IT’S APRIL 7, 1933. DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR BEER IS?

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april_7_1933Today—National Beer Day thanks to the crusading temperament and social media savvy of Richmond, Virginia’s Justin Smith—doesn’t mark the anniversary of Prohibition’s demise. But in 19 U.S. states it does mark the historic return of beer. Beer of 3.2% alcohol, anyway. But on April 7, 1933, suds of that potency had not been (legally) seen in America for 13 long years. And it was reason to celebrate.

Wait. How is it possible to have legal beer under Prohibition? You know—constitutionally? Wasn’t the 18th Amendment still part of the supreme law of the land? And wouldn’t it be for another eight months?

Well all that’s true. But arguably, the legislative action exercised in the “Cullen beer bill,” signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on March 22, 1933, placed the manufacture, sale, and transport of beer into a legal Twilight Zone.

Even as cold boilers were being fired up in St. Louis and Cincinnati, and brewmasters were installing multiple new telephone lines to handle all the orders pouring in, the constitution still technically labeled beer a “prohibited” “intoxicating liquor.”

But no one in the federal government had had any right—any legal, jurisdictional standing—to prohibit alcohol. Not all the way from the Washington administration (starting in 1789) to Woodrow Wilson’s (who took office in 1913, 6 years before Prohibition took affect in 1920). This was a new power delegated to congress. And it took ratification of the 18th Amendment, whose Section 2 did the dirty work, to confer beer-blocking power upon that august body.

But congress, having the power of enforcement, could simply choose not to exercise its control. It effectively chose to give up its power. Or part of it. And that’s what it did with the passage of the Cullen-Harrison Act.

For a country demoralized by a decade of spotty and hypocritical enforcement of Prohibition and terrorized by organized crime selling bootleg booze and “wildcat” brew at exorbitant prices (and sometimes with noxious, supply-stretching additives too), it was certainly the right call.breweries_start_beer_cities_happy

And let’s not forget what Roosevelt thought most important of all: the shot in the arm the reopening of a major industry could give to a middle- and working-class population deeply mired in economic depression. The very same day FDR signed the bill, such a mob of job seekers descended on the breweries of Milwaukee that the police had to be called to keep order.

In Chapter 7, The Comic Book Story of Beer immerses us fully in the colorful yet frustrating period of American history when anti-alcohol “dry” politicians ruled the day. What the book doesn’t have the chance to get into, however, is a more detailed, granular exhibition of how April 7, 1933 played out. So in light of our dedication to beer’s history in and out of the pages of The Comic Book Story of Beer, let’s take a look at some contemporary reports of that happy occasion.

thank_you_mr_rooseveltWe’ve already labeled this period of American history “frustrating.” And exultant as the day should have been, that is exactly what many beer drinkers found April 7, 1933 to be as well!

Fully-stocked trucks and trains left breweries around the nation at exactly 12:01 am. But there were still mucho delays getting ales and lagers to their destinations. Many folks didn’t get beer when and where they wanted it. These had to become “beer pilgrims”—driving sometimes hundreds of miles searching for a drink.

Now just because old FDR had signed the beer bill doesn’t mean that the country had kicked the federalism habit. You know, that thing about governors, judges, and state legislators having power in certain spheres where Uncle Sam can go pound sand. Prohibition, after all, had started in the states. And many states in 1933 (and beyond) retained the power to remain “dry” if they chose.

So many of the nation’s beer-thirsty—especially in the South, where the urge to prohibit had been strongest (beer was such an urban, Catholic, immigrant thing after all!)—had to cross state lines if they wanted a taste. Alabama was a no-go. North Carolinians would have to wait until May 1 because the boys over in Raleigh didn’t get their act together in time. (A similar situation played out in Massachusetts).

Still-dry West Virginians largely faced a choice: grab a brew in Ohio or Kentucky. And on what we might call the first National Beer Day, those who picked the Bluegrass State came up short-handed.

According to the Charleston, West Virginia Gazette, the border town of Catlettsburg, Kentucky, had been infamous for beer-swilling in the old saloon days. Eager to get off the wagon again, Catlettsburg’s merchants had dispatched drivers to Louisville. Only later did they hear that the trucks got stuck in long lines at brewery loading docks waiting to be filled up. West Virginians who had headed to Irontown, Ohio, were the ones who had a chance to fill their steins. (The good news for West Virginians, though, was that a shuttered glass factory in Wheeling was going to open again to take advantage of a massive call for bottles).

enjoying_a_strohDrinkers in more enlightened areas—like Maryland, Illinois, Wisconsin, Arizona, California, and Oregon (which only boasted two breweries at the time!)—had their own frustrations and challenges.

Breweries had only been online for just over two weeks, and the supply simply couldn’t meet demand. Washington state, according to the wire services, “drank itself dry before noon.” In Los Angeles, all the beer was consumed plus a million and a quarter bottles brought in from outside the city. In San Francisco, brewers dared to hold back a reserve supply as gangs literally pounded on the doors. “The situation has passed the point of human endurance,” remarked Max Koehnm secretary of the California Brewers’ Association.

The Comic Book Story of Beer depicts the many cases of beer sent to the White House from grateful brewers in the District, Baltimore, and Wisconsin. FDR, however, diplomatically gave all the brew away. Most of it was spilled down the gullets of members of the National Press Club.

A Canadian newspaper was the only one I found mentioning a CBS radio program celebrating the return of beer that day. Reflecting a sentiment that many, say, French and Poles would be expressing twelve years later, a song called “Thank You, Mr. Roosevelt!” was performed. Now chasing down a recording of that would be one hell of a beer history treasure hunt!americus_oyster_house

Organized crime, for whom Prohibition had worked out so well, evidently weren’t thrilled by the development of re-legalized 3.2% beer. A bomb—believed to have been the work of a gangland thug—was thrown at the Prima Brewing Company in Chicago on April 7, 1933. The explosive caused no deaths or injuries but inflicted a reported $1500 in property damage.

Drinkers in Middlesboro, Kentucky, weren’t sure the beer they got was really 3.2%. A Tennessee man who had made his own crawl over state lines was said to have pounded 30 beers—and was still standing. Reporters reported him going back to the saloon for #31.

Other than the mob, the drys, and the beer desirers who didn’t get any (or didn’t get enough) that day, you know who else was feeling pain on April 7, 1933? According to reports, a crisis had come to the cantina operators of Tijuana, Mexico. All through Prohibition American tourists had hopped the border to swill cerveza. But now there was no need. Bars in Tijuana were closing, and an appeal went out to Governor Augustin Olachea of Baja California Norte to do something for the “salvation” of the city.

One thing just about every commentator, city beat writer, and wire service reporter was in agreement on about April 7, 1933? That public intoxication levels were, if anything, lower than usual. The number of arrests for public drunkenness in the San Francisco Bay Area were “normal” according to police.

Within a bay area on the distant far side of the mainland—the Chesapeake—a wordsmith attested, “I saw [beer] drunk by 325,00 Baltimoreans, male and female, without a single casualty, whether moral or anatomical. The hospitals had no business and the cops stood by in amazed enchantment, like Cortez on his peak in Darien, watching the return of common decency to America.”

 

FUHMENTABOUDIT!

On Monday, March 21, at 7pm Eastern, The Comic Book Story of Beer coauthor Mike Smith will be guesting on Fuhmentaboudit! — the live internet radio show (and podcast!) that specializes in “demystifying home fermentation with a primary focus on home brewing beer.” Listen live on the Heritage Radio Network’s live feed at heritageradionetwork.org or look for the follow-up podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

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On THE TASTING ROOM with Tom Leykis!

Big thanks to broadcast legend Tom Leykis and producer Gary Zabranksy for having us on The Tasting Room with Tom Leykis, a terrestrial radio program and podcast (subscribe on iTunes) dedicated to the worlds of high-end wines, distilled spirits, craft beer, and the good life!

We discuss how beer was first created, the feast-or-famine state of beer diversity in the United States in the last 100 years, and speculate on the future of craft beer as the movement tangoes with the prospects of corporate buyouts and consolidation. As Mike puts it when it comes to the big brewers trying to co-opt the game, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.”

LISTEN HERE

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THE NEW YORK CITY BREWERY BOOMERANG (and list of New York City Breweries)

NOTE: Thanks to input from coauthor Mike Smith and some intrepidly truth-seeking New Yorkers, the information below has been updated for accuracy.

Forty years ago, in 1976, the United States of America was rapidly approaching what I like to refer to as GABDDO, the Great American Beer Diversity Die-Off.

Within three short years of 1976, the country would be facing its post-Prohibition low of active breweries and available, domestically-produced beer brands.

In 1979, with Jimmy Carter in the White House, The Dukes of Hazzard debuting on network TV, and The Knack’s “My Sharona” reigning at the top of the pop music charts, the USA hit bottom with just 44 active breweries that produced an even smaller number of flavors and styles.

(To what can we attribute this horrific mass extinction? Well, you can read all about it in Chapter 7 of The Comic Book Story of Beer).

The country was fast losing its grip on its national and regional beer cultures. And this erosion most definitely wore away at the zythophilic infrastructure of New York City.

Four decades ago on this day, the headlines were reporting the demise of the last struggling breweries in the so-called “Capital of the World.”

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Thanks to the still-snowballing Craft Beer Movement, we can take it as granted that the brewing industry is soaringly more healthy today than it was in the 1970s. We also all know that the Big Apple is, besides being a world unto itself, the leading edge of arts and culture in America. It wields a great deal of influence on how the rest of the country (eventually) eats and drinks. Contemporary Brooklyn alone is the metonymical center of hipsterism, where, one imagines, if you’re not drinking some mass-production beer for its ironical value, you’re drinking some artisinal brew conceived by fellow hipsters on the next block.

But, of course, commercial real estate prices aren’t what they were in 1976. In Brooklyn that year, “the best situated” industrial buildings rented for $2 a square foot. What will that run you today? About $39 a square foot, according to the New York Daily News. That’s up a whopping 1,950%!

And in 1976, the owner of a former Schlitz Brewery compound in Bushwick couldn’t find another brewing industry tenant for love or money. So he had the approximately 325,000 square foot facility demolished. And all that brewing equipment that went with it? Reportedly, it was worth more as scrap than it was on the resale market.

So if the the state of the art was at such a nadir in 1976, with zero breweries upon the closing of the Schaefer and Rheingold plants, what is the number of breweries in New York City today? What would a comprehensive list of New York City breweries look like?

I have been wondering for a while. And that 40-year anniversary seemed to me like the perfect time to officially pose the question and investigate.

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After tabulating the data available from the Brewers’ Association, the number of breweries in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island, and Queens seems to be — if you include microbreweries and brewpubs — 32 37 38.

We can quibble over this, and I certainly invite your comments.

One potential point of controversy I already recognize and anticipate is the fact that this list includes eleven contract brewers, whose products may or may not (most likely not, I would venture) actually be produced in one of the five boroughs. It would almost surely be an uphill battle to even determine where those beers are made, since at least one of the beer concerns listed above publicly avoids being referred to as a “contract brewer” at all and instead shrouds the terroir of its products under the supposedly mystery-adding term “gypsy brewing.” (For coauthor Mike Smith’s take on “gypsy brewing,” allow me to refer you in the direction of our Comic Book Story of Beer podcast.)

One thing we can be certain of, though, is that this number will change soon. According to the same Brewers’ Association data, there are another 23 20 New York City breweries in the planning stages. Think they can all hold on long enough to get that overall number to 56 57?

Here’s to that!

 

GRAPHIC: FOUNDING HEAVYWEIGHTS OF AMERICAN CRAFT BEER

craft_beer_heavyweights_featured_imageBack when The Comic Book Story of Beer was still in its research mode, at a certain point I found myself a little muddled over the names and relationships of some of the key figures at the dawn of the Craft Beer Movement here in the USA.

My coauthor Mike Smith, of course, had this history down cold. Now, as a brewer with a solid liberal arts education besides, Mike is a patient man. But everyone has their limit. And as we worked to bring our notes for Chapter 8 into some kind of cohesive whole, I was loath to have to ask him one more time who met who or helped who when.

For me, some kind of schematic or social graph was in order. So, not knowing any other way to make one, I sat down with Photoshop one afternoon and started work on one.

Not all of these mighty Californians made it into the final manuscript. (Apologies to messieurs Lewis and Laybourn). And by no means does this “social graph” include everyone, or every data point, that should be included in such a thing. But as a work in progress I think it has some value. Enjoy!

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BACK IN STOCK ON AMAZON!

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We at The Comic Book Story of Beer would like to thank all our 2015 readers for making this book a New York Times bestseller, an Amazon Book of the Month for October, and a generally hot, hard-to-keep-in-stock item all around!

And by way of trumpeting a big “Happy New Year” to you all, we are excited to announce that the book is back in stock on Amazon. Please continue to look for it (and ask for it!) anywhere you like to buy books.

LOST & FOUND BEER HISTORY FILES: HOMEBREW DAYS, 1929

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Like the full, intact bottle of 125+ year-old beer found by divers deep in Nova Scotia mud, it’s not unusual for a lost treasure of beer history to resurface in an unlikely spot.

So it happened one strangely warm and sunny Christmas Eve deep in a stretch of Midwest usually encumbered by cold this time of year, if not snow.

I was perusing a sleepy secondhand bookstore on the rear-facing, lower-rent end of a Midwestern strip mall. While searching (ultimately unsuccessfully) for a juicy tidbit of local ephemera to buy as a Christmas stocking stuffer, I came across a printed booklet of musings written by one Emerson “Bat” Batdorff.

blue_ribbon_maltOne of these shortish, avuncular, and colorful essays had to with beer in the era of American Prohibition. So we at The Comic Book Story of Beer are reprinting it here for your edification and amusement.

Batdorff, who shook loose of this mortal coil in 2005 (and ranked highly enough to be briefly eulogized on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives), was a war hero and a journalist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

He was also a home brewer “before it was cool.”

And so, Batdorff reports, were his father and grandmother.

In the following piece, Batdorff spins a yarn of illicit home brewing in Akron, Ohio, under the not-so-watchful eyes of a thirsty local police and the considerably more vigilant, but far less present, gaze of federal Prohibition agents.

The mix of nostalgia, memoir, and history makes the essay worth reading. I have come across only a few such casual accounts of brewing during Prohibition, and none so well spiced with comic memory.

I am hoping to get our man Mike Smith to comment about the “corn sugar” enumerated among the home brew ingredients in this article.

Until then? Enjoy!

OF PATIENCE AND THE ART OF HOME BREW

by Emerson Batdorff

To my mother, the most dangerous time of basement beer making was the bottling.

My father and I would be down in the basement siphoning the home brew from the five gallon crock into the pop bottles that I had washed. We did this to the accompaniment of floor creaks as my nervous mother stalked uneasily above us from the dining room windows to the living room windows.

She was looking for Prohibition agents. She figured they would likely swoop down—liquor agents always swooped down in newspaper stories of the time—while we were bottling the beer.prohibition_agents_use

She was never able to explain the timing of this anxiety. The beer had been in the basement, feloniously, for two weeks or so already. Eager Prohibition agents could have swooped at any time. They didn’t need to wait. But come bottling time, the “Feds” were the worry of her life.

She knew we would have no trouble with the Akron Police Department. One of the drinkers of the home brew was Patrolman Strayer, from down the street. He was not likely to turn off his source of supply by turning us in.

Or one of his sources of supply. Akron was full of home brew makers, as I expect the rest of the nation was in spite of laws against it. Newspapers carried ads for malt (Blue Ribbon and Red Top are brands I remember particularly) and for corn sugar.

Malt and corn sugar are principal ingredients of home brew. Another ingredient is hops. Those we sometimes bought and sometime raised in the hot sun from which they shielded the back porch. They sting your hands when you pick them.

One of the main necessities of the home brewer is beer yeast. Many years later, after making beer was legal and I started to make it myself, my father told me that he had never been able to get his hands on true beer yeast. He had to exist all those years on baker’s yeast. He resented it, of course.

He did awfully well in spite of the difficulties and shortages. The main shortage was that of money, for this was the depression, but every once in a while he would get together enough money for a batch of beer and come home with the makings. A can of malt cost 25 cents as I remember it. He would also bring a couple of pounds of corn sugar, which Americans, but not Germans, to this day use in their beer.

Sometimes the malt was hopped and and sometimes we had to boil up the hops and mix it in the wort. The inadequate yeast he got at the grocery store.

My main job in the brewery was washing the bottles, and to this day that is the least attractive part of making home brew. I was also entrusted with putting half a teaspoon of priming sugar into each bottle.

My father did the actual siphoning and bottling.

I was told by people talking like they knew, that we made awfully good beer. Those were the friends that who came to the beer parties my family occasionally held.

akron_postcard_useI don’t know how good the beer was, but I know if was effective. Ern Boser showed me that. We lived on Dayton Street in Akron in a small one-story house with the front steps in the middle of the porch. The walk, however, did not go straight ahead. It went to the right, towards the driveway.

It was bordered on the street by a good hedge of particularly vicious barberry. Old Ern Boser, leaving the house one night after too much home brew, got too much left windage in his walking and instead of proceeding down the sidewalk he strode right into the barberry hedge.

“Umm!” I heard him as the prickers bit in. “Umh! Thithelth!” And he plunged directly ahead , braving the thistles because he didn’t remember that the walk was parallel to them.

My father never let me have any of the home brew because he figured I was too young. I think I was about 11 at the start of his brewing career, which went on sporadically until prohibition was over.

He never had any beer blow up, which is understandable because he knew to let beer work until it was through producing gas. On the other hand, my grandmaw [sic], also a beer maker, was not patient enough to let it come down. She bottled early.

This accounts for the doors on the basement cupboards of her house near us on Dayton Street. At first she stored the beer on open shelves in the basement. It was always a bottle in the back of the three rows on a shelf that would blow up, pushing the other two out onto the concrete floor.

“Verdampte bier!” she would comment, reverting to Pennsylvania Dutch as she usually did in times of stress.

Her solution was to have my grandfather put doors on the shelves, thus saving the other two bottles unless they went up spontaneously on their own.

Beer bottled before its time also is wild when the bottle is opened, and many a geyser of beer anointed her kitchen ceiling.

My father told her time and again not to bottle beer so soon, but she was a stubborn woman and did it wrong to the end of her days.

I remembered my father’s advice. After President Carter did the most humanitarian deed of his career, legalizing home brew, I started making it, and I never had a bottle blow up. It’s a good thing, too, because I don’t think I know enough Pennsylvania Dutch to cope with exploding bottles and beer geysers.

 
 

UPDATE January 11, 2016:

On the subject of corn sugar and brewer’s yeast reported in the anecdote above, our man Mike Smith reports the following:

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The use of corn sugar that Mr. Batdorff mentions is actually very common in what we like to call “Prohibition-style” homebrewing.
With legal beer unavailable and brewing knowledge scarce, homebrewers of the time were generally more interested in making cheap alcohol quickly than beer of “character.”
A typical recipe called for canned malt extract (often produced at furloughed breweries,) a lot of sugar, and  some hops (although some extracts came hopped.)
Oftentimes this mixture was not even boiled, and that could lead to infections, off flavors, and exploding bottles. They were also generally fermented, as the author attests, with baker’s yeast. These practices tended to produce beer of very questionable quality.
This was the “beerscape” that Fred Eckardt, Charlie Papazian, Byron Burch, and the other pioneering homebrewers turned on its head. They disseminated information, sourced ingredients, and pushed the hobby by making beer that actually tasted good rather than just being inexpensive or “effective.” They discovered that an “all malt” recipe created a beer with more character.
Most homebrewers today use a minimum of corn sugar.  It is used almost exclusively in small quantities to “prime” (naturally carbonate) bottle conditioned beers.
Corn sugar is highly refined dextrose and is completely fermentable. It is very different than corn (maize) adjunct used in many American Lagers, and Mr. Batdorff is mistaken in his assertion the corn sugar is used “to this day in (American) beer.” Beers made with too much corn sugar added can be thin and are often cider-like.
One interesting “old is new again” trait (tends to be a theme!) among craft brewers making “double” IPAs and other ultra-hoppy strong beers is to add a significant (but smaller by comparison to Prohibition-style homebrews) amount of corn sugar to the wort. This is not a cost cutting measure. It is intended, rather, to lighten the body and allow the hops to dominate.
There are other “traditional” uses of sugar in brewing internationally. Belgian monastic brewers typically add candi sugar, sometimes caramelized, to their strong ales. British brewers also add “invert” sugars to subtly lighten the body of their bitters and pale ales. In Germany, these non-malt ingredients are frowned upon and were outlawed by the Reinheitsgebot.

WOE HO HO? HOLIDAY COMIC BOOK STORY OF BEER SUPPLY ISSUES

santa_cbsobUPDATE DECEMBER 26, 2015: The latest printing of The Comic Book Story of Beer evidently arrived late from overseas and is now being trucked to Amazon warehouses and other points of sale. Amazon currently lists that orders will be filled beginning December 31.

We apologize for the delay! But we invite you to give all those gift cards you got for the holidays a serious nonfiction graphic novel workout!

ORIGINAL POST: It has certainly not escaped our attention that The Comic Book Story of Beer has, of late, become hard to find.

For starters, massively multibuyer online retailer Amazon.com has reported being temporarily out of stock of the title for about a week as of this posting. And what’s more, the book has been only spottily available at Barnes & Noble stores nationwide (and at Chapters in Canada).

If Santa only knew what vengeful sentiments we were harboring to the supply system kinks responsible for this shortage, we would be moved to the naughty list for sure.

We are all sugar plums and figgy puddings when it comes to gratitude over the response to the book. And that’s thanks completely to you. But it is still a problem that the book isn’t immediately available for those who want it, or want to gift it to the beer lovers they love.

Take heart. Despite Amazon’s out-of-stock status, our publisher—Penguin/Random House imprint Ten Speed Press—assures us that an order of 3-4,000 copies is about to be fulfilled to them. So let us invite you to order the book anyway. We have been told that fulfillment is just days away and that “there will be beer for Christmas.”

As for Barnes & Noble, unfortunately that company is struggling with a tumbling stock price, and its corporate buyers seem to see nonfiction graphic novels as a dicey proposition.

Please continue to ask for the book at brick and mortar stores like B&N. American booksellers of every size and shape need all the consumer support they can get right now.  Happy holidays!

CHRISTMAS IN NEW YORK?

finback_eventWell, despite The Comic Book Story of Beer‘s ongoing scarcity in retail outlets both in meat- and cyberspace, there is good news if you are one of the 20 million good folks living in Greater New York City.

This Saturday, December 19th, author Mike Smith will be signing and selling books in the tasting room of the highly noted Finback Brewery in the great borough of Queens. Catch him from 1 to 7 pm at 78-01 77th Avenue.

Bring your holiday cheer, your beer questions, and your thirst for sophisticated, barrel-aged craft beer!

HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE GALA

We at The Comic Book Story of Beer have a lot to be grateful for this holiday season.

For not only are we all living in the best time in the history of man on this planet to be a beer lover. We are also grateful for the readers, drinkers, drinker-readers, and reader-drinkers who have made time in their lives (and space on their bookshelves) for the world’s first graphic novel about the world’s favorite drink. Here’s to you, guys, gals, and everyone who identifies and/or presents as everything else and in between!

And as the gift-giving season reaches flood proportions, it is our fondest wish that the when the global high tide of altruistic consumerism finally recedes it will have left behind a nutrient-rich, ring-like deposit of even more readers possessing and spreading even more brewing knowledge and appreciation .

Indeed, we believe that The Comic Book Story of Beer makes a great gift for the zythophiles waiting thirstily under your tree. But don’t take our word for it!

Because here is something else we’re thankful for: the journalists of exceptionally high taste who have seen fit to include our little tome of lager literacy, pilsner pedagogy, and fermentation fortitude in year-end holiday gift guides. Happy holidays to all!

Los Angeles Times | Beer Gift Guide: 12 Ideas for Beer Lovers

Publisher’s Weekly | Graphic Novels as Gifts

Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Beer Town: Holiday Gifts for Beer Lovers

San Jose Mercury News | Gifts for Brewhounds

Business Insider | 17 Gifts Any Beer Geek Would Love to Get

Torontoist | All the Holiday Beer Gifts You Could Want

Cleveland.com | 18 Books for Beer Lovers: A Holiday Gift Guide

Cool Material | 2015 Gift Guide for the Craft Beer Lover

Unclutterer | 2015 Holiday Gift Giving Guide

The Roaming Pint | 2015 Craft Beer Lover’s Holiday Gift Guide