switch from producing their own electricity with coal-fired generators to purchasing power. And Consolidated kept detailed records. Addresses, names, brewers, officers, equipment, production, energy requirements, photographs, etc.

From there, she found leather-bound ledgers for early 20th century breweries and one mini-conglomerate in Maryland. The latter failed, in part, because of local consumer antipathy. After repeal in the early 1930s, there were 75 breweries in Maryland; by the late 1980s only one, and that one just outside of Baltimore City. Support for local breweries had become severely diminished.

O'Prey lists the names and tells the stories in the roll of the departed Baltimore breweries: such as Maryland Brewing Company, Gottlieb, Free State, Bauerenschmidt, Globe, Arrow, American, and, of course, National (Natty Boh, hon!). She tells us that the company which almost single-handedly invented bottle enclosures as we know them today —Crown, Cork, and Seal— was a Baltimore company.

Ms. O'Prey has discovered another truly fascinating resource. As Prohibition would loom in the 1910s, the United States Brewers Association published several Anti-Prohibition Manuals. These snapshots into society at the time compared, for example, the relative lesser crime rate in a 'wet' state such as Maryland versus a dry state such as Kansas. Prohibition-backers, such as the Anti-Saloon League, would constantly tout the nirvana that would be achieved if alcohol were banned. These published statistics showed otherwise. Not enough folk listened: a cautionary tale in the face of today's neo-Prohibitionism?

There are no brewery recipes in the book. Ms. O'Prey laments that these may be permanently missing, or may require greater sleuthing to be unearthed. In the UK, brewing historians such as Ron Pattinson and Martyn Cornell have done yeoman work in doing just that. Like a zymurgic Jurassic Park, the recipes they are uncovering literally can be used to bring the efforts of those long-lost breweries back to life.

The publisher of Brewing in Baltimore is Arcadia, South Carolina-based. Its series Images of America consists of pictorial books of American history. The books re all exactly 128 pages, the areas they cover must only be cities or small regions or jurisdictions, and oddly enough, no footnotes or endnotes are permitted. Thus, Ms. O'Prey was limited to only Baltimore, and to a pre-determined format.

Despite the marvelous photographs on almost every page of Brewing in Baltimore, the life of the breweries is sometimes subsumed by the litany of names. Arcadia limits documentation to a bibliography. The format also denies room for more analysis into the reasons for success and ultimate failure. That WWII soldiers —who had been supplied weaker beers made possible by improving technologies such as canning— may have desired those less flavorful beers when they returned from the war-font is insufficient to hang a theory of the demise of smaller breweries making more flavorful beer.

Brewing in Baltimore concludes with a brief look at the brewing renaissance in Baltimore, the almost 25-year old microbrewery scene. (One of the pioneers of that movement, Hugh Sisson —the owner of Heavy Seas Brewing of Baltimore— wrote the forward to the book.)

Brewing in Baltimore is an entertaining and visually fascinating introduction to the rise, and crash, and re-birth of brewing in the city. It's a valuable lesson on what happened there (and elsewhere) and what could happen again, whether via neo-Prohibition or through neglect of local community support in the battle against larger, outside concerns.
The colorful history of brewing in Baltimore serves as both a reminder of the city's strong heritage and a testament to the craft brewing industry's ability to persevere with local support [emphasis mine], despite the odds.

Ms. O'Prey has plans to write a much more exhaustive history of brewing, not just of Baltimore, but of the entire state of Maryland: the full story of Maryland's breweries and brewers, their beers and recipes, and their economic and societal impact and legacy. With a historian's pride, she grins: "There'll be extensive footnotes!"


Cool Yule for 2011, so far:
  • #5(a):Richmond Beers
  • #6: Under The Influence
  • #7: Designing Great Beers
  • #8: The Best of American Beer & Food
  • #9: Beer & Philosophy
  • #10: Evaluating Beer
  • #11: Windows on The World
  • #12: The Story of Brewing in Burton on Trent

  • Maureen O'Prey will be signing copies of Brewing in Baltimore at Heavy Seas Brewing Company on Saturday, 17 January, between 11am and 5pm. Hugh Sisson will also be present for signing. Registration is required: here.
  • Follow more about the book on Twitter: @BrewBalt.
  • For on-line purchasing, I link to the Brewers Association book store, or to the marvelous resource, When not available there, or if published as an ebook, I link to
  • The 12 Books for Christmas 2009: here.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like a great book. I'll have to find a copy. People should know that beer in Baltimore is more than Natty Bo.

    Happy Brew Years


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