Oscar Ameringer (1870-1943), how to introduce this American one-of-a-kind? He was a socialist organizer, publisher-and-journalist, and humorist following earlier 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. German-born (Achstetten), the son of a furniture-maker, Ameringer was an iconoclast even as a youth, earning the suspicion of schoolmasters for his outré opinions.
His 1940 autobiography If You Don’t Weaken: the Autobiography of Oscar Ameringer, states 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 numerous boyhood friends. After schooling to only 15, he left the hearth to travel to America, initially Cincinnati.
There, he engaged in a self-study programme assisted by a kindly librarian. Ameringer was one of those spirits, it seems, who had to leave the birthplace to find himself. After wending through different parts of the U.S., he settled finally in Oklahoma, after World War I.
Ameringer’s memoir has many references to beer. The context is usually labour-related, a brewery strike, say. But Ameringer always retained the predilection of his homeland for a good glass of beer.
I stress “good”, as he comments often on the relative quality of beer in America and Germany. For the U.S., Ameringer did say union shops made better beer, because the owner was less motivated to cheapen the formula under union control.
That seems questionable, 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, on a visit to Germany.
He states the high quality can be laid down to the water used, but not in the sense one normally thinks. In Ameringer’s scheme, due to the time and cost incurred to draw water from their deep well, the Benedictines ennobled Andech 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 used “cornmeal, saccharine, and liquorice”.
While the humour can’t be gainsaid, at the same time this distinction, to borrow the title of Van Halen’s final album, may hold “a different kind of truth”. Anyway, I have tasted Kloster Andechs, from fresh bottles in Florida last year, and on draft earlier, in New York.
Unquestionably among the world’s great beers, in my top five certainly.