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Beer battles and pie (could it be more midwestern if it tried?)

Cover of The Lager Queen of Minneso
A review of The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal

I read Stradal's debut, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, almost in one sitting (literally, as I was in my seat on an airplane) and loved every moment of it. So I was thrilled to give Stradal a second try and find out if the magic persisted.

As the title suggests, Stradal is sticking to the midwest, though here the focus is on beer making (with a side of pie) rather than on foodie culture. And where Kitchens centered on one young women and the people who shape her life Lager Queen focuses on the lifelong, complicated relationship (or lack thereof) between two sisters.

Though Helen and Edith had their share of sisterly arguments growing up, they were close. That closeness ended when their father died and left the farm to Helen, with nothing for Edith. Decades later Helen is the CEO of a major beer brewery and Edith works hard as the cook at the local nursing home. But while Helen's beer business was once the hottest, biggest game in town, her company has begun to struggle because of her reluctance to accept that IPAs and microbreweries aren't a quickly passing fad. And while Helen's prospects are dimming a bit, Edith's have begun to look up when her pie-making efforts at the nursing home get her local and statewide press.

Stradal tells the stories of Edith and Helen (and Edith's granddaughter Diana) with gentle humor and a clear fondness for his characters. And while I'll admit this one wasn't quite as big a hit for me as his debut, Stradal's sophomore book is a warm, yeasty read that hits just the right notes.**

**I'm not a beer drinker, but I have it on good authority from other readers that if you are, you're going to want to stock up on your IPA of choice for when you sit down to read this.

Dec 18, 2023