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When creating a western historical story, I like to present something factual from the era, even something as simple as a warming oven. I also like to have a saloon somewhere in the story. Sometimes, the saloon isn’t an important part of the story. Other times, it is. In Zanna’s Outlaw, Miller’s saloon provided the perfect setting for Buck to watch over the main thoroughfare without being detected. And though Buck and Miller had a love/hate relationship, Miller proved to be a good source for what Buck needed most—information pertaining to Buck’s enemies. In Lydia’s Gunslinger, Miller’s saloon again proved a wealthy source for the hero. Roth made a hefty profit at Miller’s, until Lydia put a stop her gunslinger owning soiled doves. More importantly, the saloon’s back room was a great place for Roth to spy on Lydia’s enemy. Cooper frequented Miller’s daily, giving Roth ample opportunity to plot against him.
Sawdust covering a wooden floor, brass spittoons flanking a scratched bar, a large, plate glass window adorning the front window and slatted swinging doors thwapping when someone entered or exited; the old west saloon has always captured my attention. Closing my eyes, I can hear boot heels clicking across the floor, the murmur of voices around a poker table and the clinking of glasses. It wasn’t until I wrote the Revolving Point, Texas series did I wonder about the most important thing in a saloon—beer. Who brewed the beer? How was it shipped to the saloon? I was somewhat certain I knew the answer to the latter question, but the author within demanded I know for sure.
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Nathan Lyman was one of the first men to open a brewery in the United States, in Rochester, NY, 1819. After him, breweries sprouted up throughout the century in big cities; Buffalo, Cincinnati, Chicago and Milwaukee to name a few. Ale was the first type of beer brewed, until the German migration to the United States introduced lager beer. Lager beer is lighter compared to ale and Americans liked the taste. They also preferred the new glassware introduced to saloons over the pewter mugs. Marketing strategies were as big back then as they are today. Brewers sent reps to saloons to entice saloon owners to only sell their beer. One of the perks offered was the glassware. Large brewery owners are also credited with opening saloons, with the intent to only sell their beer, as competition was fierce.
Beer was stored in wooden barrels and shipped to saloons via horse-drawn wagons. I have a replica of one of these wagons on my entertainment center. Two things of interest I didn’t know, and really should put into a story, was some folks brewed their own beer. Others purchased beer from a local saloon to drink in the privacy and comfort of their own homes. Beer was carried in small tin pails known as 'Growlers'. Until now, I had never heard mention of beer having been consumed in homes. Only whiskey. Or sherry, for the ladies. While I’m not one who favors beer, the history behind the making of the drink, the shipping, and the marketing is as fascinating as the saloon itself.