Book review: ‘The Lager Queen of Minnesota: A Pamela Dornam Book’ by J. Ryan Stradal

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Helen Magunnson convinced her father to give her the family farm to sell so she could restart Blotz Brewery. The other sister, Edith, got nothing and had to make it on her own.

The assumption was that if Helen is successful, she would make it up to Edith. Though Helen had established Blotz, she has ignored Edith.

Helen was so anxious to become a brewer, a field virtually uninhabited by women, that she talked her father into bequeathing the family farm exclusively to her, denying her sister Edith completely. Furthermore, she courted and married the heir of the Blotz brewery to help achieve that end. And she was successful. As the brewer of Blotz Light, “Drink lots, it’s Blotz,” she became the female brewer that re-established the Blotz Brewery.

Edith was aware of the situation but didn’t dwell on it, as there was nothing to be done. She and her sister simply didn’t talk. As a baker in a nursing home, Edith made a reputation for baking exceptional pies. So much so that it was covered in local papers and St. Anthony-Fireside Nursing Home actually became a destination for pie lovers. That reputation led to employment in a bakery and several later similar jobs. In the meantime, her son and daughter in-law were killed in a traffic accident, leaving a daughter, Diana, for Edith to raise. As Diana grew, she took jobs so that she could assist with her grandmother’ s financial struggles. She also occasionally stole items from well-stocked, unlocked garages.

During one of her thefts, she was caught and forced to tell her story: she helping to support her grandmother, etc. Frank Schabert owned and operated Heartlander Brewery. After listening to Diana’s story, he decided to let her work off her debt to him. Cleaning and night watchman were the initial assignments. With her initiative and work ethic, Diana slowly worked her way up to where she was allowed to brew beer. Frank was a hard taskmaster and made her throw out many of her initial efforts. She improved each time and learned more about following and developing recipes: how much hops, what kind of hops did what, aging, grains, etc.

Though she had a perfect score on the PSAT, her grades were not good enough to get her into Stanford, where her boyfriend was going. Because she always had had to work, she also didn’t have much to list for accomplishments. She thought if she could develop, brew, bottle and market a craft beer in a year, that plus her strong testing would get her into Stanford.

Helen’s story continues developing, as does Edith’s and Diana’s. By now, both sisters are senior citizens. And Helen still hasn’t spoken to Edith, nor has she sentany money her way to offset the initial inheritance slight that allowed Helen to reestablish Blotz. And Blotz is notdoing as well in the craft beer era. Diana, for various reasons, has had to establish her own craft brewery. The scene is set. Something must bring this all together, or not. I recommend reading “The Lager Queen of Minnesota” to find out.

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