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Good Beer Hunting

May 29, 2021

Today, lager beers represent the comfort zone for most American beer drinkers…and a stereotyped monolith for many craft breweries to rebel against. But 170 years ago, lagers were both the outsider and the trendsetter. Their arrival caused ongoing debates over what beer was, what it should be, and the role alcohol ought to play in American social life, to take a sharp turn. This debate was anchored in beliefs about beer and public health that were simultaneously centuries old, and ever-evolving. Beer was at one time or another compared to poison, called to testify in court, and blamed for epidemics…and that’s just the beginning.

We’re kicking off the Source Material podcast with a 3-part series looking at some of the ways lager beer paired with questions of public health in 1800s America. We’ll begin with a basic question: can lager beer make a person drunk?

The answer may seem obvious today, but in the 1850s it seemed like that question could only be settled in court. Let’s explore why in Lager Beer, Governing Bodies Part 1: Overruled.