The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal
A group of women with deep souls create a respected place for themselves in the mostly male world of brewing. A sweet, rewarding, fulfilling read.
I try to repeat myself as little as possible when I write, since my writing is not of a caliber that excites literary admiration and repetition retards and dims whatever luster there may be. But you will read the word “happy” and variations of it, and I make no apology. Fair warning.
This book made me happy. I like Stradal’s work anyway, having read The Great Kitchens of the Midwest and enjoyed it immensely, but I feel this is on yet another level. Many of the same things pleased me about this book: the lack of pretension, in style, theme and subject, the ease with which the text flows, the fact that the writing becomes invisible behind the characters and dialogue, and the obvious heart showing through that tells you the author loves his work.
I fell in love with the principals in this book and felt every setback, family tragedy, emotional victory and satisfaction in finding purpose as if they were my own. Each discovery of meaning for these plain, good people made me happy for them. That happiness sustains throughout the narrative and (spoiler alert) carries through to the end. It is a happy book.
It is the story of a family, and two sisters in particular whose ways part in early adulthood. The separation become an estrangement that broods behind both their lives. Edith and Helen are raised on a Minnesota farm and when their father dies, he wills the entire estate to Helen. Edith has, in the meantime, married and is content, happy, even, with her lot and while the relationship has surely cooled, holds no true grudge. Helen finds and marries the scion of an old-time, old-style Midwest brewery and embarks on a life of rebuilding the once famous brand to its former glory. Here their ways part for some fifty years.
Diana is a young woman without a life passion, she thinks, but who finds her way to early love, a profession that inspires her and a fulfillment of herself she expected never to find. She becomes a brewer and is happy. Along her difficult path in this mostly man’s world, she makes her mark as a creative and ingenious crafter of the divine potable. At a critical impasse she recruits her grandmother, who is the aforementioned Edith, in the cause and together they shake up the world of craft beer.
Stradal is clearly a skilled writer with a passion for telling the story of courageous common folks who, with perseverance and humanity find a way to make their world a better place for themselves and their families. I don’t like the term “everyday heroes”, for that sounds a little high-flown for beermakers, but these women come close to heroic. I certainly admire them and came to love them and would be glad to sit down with them for a brew any time. The ability to make the reader truly care for the characters he has created is a skill to be respected and admired, and I do.