Craft Beer in the Heartland
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Craft Beer in the Heartland
Michael Agnew, A Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014. 232pp. $24.95 (paper).
Anna Blessing, Locally Brewed: Portraits of Craft Breweries from America’s Heartland. St. Paul, MN: Midway Books, 2014. 192pp. $9.95 (paper).
Denise Neu, Chicago by the Pint: A Craft Beer History of the Windy City. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011. 128pp. $19.95 (paper).

Halfway through the three-minute-long video Nikki Young of Tandem Ciders—wearing a “Midwest is Best” T-shirt—wipes down a handsome wooden bar and we hear her voice clear atop some trilling acoustic music. She assures visitors to Michigan’s wine-and beer-making regions that they need not be intimidated by the tasting-room experience. “You’re in the Midwest,” she says. The camera then pans to an overhead image of her standing beside her husband, Dan Young, sitting astride an old-time white tractor. “And we’ll make you feel right at home, and we’ll walk ya right through it.” Seconds later Chateau Chantal winemaker Mark Johnson appears on screen imploring viewers to “look around, just look around!” Then we are shown rolling green and gold landscapes and a striking sunset over vigorously producing grape vines and apple trees. “This is pure Michigan,” he says before he stops to compose himself. “It doesn’t get any purer than, uh, oh geez.” He clears his throat and his eyes well up with tears before he finishes his thought, “than this.” The music drops out and viewers are treated to birdsong and a still image of Michigan’s bountiful fruit trees. “Click to Experience More of a Pure Michigan Summer,” the screen reads, and it fades to black. Clicking on the link brings you to a “Pure Michigan” playlist with spots featuring lighthouses, tulips, fish stories, golf courses, and sand dunes encroached upon by shade.

The spot is a longer version of the frequent “Pure Michigan” radio and [End Page 177] television advertisements that have been airing throughout cities like Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and their surroundings since 2008. Those shorter ads feature unhurried narration courtesy of Detroit-born screen actor Tim Allen and are part of the enduring “Pure Michigan” ad campaign intended to spur tourism to the state. The television ads are drenched in sepia. The radio spots feature softly scored music. Both are intended to evoke what the ad makers present as the midwestern “spirit” of the state—its purity, simple beauty, commitment to craft and excellence, its accessibility, and friendliness. All of this conjures images of a very attractive place for consumers. It is somehow familiar and not far off, but slower-moving and flush with leisure activities and plenty of great wine and beer.

One “Pure Michigan” ad from 2013 focused solely on the state’s craft breweries (at the time Michigan had the fifth most breweries in the nation) and lured visitors with the promise of an interestingly named beer like “Dragon’s Milk” or “Humalupalicious.” A 2016 update of the ad, titled “Small Batches,” doubled-down on the state’s image as a craft beer utopia with talk of rolling barley fields and images of hop bines growing as “tall as the tales that follow,” as well as baseball games, and front porch sippers.

The creators of the “Pure Michigan” ads are right to celebrate the state’s beer culture. Michigan, arguably, has been the region’s craft beer locus for most of the current century. Also, they are right in line with the current trend that is witnessing a series of efforts by craft brewers and the region’s beer writers to define midwestern beer and beer culture. This push mirrors the larger work individuals are doing on the greater Midwest in general.

On one level the books in this review are all practical guides to finding many a great handcrafted pint throughout the region, but perhaps what is even more interesting is which breweries the authors choose to feature and why. These decisions provide a glimpse into the robust and growing midwestern craft beer culture, certainly, but they also provide interested persons...


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