Six Pack interviews Doug Hoverson
Welcome to the first in a series of interviews with the interesting people involved with Minnesota’s great beer. Our first victim is Doug Hoverson, author of Land of Amber Waters, the History of Brewing in Minnesota. We offered Doug a six-pack of questions and he graciously answered them!
How long have you been working on this epic? I first recall hearing about it sometime in 2005 and have to imagine that this isn’t a normal research project… the scale of it has to be fairly encompassing…
The first time I actually introduced myself to someone with the claim that I was “writing a book on the history of brewing in Minnesota” was during the fall of 1997. I had been doing some preliminary research at the Minnesota Historical Society (inspired by seeing an 1882 ad for John Erickson’s brewery in Moorhead), and then went down the hill to have a beer at the recently opened Great Waters Brewing Co. After talking to Mark van Wie and Tod Fyten, it seemed like it might not be such a crazy idea after all. In October I interviewed David Johnson at Ambleside Brewing Co., and began to gradually build up my files. I researched a bit during each summer vacation, but to do it right, I’d need to be able to travel and visit collectors and museums during business hours. I got a sabbatical leave from Saint Thomas Academy during the 2004-05 school year, and got the bulk of the research done that year. During the fall of 2004, Joe Lanners (then head brewer at Great Waters) referred me to the University of Minnesota Press, and the serious writing began.
At one time I tried to keep track of the hours I worked, but I lost track almost immediately. I looked through every county history book I could find, and a lot of city and town histories as well. I looked through every single page of the 1850, 1860 and 1870 population and industry censuses on microfilm. (The 1880 census was searchable on line by occupation, and most of the 1890 census was lost in a fire.) I looked at what remained of 45 years of excise tax records, most of them in the original ledger books at National Archives depositories in Chicago and Kansas City. I have probably looked at almost 1,000 years worth of small town newspapers on microfilm–but Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon stories are a lot funnier now after having seen how these towns function.
Luckily, it wasn’t all archival work. I have visited more than 100 breweries and brewpubs in the U.S., Canada and Germany, have sampled a couple thousand different beers, became a certified beer judge, and finally won some medals in major homebrewing competitions. I’ve still got a lot to learn, so I may have to do a couple more beer books to accommodate that.