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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Book Week Commences: Field Guide to Drinking in America

I have been remiss. Publishers keep sending me emails asking whether I'd like to receive the newest, most excitingest beer book and I always say yes. Even when it's about cider. Or mead. Although I do not promise to review every title, it's my secret goal. And now, as the pile threatens to grow large enough to attack me, I am resolved to fight back. Herewith I offer Book Week, which is likely to extend beyond seven days, but sounds better than the more accurate Beer Fortnight or Beer Almost Fortnight. I generally try to do more lengthy reviews when I receive books, but if I'm going to get through this batch, we'll have to do shorties. Let's get started.


The Field Guide to Drinking in America
Niki Ganong
Overcup Press, 214 pages, $20

  • What is it? A state-by-state guide of local drinking culture and laws
  • Who's it For? Ramblin' men (and women)
  • Reviewer Disclosure. It's by local writer Niki Ganong, whom I consider a friend. I've known she was working on this book since it was just an idea, and I've been a supporter. So obviously, objectivity here is out the window.
  • Scope. National--it covers every state in the union (sorry, Canada)

The Review
Niki travels a lot. Facebook friends marvel at how often she posts from some very attractive brewpub across the country--or globe. All that travel alerted her to how distinctive local drinking culture is, and how weird local laws are. She decided to create a guide describing these discoveries, and it's one of the most unusual, unexpected beer books I've encountered in awhile.

Each chapter starts with an overview of the state's local culture and history. (This covers all booze, not just beer--but it is beer-centric.) It's followed by an overview of the way liquor works in each state--what the laws are, where you can and can't buy spirituous liquors. This is in turn followed by a miscellany of quirky state-specific facts. (Minnesota: a description of Minnesota 13, a "smooth, high quality moonshine" distributed nationally by Al Capone. Colorado: a mini-bio of Hunter S. Thompson and his connection to Flying Dog. Hawaii: description of Harry Yee, who invented the Blue Hawaiian.)

Maybe the coolest feature is a tip Niki elicited from a local bartender in each locale. Here's the entry for Maryland, with a tip from Brendan Dorr at Baltimore's B&O Brasserie. "Maryland has a long history of beer and spirits, from American whiskey's humble beginnings of Maryland Style Rye to German breweries scattered about Baltimore City. Even William Walters, Baltimore's local philanthropic art collector...built his fortune on rye whiskey.  However, if you are going t odrink in Baltimore and feel like a real local, then order a shot of Pikesville Rye and a Natty Boh, hon!"

I think it's a pretty cool book (but I'm biased), and the only criticism I'd levy is this: I really wish Overcup would also turn it into an app. That would be handy. 


  1. Jeff, you never know when wishes could come true. We agree, an app is the next logical step for The Field Guide.

    -Rachel, Overcup Press

  2. Cool. Do I get to claim credit for this brilliant idea?