Oh sure, I was going on a little faith as I knew absolutely nothing about Tony Russo before I caught wind of his new book Delaware Beer: The Story of Brewing in the First State. A brief stroll through the interwebs informed me that indeed this was not Mr. Russo’s first foray into the area of local craft beer.
Tony Russo, as well as being a part of the ShoreCraftBeer.com site is the author of the book Eastern Shore Beer:: The Heady History of Chesapeake Brewing as well as previously writing and editing for the Metropolitan Magazine, Star Democrat, Bayside Gazette and Laurel Star.
So it seemed on a glance that Mr. Russo would be a capable writer with the necessary level of knowledge of the subject to answer the question that his latest book’s title seems to beg.
What is Delaware beer?
One gets the feeling that in order to answer that question Tony Russo took a cue from Cosmos host Neil deGrasse Tyson. While standing on top of a hill with a clear view of everything that is currently happening “beerwise” in the state of Delaware; Russo seems to have asked the same question Mr. Tyson often asked viewers – How did we get here?
And – much like the show Cosmos – Mr. Russo is going to have to take us on a trek back in time to begin to answer that question.
Mr. Russo starts off in the early days of Delaware. Much to his credit, the author doesn’t proceed into a long rehashing of this time period, simply pointing to John Medkeff Jr’s recently published Brewing in Delaware for a more in depth study.
However, he does use this opportunity to set up future chapters by explaining such things as the influence of German immigrants that drove lager to prominence in the marketplace in Delaware and indeed the US, the impacts of Prohibition on the brewers that called Delaware their home, and also the strong sense of culture – the “tavern” community – that arose around the simple pleasures of family and good beer among these same German immigrants (remember that last one; it’s important).
Once the groundwork is laid we’re brought forward in time for a look at three men Delaware beer enthusiasts should easily recognize: Sam Calagione, Al Stewart and Jim Lutz (who provides the forward for the book).
The author lays out enough history to be informative but not boring while explaining the framework of state regulations, still prevalent prohibition mindsets, and early equipment frustrations that Sam and Al had to wade through to get their respective brewpubs off the ground. And by dialing in other breweries such as Iron Hill, adds a discussion on how each company took a different approach in the attempt to establish themselves in a market place that was (and maybe to a point still is) trying to figure itself out.
At the heart of Delaware Beer are the multitude of stories that are woven within the framework of this history concerning the people behind these breweries and consequently the breweries that would begin to open over the coming decades including 3rd Wave, FoDo, Mispillion, Twin Lakes and most recently, Blue Earl Brewing. Stories which help flesh out the narrative and make the book more than just a dry history text.
Mr. Russo uses these stories to highlight the fact that although each brewery worked independently to find their own identity within their surrounding community (remember that from above?) the overall result was a commonality that solidly defines what he believes Delaware beer is. How? Well you’re going to have to read the book to find that out for yourselves, but trust me, in my opinion Mr. Russo has more than risen to the task.
At 106 pages, Delaware Beer isn’t a daunting read. The narrative of the book flows effortlessly and it reads quite well. It also contains a good number of black and white pictures throughout (along with a 16 page color photo insert) of places and faces that people familiar with the Delaware beer scene should easily recognize.
As stated above there was no way I wasn’t going to enjoy this book, and I’m glad to say that I was right – mostly because I had the pleasure or experiencing this beer Renaissance for myself. Tony Russo has written a worthy addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in the journey beer brewers took in the state of Delaware to get the beer scene where it currently resides today. I’d consider it an excellent follow up read (if not a totally unintentional companion) to John Medkeff’s book mentioned above.
How did we get here? I think Mr. Russo did a fine job explaining our journey. But unlike Cosmos, not only didn’t we have to leave our galaxy to find the answers – we barely had to leave our state.
Delaware Beer: The Story of Brewing in the First State, $21.99, Arcadia Publishing/The History Press (American Palate Series). Available at local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing and The History Press at http://www.arcadiapublishing.com or (888) 313-2665, starting May 9th, 2016.
MEET THE AUTHOR!
Blue Earl Brewery – May 12th
Dewey Beer Company – May 15th
Seaford Library – May 30th
Fordham and Dominion Brewing – June 3rd
Salisbury Shore Craft Beer Fest – June 18th
Bethany Beach Books – June 19th
[Disclosure: I’d like to thank Emily Hommel and Katie Parry of Arcadia Publishing/History Press for sending me an advanced copy of Delaware Beer. Receiving this book free as a reviewer’s copy in no way influence my opinion of this book or its review.]