CHICAGO, Ill. — In a city that still takes boastful pride in its beery connection to gangster Al Capone, author Bob Skilnik says Big Al’s brewing legacy is more baloney than brewing history. In his recently released book, BEER: A History of Brewing in Chicago ($24.95, Hardcover, 416 pages, Barricade Books, ISBN 1569803129), the beer historian argues that the real brains behind the beer that flowed through Chicago’s streets was Capone’s mentor, Johnny Torrio. National Prohibition was supposed to stop the brewing and selling of beer in the Windy City, but Torrio’s organizational genius and his art of compromise with rival bootleggers kept a steady supply of beer pouring into its 10,000 speakeasies.
“I’m amazed at the number of people who have contacted me during my research with stories about a long-passed relative who supposedly knew Capone, worked for him or served as a body guard for him. Never a word about Torrio. Add the highly suspect claims by scores of Chicagoland saloon owners today who insist that Capone was a regular ‘when gramps owned the place’ and you’ll understand the success of Geraldo Rivera’s televised farcical hunt for Capone’s secret vault back in 1986. Geraldo came up empty handed, but the show achieved the highest ratings for a syndicated special in television history. Al’s popularity still reaches out from the grave.”
Capone’s ascension to king of Chicago crime began after Torrio’s waning luck in working with rival bootleggers ran out in late 1925 with an assassination attempt that left him near death. Recovering from his wounds, the wary gangster turned his entire operation over to his more aggressive and unforgiving protege. Capone’s numerous bloody acts of revenge and unwillingness to compromise with competing bootleggers would culminate in the darkest annals of Chicago crime with the infamous Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929.
The Chicago Sun-Times recently reviewed Skilnik’s account of Chicago’s colorful brewing history and paid special homage to his treatment of Johnny Torrio, Capone, and their legacy of bootlegged beer, noting that “…the real Chicago story began with Prohibition, and this is where local author Skilnik shines.”
About the Author, Bob Skilnik
Bob Skilnik is an alumnus of Chicago’s Siebel Institute of Technology – the oldest brewing school in the U.S. – where he earned a degree in brewing technology. He is the former associate editor for the American Breweriana Journal, and has contributed to the Chicago Tribune’s Good Eating food section, trade journals, magazines and newspapers.
He has appeared on ABC’s “The View,” the Fox News Channel, ESPN2, and Chicago’s WTTW. “BEER: A History of Brewing in Chicago” is his fifth book.
For more information on the author’s upcoming appearances, tour information, or to order a signed copy of the book, visit http://www.chicagolandbeerhistory.com.
[tags]beer barons of chicago, Robert Skilnik, history of beer, beer book, Barricade Books[/tags]