I am stepping outside of my science fiction and fantasy worlds for a bit to read something that touches on two of my favorite real world topics – history and beer. This book had also been on my TBR pile for quite some time so there was the added satisfaction of crossing it off that list as well.
This book offers a brief look at the storied history of a Cincinnati neighborhood called Over-the-Rhine, a once vibrant district that fell on hard times in the early 1900s and never quite recovered. Over-the-Rhine rose to prominence in the mid-1800s after a huge influx of German immigrants forged a proud, hard-working community that played a key role in Cincinnati emerging as important trade center. Celebrated as a little piece of Germany in America, Over-the-Rhine captivated locals and tourists alike with its Germanic charm and the locally brewed lager that flowed readily in its many beer gardens and saloons. Unfortunately, these characteristics would ultimately serve to attract the wrong kind of attention as the rising tide of Prohibition and anti-German sentiments following the entry of the US into World War I would ultimately forever alter the characteristics of the neighborhood.
I enjoyed this book and made short work of its 170 or so pages. It provided plenty of interesting information about brewing in the late-1800s/early-1900s and the influences it had on both the architecture and social fabric of the Over-the-Rhine community. I also found myself fascinated by the politics of the day and how the temperance movement leveraged its unlikely alliance of divergent groups (ranging from suffragettes to klansmen) to relentlessly pressure and gerrymander local elections to achieve their goals. The factors the author most strongly attributed to the rise of the Prohibitionist movement (religions zealotry, classism, racism, and rural resentment of the urbanization of American life) were all used at various times to target the German community in Over-the-Rhine and effectively organized it into a powerful, though occasionally controversial, voting bloc for any political candidates that valued individual liberty over temperance.
As for the present, what little survives of the old Over-the-Rhine neighborhood sounds like an absolutely fascinating bit of history, especially all the old architecture and unearthed felsen tunnels used to age beer before the rise of artificial refrigeration. Bockfest sounds like a pretty good draw as well, though we probably won’t be taking any family trips there in the near future. Regardless, I had a good time reading this book and certainly recommend it to anyone with an interest in either American or beer history.