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Book Reviews
By Doug Hoverson


Brewing in the Pretzel City
Harvey L Wilhelms
American Woodcraft Publishing, 2017
Freeport, IL
75 pages, illustrated. Color
ISBN 978-1-54G79522-3

The number of books on the breweries of particular cities, counties, or regions continues to grow. While many readers gravitate to books about their hometowns, one can learn much about the brewing industry and beer culture by exploring other locations. Freeport, Illinois was, in many ways, a typical mid-sized Midwestern brewing city. It had a mix of large and small breweries, none of which returned after Prohibition. It had a short-lived post-Prohibition brewery and a couple of craft breweries during the modern era. While Freeport is best-known as a German settlement, many other nationalities moved there as well—and helped Freeport support an ale brewery for more than four decades. (Freeport may be best known as the site of the most important of the Lincoln-Douglas senate debates in 1858.)

Harvey Wilhelms has published a collection of his decades of research into the breweries of Freeport. He combined research from existing histories, newspapers, and interviews with descendants of Freeport’s brewing families to assemble this account. Having grown up in the area, Wilhelms is intimately familiar with the area and added stories about visiting the old brewery cellars during his youth. (Some photos of the caves as they appear today are included.)

Wilhelms organizes the breweries by date and then by address in town, a format which makes more sense in this context than listing them by the name of the first owner. The small Yellow Creek farm brewery lasted seventy-two years, and a few of the larger breweries survived for several decades. Freeport was noteworthy for having two breweries run by women for extended periods: Helena Hertrich (later Beck) ran the brewery located at Adams and Jackson for most of the 1860s, and Ellen Milner was proprietor of the Albion Ale Brewery at Chicago and Linden for twenty-three years.

The highlight of the book is the breweriana illustrated within. The Yellow Creek Brewery had few items, but the better known Baier & Ohlendorf Brewing Co. (previously Baier & Seyfarth among others) is represented by everything from labels to a chicken scale. The B & O name also appeared on some unusual fittings designed to be mounted under card tables and hold a player’s beer and smoking accessories. There is a rare 1863 brewery token from the Helena Hertrich brewery issued during the Civil War when government coinage was scarce. Wilhelms also includes quite a few photos of area taverns, many of them tied houses, that help put the beer in local context.

At the end of the book, Wilhelms encourages others to build on his research, and there are some opportunities to do so. Wilhelms notes in the introduction that he did not attempt to reconcile different accounts, so some of these may be investigated further. Readers who are not breweriana experts would benefit from dates on many of the artifacts. Wilhelms changes fonts frequently and this distracts from the flow of the story. There are also a few minor errors in the introductory section of the book (a hogshead is not thirty-one gallons but sixty-three, for example), but these detract little from the wealth of information on the breweries of Freeport.


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