Barkeep: Beer Me a Miffed Insider’s History

Beer Blast: The Inside Story of the Brewing Industry’s Bizarre Battles for Your Money

Have a brewski or twoski.

An industry insider’s account of how B-school grads with no brew experience became the nation’s tastemakers.

Philip Van Munching, heir to the importing dynasty that introduced America to Heineken and Amstel Light, begins by tracing beer’s somewhat grimy American genealogy. It was favored by the urban working class in19th century America, when breweries in New York, Milwaukee, and Chicago, among other cities, churned out a cheap, foamy drink deeply appreciated at the end of the day. From these lowly origins the powerful regional brands emerged—like Coors in the west and Old Style in Chicago—produced by a handful of family owners.

Nostalgic for those halcyon days, Van Munching views the 1970 Philip Morris purchase of Miller as the defining moment in America’s brewing history, when beer was transformed from an unassuming beverage to a relentlessly marketed commodity on which millions of ad dollars would be spent as a handful of companies fought to dominate the national market.

Beer Blast: The Inside Story of the Brewing Industry’s Bizarre Battles for Your Money reveals the industry’s failed attempts at marketing a nonalcoholic soda and the creation of malt liquor (beer with a higher alcohol content), heavily marketed in urban black neighborhoods.

Van Munching has an easy manner—he is also the author of How to Remember Jokes And 101 Drop-Dead Jokes to Get Started (best joke: “The Farmer’s House of Sod.”)—and a sense of the hard reality of the business. He also has an ax to grind, bitterly resentful of the wave of MBAs who invaded his family’s firm and eventually forced his resignation.

While he’s a little malicious, the details of recent Heineken ad campaigns are nicely absurd. Van Munching offers fascinating insight into what works and what doesn’t work in the beer business; among other matters, he explains why Zima proved to be a costly flop and why the microbrew Sam Adams became an equally spectacular success.

An appealing and often amusing history of a less-than-noble drink, written with style and a genuine appreciation for the good old days before Miller Time went global.

Beer Blast: The Inside Story of the Brewing Industry’s Bizarre Battles for Your Money By Philip Van Munching (Crown Business)

Rebecca Kurson

Rebecca Kurson writes about literature, pop culture, television, science fiction and music. Her work has appeared in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Observer, The Federalist and Rodale's Organic Life.

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