Book Review: Over The Barrel by Timothy Holian

After reading Mike Morgan’s Over-The-Rhine: When Beer was King (here is my review) I became really interested in what other Cincinnati related beer history books were out there. I was honestly surprised to find that there were anymore at all, but after reading Timothy Holian’s Over The Barrel books I’m surprised there aren’t more. Cincinnati has a nearly 200 year old brewing history which at one time was the 4th largest brewing center in the country.

Holian had so much material he ended up writing 2 volume::

    • Over The Barrel: The brewing history and beer culture of Cincinnati
      • Volume One: 1800 -> Prohibition
      • Volume Two – Prohibition -> 2001

The first book is much more enjoyable to me because it’s a crazy non-stop success story with a few failures here and there. The second book however tells the story of the slow painful death of Cincinnati’s breweries. It’s not that the second book is a bad book, just a bit depressing to read about how the big breweries crushed and squeezed the life out of the smaller regional breweries. Both books though are slightly painful to read. They are overflowing with various stats which often becomes tedious to read through and at least for me all the numbers begin to get mixed up. Holian also repeats things, summarizes, and then re-summarizes a great deal. If that all were cut out there might only be 1 book. On one hand this is nice because it reinforces a lot of the ideas… but it makes it even more work to read.

I don’t want to compare this to Mike Morgan’s book too much, but there aren’t many books on Cincinnati brewing history so I have little to compare to. I’ll just say that were Morgan focused on OTR and only OTR, Holian focuses on the entire Greater Cincinnati Area. I honestly had no idea at all of Covington’s brewing history and the fact that the empty building on the side of 75 which used to be Jillian’s was originally the Bavarian Brewing Company nearly 140 years ago! Another big difference between the two is that Mike Morgan excels at telling a great story in his book. Over The Barrel reads much more like a text book with all the facts and figures that it presents. I don’t want people to view this as a bad thing, just be prepared for the difference.

One comment about what is possibly my favorite fact from this book. I remember a few years back there was a bit of a kerfluffle, and even a New York Times article, about Who Dey vs Who Dat. Now hopefully Bengals fans are already well familiar with the Who Dey chant, if you’re not a Bengals fan it goes “Who Dey! Who Dey! Who dey think gonna beat dem Bengals!” The answer, unfortunately, is almost everyone…. but we’re in a rebuilding year! The New Orleans Saints have a similar chant, “Who Dat! Who Dat! Who dat say gonna beat dem Saints!” As you can see they’re very similar and they both started in the early 80s. The exact beginnings are lost to the sands of time and the dust up is over who started using theirs first. Luckily Holian brings a small fact to light. In December 1982 the Bengals got into the playoffs and Hudepohl created a specially designed can to commemorate the event with “Hu-dey” written on it in big letters. Suck that New Orleans!

A small note on availability: These books do not seem to be available to buy new in any stores and used copies sell on Amazon and Ebay for around $50 per volume. Luckily Cincinnati has one of the greatest, and busiest, library systems in the country. They also seem to have 1 to 2 copies of both volumes at almost every library branch! So if you feel inclined to read this I would suggest a trip down to your local library. Or do like I did and pick them up at the main branch then walk down the street to Arnold’s for a beer while you start reading them!

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