New Book Tackles Local Craft Beer Trials and Triumphs

Co-authored by beer historians, Tanked in Cincinnati is a rollicking ride through Cincinnati suds.
637
MAY 2024

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF ARCADIA PUBLISHING

When Arcadia Publishing’s imprint The History Press approached Michael D. Morgan about writing a book on beer brewing in Cincinnati for its Beer Stories publishing project, he wasn’t really interested. As the author of two popular books about the local drinking scene—Over-the-Rhine: When Beer Was King (2010) and Cincinnati Beer (2019)—the Queen City History & Education, Ltd. president and UC adjunct instructor was an obvious choice to author a book about local libations. But Morgan wasn’t drawn to the offer until it occurred to him to ask his friend and media partner, Bret Kollmann Baker, to co-write something with him.

Kollmann Baker, you may know, is a co-founder and chief operating officer at Urban Artifact. The two have been friends for years, since Morgan brought one of his beer classes to Urban Artifact for a tour led by Kollmann Baker and the two got to talking about a particular prehistoric creature.

“They had found this wooly mammoth in Russia that gave people smallpox because it had just thawed out,” Morgan explains. “I thought it was crazy that you could catch a disease from an animal that died thousands of years ago, so I asked Bret, because he’s a chemical engineer, if it was possible that yeast could stay alive for extended periods of time. They had found a pre-prohibition wood fermenter in this lagering cellar that had been sealed off for decades, and I wondered if it was possible there was yeast in it.”

Kollmann Baker was dubious but game to find out and the conversation led to a 15-minute documentary about the pair searching for and finding the yeast, as well a fascinating experiment for the brewery.

Throughout the adventure, the pair’s chemistry proved infectious, and they decided to work together, first on a weekly YouTube show about the alcohol industry, Brew Skies Booze News, followed by a podcast about the history of America craft beer called Brew Skies Happy Hour. And now the partnership has extended to book authorship.

“I thought this could be a fun book if I did it with Bret and we kind of did it as an extension of this podcast, except with a local focus on it,” explains Morgan. “I thought it would be fun and a good project. I think that turned out to be true. Secondly, I thought it would be easy—we’ll just interview people, we’ve got transcripts, we’ll just slap that together and make it a book. And as it turns out, that’s a bitch!”

The pair powered through, though, compiling transcripts of interviews with the most significant names in American craft beer, conducting conversations with local figures, and writing additional parts to pull it all together.

MAY 2024
Co-authors Michael D. Morgan and Kollmann Baker.

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF MICHAEL D. MORGAN

“We split up chapters, each did our first pass at doing it and getting it to the 90 percent mark,” Kollmann Baker says. “Then we’d trade those chapters and edit each other’s work. We did that with our own personal intros and outros in addition to the transcriptions as well.”

The end result is Tanked in Cincinnati: Fortune and Calamity in the Beer Business, a deep dive  into the local scene that features interviews with some of the most notable names in Cincinnati craft beer. Their chats range from brewers to bar owners, including Jim Koch of Boston Beer Co., “Mr. Cincinnati” Jim Tarbell, “Beer Dave” Gausepohl, Scott LaFollette of the late Blank Slate, Bryant Goulding of Rhinegeist Brewing Co., and more.

“This one is very personal,” Morgan says. “The stories and the people that we interview in it, we really like all those people. Several of them shared personal, intimate stories with us that are in the book. And there is a little bit of autobiography in there with Bret and I both, and that’s certainly something that I’ve never done, so there’s a certain level of vulnerability that feels a little uncomfortable but I also think is a cool thing.”

As the name suggests, the co-authors ask hard questions, seeking insight into what makes some craft brewers successful while others only ever struggle. And they find answers, too––often to their dismay.

“Good beer doesn’t mean you’ll be successful,” says Kollmann Baker when asked about lessons he learned from writing the book. “That’s the most disappointing thing. It’s obvious when you say that out loud, but it’s really disappointing to hear the level to which that is the case. Hearing about the struggles was really enlightening. It’s not just a beer story, but it’s a business story that can be applied to a lot of aspects of life.”

So who’s the audience for a nonfiction work about the history of Cincinnati craft beer, distilled from a podcast conducted by a brewer and a beer historian?

“The world!” says Morgan with a chuckle. “It’s for people that are into the craft beer scene, obviously, but beyond that, it winds up being a narrative arc of really what’s been going on with the industry since the ’80s. It’s this story of craft beer and the social implications of it, and it’s the story of these people who just put absolute heart and soul into businesses. Some of them were wildly successful, and some of them were successful until they imploded. It’s broader than craft beer.”

A wildly entertaining look at Cincinnati history through the lens of libations, Tanked in Cincinnati is as fun to read as it is informative, and the book is likely to leave readers wanting more from the pair. Which, luckily, looks to be on tap.

“My favorite part about this whole process is just how excited I am for what’s next from us,” Kollmann Baker says. “We’ve got probably more ideas than we have ability to execute on, but we’ve got a couple of really fun ideas for next books that we’re excited about. There’s a lot of fun ideas we’ve got cooking.”

Facebook Comments