STARRED REVIEW
August 2019

The Lager Queen of Minnesota

By J. Ryan Stradal
Review by

In The Lager Queen of Minnesota, J. Ryan Stradal ventures back into the kind of kitchen that made his debut, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, a success—and from there into the ever-evolving world of beer culture.

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While the condition generally known as “Minnesota Nice” might seem to imply an unmitigated kindliness, it is more aptly described as passive aggressiveness made palatable by a virtually transparent veneer of civility. This is not to say that hearts of gold fail to beat beneath that veneer, but it might take an ice drill—or a clever wordsmith—to bust through the permafrost.

In The Lager Queen of Minnesota, J. Ryan Stradal ventures back into the kind of kitchen that made his debut, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, a success—and from there into the ever-evolving world of beer culture. Early on, the reader gets the sense that sisters Edith and Helen Magnusson were not particularly close during their youth, and that condition is dramatically exacerbated when their inheritance favors one over the other. Hopscotching back and forth between the sisters’ stories over the years, Stradal lays out the triumphs and tragedies that have kept the siblings apart, as well as the story of the granddaughter/great-niece who might be their bridge to reconciliation. 

Elder sister Edith comes across as an archetype of Midwestern sense and sensibility: modest, hard-working, self-deprecating, stoic and just a bit too straight-laced to enjoy life to the fullest. When her pies are touted in the press as the best in the state, she regards the ensuing notoriety as a distraction, if not an impediment. Helen, on the other hand, plays grasshopper to her sister’s ant and revels in her ability to transform her parents’ estate into a brewery that markets “the second-bestselling Minnesota-brewed beer in Minnesota.” Her husband, in a moment of inspiration, crafts the tag line that propels the brand to stardom: “Drink lots, it’s Blotz.” But as fans of Falstaff, Rheingold, Schmidt, Esslinger’s, Jax and others have ruefully noted, chilled and frothy heads oft turn warm and flat, and the fictional Blotz goes plotz. 

With decades of silence and unspoken resentment separating Edith and Helen, it may take something stronger than a stein of stout to reunite them, and Stradal artfully keeps the suspense brewing for over 300 pages.

With apologies to McCann-Erickson’s wildly successful campaign for Miller Lite (you know the one: “Tastes great, less filling”), this book tastes great, is quite filling and never bitter. 

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The Lager Queen of Minnesota

The Lager Queen of Minnesota

By J. Ryan Stradal
Pamela Dorman
ISBN 9780399563058

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