A Nickels Worth
It Takes a Grandmother to Raise a Brewspaper
by Bret Nickels
Many people have asked me over the years what it takes to start up a beer newspaper, as if I would know such things. My flippant answer has always been that one needs a vision, plenty of hard work, the support of friends and family, and in the case of the Celebrator Beer News, $5,000
[an error occurred while processing this directive]Yes, the Celebrator was created with an initial outlay of only $5,000 -- not your typical seedbed for a successful newspaper, I admit, but it is true. And I have to thank my late grandmother, Alice Spitz (who died in 1997 at the age of 97), for making it possible for me and my partner, Julie Nickels, to indulge in the risky venture of creating the world's first brewspaper.
My grandmother was the one who lent Julie and me the money to start up the Celebrator in 1988 (then called the California Celebrator). So, given that Julie and I have often been considered the mother and father of the modern brewspaper (with Judy Ashworth of the late great Lyon's Brewery Depot as the aunt, and beer writer and friend Michael Jackson as the uncle), in a sense Alice Spitz was the grandmother of the Celebrator. Where many laughed at my idea of creating a newspaper devoted to the wonderful world of beer, my grandmother saw worth in such an adventure and took a keen interest in its development. When I asked her for a loan so I could embark on my crazy idea, she didn't hesitate, flinch or laugh. Instead, she immediately got out her checkbook. For that, I am eternally thankful.
My grandmother, or Grosmuttie ("grandmother" in German), as I called her, was no stranger to beer. She was raised in Halle, Germany, a town near Leipzig (near the Ur-Krostitzer Brewery, home of the crispy Ur-Krostitzer Pilsner), and beer was an integral part of her culture. I remember her telling me, when I was young, that beer was healthy for people and that in Germany even children would consume beer at meals.
Grosmuttie stated many times that the North American puritanical attitude toward beer consumption was deplorable. She considered beer to be a food and not a drug (as some feel today), and therefore she believed that it deserved an honorable place at the dinner table. Grosmuttie always gave my grandfather, who was from Bavaria, a beer every afternoon before dinner -- Lowenbrau, of course -- and felt that it was good for his health. What a refreshing attitude and custom, particularly coming from someone in her 90s.
Grosmuttie used to love my visits to her North Hollywood home, where I would tell her my stories of the characters who populated the beer landscape. She particularly enjoyed hearing the descriptions of my favorite beers, which could be consumed all over the Golden Beer State. She eagerly waited for every issue of the Celebrator to arrive at her door, and she would read the paper from cover to cover, telling me which articles and even ads she particularly enjoyed (as well as which ones she did not!). Grosmuttie became one of my unofficial editors, never ceasing to give me her opinions regarding the paper -- whether I wanted them or not.
My grandmother also loved talking about what she regarded as the celebrity status she felt I had reached in the beer world (though I remember telling her that the real beer celebrity was Michael Jackson, whom she recognized from reading the Celebrator). She received her own minutes of fame, as she was the owner (along with my grandfather Carl Spitz) of Toto, the dog from the Judy Garland "Wizard of Oz" movie. In fact, my grandfather was a dog trainer for many Hollywood films (Buck in the "Call of the Wild" was also one of my grandparents' dogs). Grosmuttie instilled in me many of the things that had made her dog-training business a success. I borrowed many of her suggestions in running the Celebrator, and I believe these ideas helped to make the paper a virtual overnight success. (The first bimonthly issue actually made money and sold out 10,000 copies in a week!)
Alas, Grosmuttie was sad the day I told her that Julie and I had sold the paper to present Publisher Tom Dalldorf back in 1990, but she was glad to know that it was still being published and that she would still be getting copies. She continued to send me any beer-related articles she thought I might be interested in, even after I moved to Canada to take up an entirely different vocation as a university student and then an instructor at the University of Manitoba.
I miss Grosmuttie a great deal, especially my bimonthly visits to her house on my long distribution treks up and down the California countryside delivering bundles of the Celebrator to brewpubs, restaurants, homebrew shops and breweries. It was a difficult but very fun time, made possible by the faith, encouragement and initial financial assistance of my Grosmuttie, Alice Spitz.
If anyone ever writes a history of the Celebrator, I hope such history will include the important contribution Grosmuttie made to the success of the world's first brewspaper, a paper that now more than ever continues to exhibit the fantastic beer world in all its delicious splendor! Yes, sometimes it takes a grandmother to raise a brewspaper. Without Grosmuttie, I would not have this opportunity to wish the Celebrator a happy 15th anniversary! Congratulations, and I raise my glass to the many more anniversaries to come.
Bret Nickels was the founding publisher of the Celebrator. He is presently an instructor in the Department of Native Studies and Anthropology at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. E-mail him at email@example.com.
Copyright 2003, Celebrator No material herein may be reprinted without permission of the Celebrator Distributed On the W3 For personal, non-commercial enjoyment and use only. Cheers!
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