Author to talk ‘breweries’

Luke Reiter

It’s surprising and diverse, rich and complex. Sometimes it’s sweet and other times it’s quite bitter.

You might have guessed this description fits the range of flavors found in Minnesota beers, but it’s also an apt summary of their history. 

A more detailed exploration of that history can be found in Doug Hoverson’s book “Land of Amber Waters,” which he will discuss with readers at the Cambridge Public Library on Tuesday, April 12, at 6:30 p.m.

Hoverson, a Twin Cities native who teaches social studies at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, first became interested in the subject while doing research for his master’s degree in the 1990s.

After stumbling across a reference to a now-forgotten brewery in Perham, Hoverson decided to pick up a book on Minnesota’s brewing history––only to find there was no such book.

“I just got curious and started doing some in-depth research,” Hoverson said.

Hoverson had no shortage of volunteers to help him research his book on beer, but in reality Hoverson said for every hour of “lab work” (brewery tours), he spent a hundred scrolling through microfilm reels and poring over dusty tomes.

“Probably the most useful but also the most frustrating was going through the local newspapers,” Hoverson said.

Through his research Hoverson managed to find as many as 50 breweries that had been lost to history, bringing the state’s all-time total to approximately 290.

Minnesotans have been brewing beer since the 1820s, mostly starting in their homes and barns. Commercial brewing blossomed in the 1840s thanks to a steady influx of lager-loving German immigrants and the introduction of bottom fermenting yeast.

Despite a strong temperance movement in the state, Minnesota brewers managed to produce such iconic brands as Hamm’s, with its signature bear and jingle, and August Schell, the second oldest family-owned brewery in the United States.

Unfortunately, Isanti County takes an ignominious distinction in this history: it held the shortest-lived brewery in the state.

In early 1907, Anders Peter Kallberg pounced on a change in licensing laws and founded his own brewery in Braham, despite the village and the county having always been staunchly dry. By June the prohibitions managed to have the rules changed back,  and Kallberg gave up his business having only sold nine barrels.

“They probably produced less in their existence than some of the more aggressive homebrewers do,” Hoverson said.

Hoverson, who is himself a homebrewer and a certified beer judge, still finds the subject matter intoxicating. He’s already at work on his next book, and this time he’s taking on the more formidable Wisconsin.

While Hoverson said the relations and resources he discovered working on “Amber Waters” will help, Wisconsin boasts a daunting 790 breweries in its existence, most of which lasted longer and grew larger than their Minnesota counterparts.

Despite the challenges, however, Hoverson can take comfort knowing his research involves cracking open more than just books.