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A unique facet of Iowa City history comes alive in “Beer Money”

North Liberty author Steve C. Sherman releases his sixth novel
North Liberty author Steve Sherman has published his sixth book, “Beer Money,” a historical fiction novel based on the 1880s clash between prohibitionists and “The Beer Mafia,” the three most powerful brewers in Iowa City. A book release event is scheduled for Tuesday, March 10, at Big Grove Brewery, in Iowa City.

NORTH LIBERTY– In the early 1880s, a trio of brewers in the Northside neighborhood of Iowa City had become wealthy and powerful, and Public Enemy No.1 in the eyes of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). The clash between the WCTU and the brewers: Conrad Graf, J.J. Englert and John Dostal is the focal point for North Liberty author Steve C. Sherman’s latest book, “Beer Money,” a work of historical fiction set for release on Tuesday, March 10.
Sherman, who has previously published five other novels ranging from historical fiction (“Leaving Southfields”), to the supernatural (“Hell & Back”), and from young adult fantasy (“Moxie”) to contemporary politics (“Mercy Shot”) and a modern day Western confronting radical Islamic terrorists (“Lone Wolf Canyon”), took a tour of the Beer Caves under the La James Hairstyling building in Iowa City and became fascinated by a long-forgotten facet of history.
“It’s like another world down there, a real step back in time,” Sherman said. “I became consumed by the place and the story that is our Iowa City heritage.”
The story of the Northside and the Beer Mafia, culminating in what became the Iowa City Beer Riots of 1884, Sherman elaborated, “is nothing short of awesome. It’s an iconic American story full of politics, religion, immigrant troubles and so much more. It’s the kind of thing you’d see in a movie and here it was hiding in plain sight right under Market Street.”
Sherman researched the events and read several accounts from well-known local experts, such as Marlin Ingles, a noted archeologist, Northside historian and owner of John’s Grocery Doug Alberhasky and University of Iowa history professor Glenn Ehrstine.
“There were ample sources of information from men much more intelligent than me, and lots of written documents and old newspapers chronicling what had happened. I just put all the pieces into the dramatic tale that hopefully moves your soul and puts you in the place of the characters living out a volatile time in American history right here on Iowa’s prairie,” Sherman said.
This is Sherman’s second foray into historical fiction, the first being “Leaving Southfields,” based on a true story in his family’s history.
“My ancestor Philip Sherman was part of the Winthrop Migration to become a founding member of Boston in 1603. He then went on to become the Secretary of State of Rhode Island… after being banished by the Puritans. It was a great larger than life story that brought our family to America, and I felt I had to write it for my kids’ sake… no other reason. But in the process turned on the writing thing, and it never turned off.”
Sherman bounces from genre to genre out of a desire to not limit himself, but historical fiction factors heavily into two future novels: another Iowa story chronicling illegal alcohol activity during prohibition, and a Civil War story centered on Iowa boys who marched off to fight.
“That one has a family connection,” Sherman said, “My ancestor John Sherman, a farm boy from St. Ansgar, fought in the hornet’s nest of Shiloh under General William Tecumseh Sherman and eventually died in Andersonville Prison in Georgia. That’s such a large story I’ve been putting it off for years.”
Once Sherman has the research all in place for a story, the actual writing tends to go quickly.
“I think I wrote the whole thing to first draft in somewhere between 60 to 90 days, then spent another six months editing and rewriting. I get obsessed once I get going and I can’t stop till it’s done,” he noted.
With a fulltime job, wife and four kids, nighttime tends to be prime writing time.
“When it starts, my wife rolls her eyes and says, ‘Bye, see you in a few months.’”
After the final draft is complete, Sherman submits the manuscript to his publisher (Post Hill Press).
“After a publisher takes a story on, they send it through another round of the editing process, produce the cover, and prepare it for mass production.” Simon and Schuster will distribute the book, which will be available through most online sources, and locally at the Prairie Lights Bookstore.
A book release event is set for Tuesday, March 10, at Big Grove Brewery (Iowa City Taproom), located at 1226 S. Gilbert St. in Iowa City from 7-9 p.m. Sherman will read from his book while Alberhasky will talk about Iowa City’s beer history. A portion of each book sold during the event will benefit the Englert Theatre and FilmScene’s Strengthen Grow Evolve campaign building the Greatest Small City for the Arts. The event is free and open to the public.