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North Dakota beer: A heady history

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Alicia Underlee Nelson2 / 2

Before North Dakota entered the Union as a dry state in 1889, the region's commercial beer industry thrived. Alicia Underlee Nelson recounts North Dakota's journey from a dry state to a booming craft beer hub in her newly released book, "North Dakota Beer: A Heady History."

She will be in Dickinson for three appearances:

• She will appear for a book reading, signing and appetizers from 4:30-6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 11, at CNC Clothing Gallery, 46 First Ave. W. in Dickinson.

• She will visit Maverick's Saloon at 196 Museum Drive W. for a beer patio party at 6:15 p.m. Friday, Aug.11.

• The Dickinson Chamber of Commerce is hosting a third signing at the Grand Dakota Grille in the Ramada Grand Dakota Hotel and Conference Center, 532 15th St. W., from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 12.

All three appearances are made possible in part by a grant from the North Dakota Humanities Council. The events are free and open to the public.

Nelson is a freelance writer and photographer who covers craft beer, travel, art and entertainment, Midwestern history and North Dakota news for Thomson Reuters, Delta Sky Magazine, AAA Living Magazine and other publications.

When her publisher invited her to explore North Dakota beer as a topic, she realized that very little had been published on the subject.

"I was literally sitting on the floor of the library in East Grand Forks, Minn., with books all around me, and wishing somebody had published something," she said. "I used my good old-fashioned journalism to go back to my sources and books. I spent a lot of time in the state archives in Bismarck and small-town libraries. I talked to collectors of beer memorabilia."

Gradually, the history of North Dakota beer emerged. Her book describes how an era of temperance forced locals to find ways to get a beer, such as crossing the Montana and Minnesota borders for a pint, smuggling beer over the rails and brewing at home. She learned how beer was moved around on trade routes—from ox carts, to stagecoaches and railroads.

After prohibition, the state's farmers became national leaders in malting barley production, serving as the biggest brewers in the world, she said.

Nelson learned that local breweries struggled until 1995 when the first wave of brewpubs arrived on the scene. It has led to an explosion of more than a dozen craft breweries and brewpubs in less than a decade.

Nelson's visit to Dickinson is part of a greater tour of North Dakota.

"I want to dig deeper—this is an evolving story," she said. Hopefully, if people read my book they will have more information to share. It's a fascinating story and I hope it leads people to start sharing their stories so that we can learn even more."

"North Dakota Beer: A Heady HIstory" was published by Arcadia Press in 2017. Readers may follow her adventures across the Upper Midwest and provinces of Canada at