Ted Mack and America’s First Black-Owned Brewery

The Rise and Fall of Peoples Beer


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About the Book

Born a sharecropper in rural Alabama in 1930, Theodore A. (Ted) Mack, Sr., fought in the Korean War and then played football at Ohio State while earning a college degree. Brewing and selling beer, he believed, would be just another peak to attain. After all, it couldn’t be more challenging than his experience in organizing buses to the March on Washington or picketing segregated schools in Milwaukee. This is the story of Mack’s purchase of Peoples Brewing Company in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Though he had carefully planned for the historic acquisition, he underestimated the subtle bigotry of Middle America, the corruption of the beer industry, and the failures of the federal government that plagued his ownership. Mack’s ownership of Peoples Brewing is an inspirational story of Black entrepreneurship, innovation and pride at a time when America was at an important racial justice crossroads.

About the Author(s)

Clint Lanier is an assistant professor of English at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico. His writing about travel, history, food and drink has appeared in the Huffington Post, Eater, and Fodors.

Bibliographic Details

Clint Lanier

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 201
Bibliographic Info: 15 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2023
pISBN: 978-1-4766-9167-1
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4999-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface 1
Introduction 3
1—From the Red Dirt of Alabama 7
2—A Beer Born of Resentment 21
3—Introducing Mr. Mack 32
4—United Black Enterprises and the Famous Beer from Milwaukee 44
5—Buying Peoples Beer 58
6—Race in Oshkosh 71
7—Overcoming 83
8—Growing Pains 92
9—Black Beer 104
10—The Hidden Truth About Big Beer 117
11—Government Contracts 124
12—Grasping at Straws 133
13—Last Ditch Efforts 141
14—Ted Mack’s Legacy 150
Chapter Notes 163
Works Cited 181
Index 191

Book Reviews & Awards

  • Winner, Best Book—North American Guild of Beer Writers
  • “Well-researched, well-written…recommended”—Choice
  • “The book comes at a timely moment. Americans are reckoning with a long legacy of White control in the brewing industry. The industry is currently wrestling with this history and trying to understand the causes and conditions that led us here, and how to find a more equitable way forward. Mr. Lanier’s portrait of Theodore Mack’s efforts to use Peoples Beer as a vehicle for racial equity fifty years ago is an important contribution to that understanding. … This is an excellent book, a poignant one, and it tells an important story. It has already begun to shape my thinking about the beer industry in the United States.”—Jeff Alworth, author of The Beer Bible
  • “Clint Lanier rummages through decades of history, tosses the myths, and unpacks the context to bring Ted Mack Sr.’s improbable story to a modern audience in this deeply researched and briskly written book. You find yourself rooting for Mack and his Peoples Brewery, and also gain insight into the arc of American brewing over the past century. It is the sort of book that surprises even the aficionados among us. Highly recommended.” — Tom Acitelli, author of The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution
  • “In 1911 the German-American beer writer John Arnold said that the history of beer is the history of the people. This is the history of Peoples Beer, and like the very best beer history, it is much more than the history of a brewery: it’s the story, both fascinating and appalling, of a struggle for justice against prejudice.”—Martyn Cornell, author of Amber, Gold & Black: The History of Britain’s Great Beers
  • “Theodore “Teddy” Mack was a Black entrepreneur with a warm heart and a big personality who dared to believe in the American dream, only to have his hard work smashed by a cutthroat brewing industry and corrupt political system. Unflinching and beautifully researched, Clint Lanier masterfully tells a story of a man who endured hardship his entire life only to emerge stronger through the sheer will of the American spirit. Ultimately, Peoples Beer is a poignant commentary on systemic racism wrapped in an inspiring story of entrepreneurialism and beer.”— John McCarthy, author of Whiskey Rebels: The Dreamers, Visionaries, and Badasses Who Are Revolutionizing American Whiskey