Oscar Ameringer (1870-1943), how to introduce this American one-of-a-kind? He was a socialist organizer, publisher-and-journalist, and humorist following early spells as artist, musician, and factory worker.
The humorist part seemed an indelible part of his personality but came in handy for his labour work. He would wind up crowds before a speech by Eugene Debs, say.
German-born (Achstetten), the son of a furniture-maker, he was an early iconoclast, earning the suspicion of his teachers for his outré opinions.
His 1940 autobiography, If You Don’t Weaken: the Autobiography of Oscar Ameringer, explains that a reading group he joined with his mother had an important influence on his development.
She might read Lessing, for example. In part this explained, unusually for his milieu and time, Ameringer’s sympathy with the Jews, among whom he counted boyhood friends.
After schooling to age 15, he left the hearth to travel to America, initially Cincinnati. There, he engaged in a self-study programme administered by a kindly librarian.
Later, he returned to Germany study art in Munich, before sailing again for America, this time permanently.
Ameringer was one of those spirits, one concludes, who had to leave his birthplace to find himself. After wending experiences in different parts of the U.S. he settled finally in Oklahoma, after WW I.
Ameringer’s memoir has many references to beer. The context is usually labour-related, a brewery strike, say. But Ameringer clearly always retained the predilection of his homeland for a good glass of beer.
I stress good, as he comments numerous times on the relative quality beer both in America and Germany. In the U.S., Ameringer was convinced union shops made better beer, that the owner was less motivated to cheapen the formula under union control.
This seems questionable to me, but anyway the best beer passages in the book have a comic undertone, reflecting this part of Ameringer’s personality.
He describes in a completely offbeat way his admiration for the beer of Kloster Andechs (which the self-taught man insists to spell Andex). He explains that the high quality can be laid down to water, but not in the sense one normally thinks.
In Ameringer’s scheme, due to the time and cost the Benedictines incurred to draw their water from a deep well, they ennobled Andechs beer with extra malt and hops.
Whereas in America, by “tragic coincidence” the great breweries of St. Louis, New York, Milwaukee, etc. were surrounded by vast expanses of cheap water. This led to blasé American brewing that added “cornmeal, saccharine, and liquorice” according to Ameringer.
While this humour can’t be improved upon, at the same time the distinction, to borrow the title of Van Halen’s final album, may hold “a different kind of truth”.
I have tasted Kloster Andechs, from fresh bottles in Florida last year, and on draft earlier in New York. Unquestionably it is among the world’s great beers, in my top five certainly.