Beer: A History of Brewing in Chicago
The current work is an expanded version of the author’s 1999 book The History of Beer and Brewing in Chicago, 1833-1978, adding approximately 100 pages to the original text. The first book is a lively, easy-to-read account of Chicago brewing from its origins until the closing of the Peter Hand Brewery. Special emphasis is placed upon the city’s unique contributions to the industry, most notably the mob connections that infiltrated production and distribution under legendary figures including Johnny Torrio and Al Capone.
In its new content, A History of Brewing in Chicago picks up where the earlier book leaves off; initially Skilnik reproduces verbatim the four-part, 234-page original text. Two new chapters chronicle the downfall of the Schlitz brewing empire into the 1980s, emphasizing Chicago connections where relevant. A detailed discussion of complicated merger and buyout transactions involving the G. Heileman Brewing Co. is rendered somewhat redundant through the recent publication of the Heileman history book Brewed With Style (2004), but gives enough additional information to warrant scrutiny. A brief section entitled “Beer and Politics in Chicago” adds an ethnic dimension to beer distribution in Chicago, and nineteen pages are devoted to microbrewing in the city since the 1980s.
Alas, there is also room for improvement. One significant shortcoming of the original work was frequent and obvious pixellation in the reproduction of photographs. In the new book, Skilnik solves this problem by eliminating the pictures: there are no images whatsoever. A section on brand slogans and a Chicago brewery directory have not been updated to include new microbreweries and brewpubs. At nineteen pages, the discussion of Chicago microbrewing is lamentably short, in light of the book’s expansive title and particularly involving the city’s brewpubs (of which mention is scarcely made). In fairness, the microbrewery discussion is refreshingly frank, offering a candid evaluation of why the Pavichevich and Chicago Brewing companies failed and a virtual case study of how poorly-conceived breweries fail to achieve their potential.
The new portions of this book are easy to digest, ensuring a seamless transition between earlier and recent material. As before, the account is presented in a way that holds the reader’s attention from start to finish. Its shortcomings aside, A History of Brewing in Chicago is recommended reading: it nicely encapsulates the many aspects of brewing and beer culture germane to the city and adds substantially to our understanding of its role in this unique aspect of American history.