Louisville Beer - a New Book From a Staff Writer
It was going to be difficult to make me excited about reading a whole book about beer. However, if anyone was going to do it, it would probably be Kevin Gibson. In the past year and change, Gibson has been our chief beer correspondent, and every article he has written has furthered my newfound appreciation for beer. Even if he’s simply reviewing a new way to keep it from spoiling, he tells a good story. So as a Louisville native and beer historian, I had a feeling his book, Louisville Beer: Derby City History On Draft, was going to be a good yarn. And it was.
These days, when people think of drinking and Louisville, the first beverage that comes to mind is often bourbon. However, the town once had a thriving brewery scene, and in recent years, that scene has blossomed once again. It would be easy enough to simply say, “The breweries existed. Prohibition happened. The breweries closed. Corporate Beer dominated the market. Craft beer got popular. New breweries opened and they’re pretty good. The end.” But it’s not as simple as that.
What I learned from reading Louisville Beer is that the origin of the industry is an interesting German immigrant story that comes with a complicated struggle for local cultural acceptance. Sure, it’s the kind of prejudice often associated with the South, but really more indicative of what was happening all over the US in general as the neighborhoods we know today developed.
Despite local detractors (who sounded like they simply didn’t enjoy fun), once beer found its customer base in Louisville, especially with the Big Three - Frank Fehr, Falls City and Oertel- the breweries still fought to stay open, mostly because, in a way, their owners and workers were their own worst enemies. I won’t spoil the details, but there are some very riveting tales of greed, scandal and drunken mishaps peppered throughout the first third of the book.
From there, though we all know the Prohibition story by now, and how Carrie Nation hatcheted her way through our favorite taverns, we learn that Louisville has its own contribution to the quilt, and the book does a nice job of conveying that history. Then it’s a tale of the complicated triumph over Big Beer, which, despite quality products and great intentions, also manages to reprise self destructive themes from the old days.
The book does a fine job of profiling key figures who pioneered the beer Renaissance in Louisville, such as David Pierce, who went from Silo to Bluegrass Brewing Company, then New Albanian, that have made a lasting impact. There are also one page primers of honorable mentions who have hopped their way (sorry) onto the scene.
Throughout, Gibson maintains an approachable narrative that makes the reader feel as though they are hearing the details first hand while sipping good beer at the brewpub. There is a cast of main characters we get to know who appear in different sections. For a non-fiction read, there are definite pro and antagonists we follow. It’s also organized in such a way that the reader is provided with an easy to follow timeline of events. Sure, there’s some “beer nerd talk” peppered throughout the history. But it’s a book about beer. I’d be disappointed if that wasn’t part of it!
So the spirits and wine nerd read a whole book about beer. And can’t wait to read Kevin Gibson’s next one.
For Gibson’s website and a list of events promoting the book, click here.
To purchase Louisville Beer, click here.
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