Whitmore Publishing Co.
Soft Cover, $20.00, 201 pp.
Do you know the exact date when the Merriam-Webster Dictionary first decreed the term “longneck” an official English word? Historian Gregg Smith does. And he’s sharing that morsel of beer trivia, and thousands of others, in his latest book, A Beer History: A Day at a Time Through the Year.
Smith has made some memorable contributions to brewing literature over the years. With his new book, he departs completely from the all-too-standard chronological format, reshuffling the deck of brewing history into a 365-day stroll through beer fun, fact and fancy.
Sure, all of the course-altering milestones are dutifully reported—ratification and repeal of prohibition, inauguration of ice machinery in breweries, introduction of the first beer can, and all the rest. But right alongside the monumental are the inane, the trivial, and the absurd—a steady stream of nearly addictive tidbits of brewing minutia.
Take, for example, March 12, 2002. On that date, residents of Seldovia, Alaska auctioned off a bottle of Olympia Beer for the benefit of their Volunteer Fire & Rescue. The twist? It was the same never-opened bottle of Olympia that had been auctioned off each year since 1958 and re-donated for the next year’s auction. In all, the tired old bottle earned more than $51,000 over 44 years. “And you don’t even get to drink it,” lamented one high bidder.
Then there is January 28, 1805. Explorers Lewis and Clark, during their legendary expedition to the Pacific Coast, complained of the cold temperatures endured during their journey. The journal entry for that date read, “Porter all frosed & several bottles broken.”
Each “chapter” (i.e., month) begins with a focus on one aspect of beer’s colorful saga. But the book’s real joy is in its endless flow of daily historical snippets. Naturally, the urge to riffle right to your own birthday will be irresistible. With any luck, you’ll be as delighted as I was to find something of true historic significance. “It all started on October 12, 1810,” writes Smith. “Oktoberfest was first celebrated on that date.” Finally, a cosmic explanation for my life-long obsession with beer!