If you’re looking for a college dissertation-like accounting of the brewing history in the state of Delaware, then Brewing in Delaware the recent addition to Arcadia Publishing’s Images in America series written by Delaware beer historian John Medkeff Jr is not for you.
Think of the book less like a stuffy history lesson and more like a visual museum exhibit as you stroll past pages and pages of photographs collected from numerous historical sources and the author’s own private collection (many of which have never been published before) that are designed to take you through (what I’m sure will be surprising to some) Delaware’s rich history in commercial brewing starting from the state’s first colonies up to the present day.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty here for the history buffs as each photo comes with a very detailed caption that not only describes the subject of the photo, but explains how that subject fits into the overall narrative not only in the past, but sometimes in the present.
While the author covers many of the smaller establishments that operated during this time, the bulk of the book focuses on the histories of three of Delaware’s largest brewing concerns – Hartmann & Fehrenbach, Bavarian Brewery and Joseph Stoeckle Brewing Company from their rise to commercial success on the efforts of mostly German immigrants, to their fall at the hands of prohibition and national brand intrusion.
But while the book does contain a large number of photos covering the growth of these breweries as they moved from location to location, the author also does a very good job at revealing the faces behind these businesses, many of whom brought their love for beer from Europe and/or their experience in the beer industry from other cities in the US.
And of course, the book (sadly) finishes these stories with the all too familiar tale of breweries that struggled in the face of the 18th Amendment only to find more hurtles once it was repealed.
The timing for this book couldn’t be any better as Delaware has been enjoying a rebirth of commercial brewing over the past 20 years. In 2014 the Brewer’s Association ranked Delaware 19th on the list of states by breweries per capita with 11 – four more than it had in 2011. Add to that, breweries like Crooked Hammock, Midnight Oil, and Bellefonte Brewing which are waiting in the wings and it seems only fitting that the fourth and final section of the book takes a look at not only the early pioneers of modern day Delaware beer, but those who seem firmly positioned to guide it into the future.
Mr Medkeff avoids the obvious path by not spending too many pages on industry giant Dogfish Head, whose story has already be told in a thousand other places, but instead after a respectful few pages goes on to talk about others that were instrumental in reviving the craft of brewing in the state of Delaware and indeed it is great to see people like Jeff Johnson (Blue Hen Beer), Al Stewart (Stewart’s Brewing), Marty Haugh (Rockford Brewing), and David Dietz (Brandywine Brewing) get the acknowledgement that they so rightfully deserve.
Local readers will also enjoy revisiting old haunts such as The John Harvard location, Downtown Brewing and Rockford Brewing; as well new additions Mispillion River Brewing and Blue Earl Brewing, plus others.
But what if you’re not into all this…brewing? No problem. The book touches enough on topics like the original settlers and prohibition (a section that I found quite interesting) to satisfy those interested in general Delaware history as well as simply affording the reader a glimpse into Wilmington’s past.
Longtime residents will surely recognize some of the structures and cross streets mentioned, even though they’ve taken on a much different appearance today, as well as recognize names plucked directly from the history of Delaware. And indeed that’s part of the appeal of this book, the fact that even though it mostly centers on an industry that flourished over a hundred years ago, the people and places are still very much woven into the fabric of the surrounding area.
Think you’ve never eaten lunch or enjoyed happy hour in a building that once housed the hotel and saloon owned by one of the men behind the Hartmann & Fehrenbach Brewery? Check out pages 25 and 77. Have you walked through the gardens established by a man who lead The National Association Against Prohibition? Read page 79. Think you’ve never driven your car over the very lot that was once home to Diamond State Brewery? Page 99 may surprise you.
Brewing in Delaware is an amazing collection of photos and documents showing the historical linage of brewing in the State of Delaware, and Mr Medkeff has done an admiral job adding context and substance to those photos. Its visual format and easy reading (It’s about a three/four beer book) makes it approachable for anyone who wants to know more about the breweries and brewers of the nation’s First State, whether you’re familiar with Delaware or you’re not.
SUGGESTED READING: Anyone who is interested in the history of brewing in the pre-prohibition era.
MUST READ: Anyone interested in the history of Delaware and/or the history of brewing within the state of Delaware.
SUGGESTIONS: A great gift or stocking stuffer for that beer lover in your life. Or just buy it for yourself.
Brewing in Delaware, $21.99, Arcadia Publishing. Available at local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing and The History Press at www.arcadiapublishing.com or (888) 313-2665, starting August 10th, 2015.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of brewing in Delaware you can follow John’s Facebook page Delaware Beer History, his website, or attend his up coming lecture at the Blue Ball Barn at Alapocas Run State Park on September 5th, 2015 (Tickets Required).
I’d like to thank Emily Hommel and Katie Parry of Arcadia Publishing for sending me an advanced copy of Brewing in Delaware.