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Travels with Barley: A Journey Through Beer Culture in America
By Ken Wells

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Publisher: Free Press, 2004.
Soft Cover, 320 pages, 6.25 x 9.25.
Item #1350

Do beer yeast rustlers really exist? Who patented the Beer Goddess? How can you tell a Beer Geek from a Beer Nazi? Where exactly is Beervana? Does Big Beer hate Little Beer?

Ken Wells, a novelist, Pulitzer Prize finalist, and longtime Wall Street Journal writer, answers these questions and more by bringing a keen eye and prodigious reportage to the people and passions that have propelled beer into America's favorite alcoholic beverage and the beer industry into a $75 billion commercial juggernaut, not to mention a potent force in American culture.

Travels with Barley is a lively, literate tour through the precincts of the beer makers, sellers, drinkers, and thinkers who collectively drive the mighty River of Beer onward. The heart of the book is a journey along the Mississippi River, from Minnesota to Louisiana, in a quixotic search for the Perfect Beer Joint -- a journey that turns out to be the perfect pretext for viewing America through the prism of a beer glass. Along the river, you'll visit the beer bar once owned by the brewer Al Capone, glide by The World's Largest Six Pack, and check into Elvis Presley's Heartbreak Hotel to plumb the surprisingly controversial question of whether Elvis actually drank beer. But the trip also includes numerous detours up quirky tributaries, among them: a visit to an Extreme Beer maker in Delaware with ambitions to make 50-proof brew, a look at the murky world of beer yeast rustlers in California, and a journey to the portals of ultimate beer power at the Anheuser-Busch plant in St. Louis, where making the grade as a Clydesdale draft horse is harder than you might imagine. Entertaining, enlightening, and written with Wells's trademark verve, Travels with Barley is a perfect gift -- not just for America's 84 million beer enthusiasts, but for all discerning readers of flavorful nonfiction.

From Publishers Weekly:

Thoreau said, "The tavern will compare favorably with the church." Following this premise rather closely, longtime Wall Street Journal writer and novelist Wells (Junior's Leg) searches for his preferred house of worship: the "perfect beer joint." Setting out to follow the Mississippi River, Wells writes, "I would begin in Minnesota among folk who, geographically speaking, are practically Canadians and by reputation descended from good beer-drinking Swedes and Germans. I would slide down soon enough into the Great Beer Belly of America, for, by lore at least, Midwesterners are presumed to be the mightiest of U.S. beer drinkers." Full of profundities ("One thing you can say about lagers: the good ones don't make you work very hard to like them"), the book also lends historical, scientific and cultural insights into the $75 billion industry -- from the likes of beer behemoths like Budweiser to newfangled Extreme Beer, which has bottle values comparable to fine Bordeaux. Along the way, Wells encounters quirky characters, and the pages he devotes to describing brewers, bar proprietors, bartenders and plain ol' beer drinkers prove he's more interested in beer people (84 million Americans drink beer) than the industry itself. Wells's storytelling abilities complement his journalist's eye for stats and facts, making this a humorous, lively and informational tour.

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