“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.”