This Minnesota novelist fictionalized the creation of the Light Lager
There’s a long and complicated history behind the most popular beer on the planet. J. Ryan Stradal’s newest novel, The Lager Queen of Minnesota, tells the story of the last two generations of American beerdom by way of fiction.
“I read a little bit about the evolution and creation of light beer, and I thought it would be fun to fictionalize the invention of light beer in Minnesota,” Stradal says, “and then illustrate the evolution of beer by underscoring a brewery’s ability or inability to evolve with the times.”
Lager Queen follows two Minnesotan sisters. Helen inherits the family farm and uses it to build a beer empire off the invention of a light beer marketed under the slogan, “Drink lots, it’s Blotz.” Meanwhile, her disinherited sister, Edith, struggles to get by. Helen’s business is disrupted by the exploding popularity of IPAs, which she dismisses as a fad. Edith’s granddaughter holds the possible solution to the brewery’s fading fortunes in the form of a craveable pastry-inspired ale.
Stradal was born and raised in quaint Hastings, Minnesota. He got the idea for the story when he was on tour for his first novel, the New York Times bestseller Kitchens of the Great Midwest. Everywhere he went, new breweries were popping up like toadstools.
“I was born in 1975, when there were fewer breweries in America than there are in Minnesota now,” he says. “I wanted to use my characters as an opportunity to demonstrate the evolution from that world to this one.”
Because light lagers are difficult, time-consuming and expensive to make — a major takeaway from Lager Queen — small-town brewers tend to avoid them. Through his research, Stradal became a little obsessed with the harsh economic realities of small-town breweries.
“Many small-town banks have never seen a business loan application for a brewery before,” he says. “They don’t know how to structure the loan in a way that’s advantageous to the company.”
The themes of Stradal’s book caught the attention of Over Town Brewing in Stradal’s adopted home of Los Angeles, which paid homage by brewing up a batch of Grandma Edith’s Rhubarb Pie In A Bottle Ale based on the book’s description.
“I had as much of it as I could stand,” Stradal says. “It’s surreal to make something up and then a year later to be holding it in your hand.”
GO: Rainy Day Books brings J. Ryan Stradal to read from The Lager Queen of Minnesota at The Story Center at Mid-Continent Public Library, 8900 N.E. Flintlock Road, Kansas City, Mo. Wednesday, July 24. 7 pm.