cover image Pilsner: How the Beer of Kings Changed the World

Pilsner: How the Beer of Kings Changed the World

Tom Acitelli. Chicago Review, $19.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-64160-182-5

Journalist Acitelli (The Audacity of Hops) recounts the history of one of the world’s most popular beers in this effervescent and informative take. In the 1830s, with imports threatening domestic beer sales, the Czech burghers of Pilsen in the Austrian Empire, Acitelli explains, created a modern brewery and new style of beer that was light gold in color and would soon replace the dark, heavy, chunky ales and porters that dominated the beer landscape. By the late 19th century—thanks to such scientific advancements and inventions as pasteurization, bottling, and refrigeration, the beer’s popularity spread from Europe to the U.S. and throughout the world. Brewers including Pabst, Miller, and Heineken rode the wave to international success, but it’s the Busch family’s Budweiser brand that became the king of pilsner, by creating a production line, then controlling the entire production process from distribution to marketing. Woven throughout are interludes of intrigue (yeast being stolen by monks), social unrest (beer riots, anti-immigration and prohibition movements), and economics (the U.S. government’s need for tax revenue ended Prohibition). Written with scholarly attention to detail as well as with dramatic flare (“a sickly nineteen-year-old shot a plumed nobleman... and everything changed,” Acitelli writes of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the beginning of WWI), this chronicle will intoxicate both beer nerds and history buffs. (Aug.)