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‘Locally Brewed’

Published: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 10:08 a.m. CDT

L’chaim!

Salud. Grab a bottle and toast — Prost! Or Skal, chin chin, or Kambai. It’s all the same when raise your glass. Cheers! Slainte! Here’s mud in your eye!

You toast to life, to family, your favorite team, the people around you, and to good times and good friends. But what will you toast with? Read “Locally Brewed” by Anna Blessing and get some new ideas.

So you want to kick back this weekend with something different, and the choices seem endless. There’s a reason for that, says Anna Blessing: in the year it took her to research and write her book, “a new brewery was opening somewhere in the country every day.” She estimates that there are around 3,000 craft breweries in the United State — and while it’s true that nobody has settled on a real definition of “craft brewery,” there are just as many stories as there are meanings to the phrase.

The second-oldest family-owned brewery in America is in Minnesota, in a beautiful valley where peacocks roam the hops fields. You’ll also learn in this book about a Minnesota brewery that has a law named after it.

Read about a Michigan brewery that was established because its founder had a scare with “the feds.” You’ll learn about a brewery co-started by an elementary school teacher; one that’s “willing to try … sometimes crazy, flavor combinations”; and one that stayed in business, thanks to a $250,000 mug.

In Wisconsin, the nation’s first USDA-certified organic beer is brewed by the same folks who crafted the “first fruit beer since Prohibition.” You’ll also read about a brewer’s wife who’s an “accomplished artist” and designs all their labels.

Using as-authentic-as-possible vessels, an Ohio brewer — who’s not as passionate about beer as he is about history — makes beer based on ancient Sumerian recipes. Indiana is home to a brewery with a fanatical cult following and release parties that are attended by thousands. And Illinois is home to a tiny brewery that’s “cramped for even one person to move around.” It’s also home to a Latin American brewery, and a brewery that was started because of a college class: they got an “A.”

OK, now you’re thirsty. And you’re up for something different, so you’ll want to make a list of tour information and beers you’d like to try while you’re reading “Locally Brewed” and looking at its abundance of photographs. Author Anna Blessing makes that easy, since she offers brief (but fact-filled) chapters on 20 breweries and a small list of pubs that feature their beers — which I thought was a nice, tempting tease for beer-drinking readers. I loved seeing label and poster artwork here, and I also got a kick out of the “playlist” because, after all, what’s beer without tunes and friends?

Even if you don’t live in the above states, beer distribution is often wide and besides, says Blessing, maybe a “pilgrimage is in order.” If that sounds like fun, grab a designated driver, a copy of “Locally Brewed,” and hit the road.

Bottoms up!

Terri Schlichenmeyer is a book reviewer from West Salem, Wis. She may be contacted at bookwormsez@yahoo.com.

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