First Draft Follies: “Kids,” Beer, and the 1960s, Part 6

Part One — Part Two — Part Three — Part Four

Welcome to First Draft Follies, an ongoing series here at the blog. This edition is a true folly and a prime example of why my first drafts are so damn long: I research what is intended to be a minor point, become fascinated by this minor point, and next thing I know, I’ve written an embarrassing amount of completely extraneous text.

The material is presented “as is” from the first draft of the manuscript that became the book Ambitious Brew. In a few places I added one or two words in brackets — [like this] — for clarification. The excerpt is long, so I’m breaking it into manageable bits and posting those bits over the next few days.

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So, too, beer. In 1963, sales of imported beer rose nine percent, a heady gallop compared to domestic sales’ trot of two percent. Choosing an imported beer over a domestic one, opined an advertising manager for Heineken, was like buying a Cadillac instead of a Ford. The decision bespoke sophistication, worldliness, an appreciation for “the finer things.” (*14)

“It’s fun,” said a man from suburban Los Angeles, “when you have guests in to ask, ‘Would you rather have German or Mexican beer?'” (*15) He stocked up at Tony’s Liquors, where thirty-two different imports lined the shelves.

But even those on Ford budgets could enjoy a Cadillac-type brew by making their own at home. Unlike homemade wine, homebrewed beer was illegal, thanks to an oversight written into repeal laws back in the 1930s. That didn’t stop anyone.

Michael Lewis knew that for certain. Lewis, a biochemist in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California-Davis, specialized in brewing yeasts and processes. (*16) He’d joined the faculty in 1964 and immediately suffered an inundation of homebrewing enthusiasts who bombarded him with phone calls and letters, each one wanting to know why his or her beer had gone bad or what kind of yeast to use.

A year of that was quite enough. In 1965, he began teaching homebrewing through the university’s extension program to a mixed lot of students. Some had discovered stouts and ales while traveling or living abroad. Many had begun homebrewing while working for multi-national corporations in Muslim countries where alcohol was not available. Lewis cautioned his students not to sell their beers and to avoid discussing their hobby too openly, just in case.

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*14: “Snob Suds,” Newsweek 63 (February 17, 1964): 80.

*15: “Snob Suds,” 80.

*16: Michael Lewis interview with Maureen Ogle, May 18, 2005.

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