Event—Adult Education

The 30-year Journey of Chicago's Lager Beer Riot

In 1855, Chicago’s city government clashed with immigrant neighborhoods over the right to drink beer. While this event had roots in Europe, the Lager Beer Riot gave Chicago its first experience with civil unrest, expanded the city’s police force, and reshaped local politics for decades.

As a precaution to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, the Adult Education Seminars Program’s Fall 2020 term will continue to be held virtually. Virtual seminars meet via Zoom video conference and use email and Google Drive folders to share resources and communicate with instructors and participants. For more information about the Newberry’s virtual seminars and these tools, including a Zoom tutorial, please see our Virtual Seminars FAQ page. If you have questions about online learning, please feel free to reach out to seminars@newberry.org.

For more information about the Newberry’s response to COVID-19 please visit www.newberry.org/covid19.

Seminar Description

In 1855, Chicago’s city government clashed with immigrant communities over their right to drink beer. Though a local event, the riot reverberated in every conceivable direction: emulating past beer riots in the German countryside, subverting statewide prohibition, and looming over the next twenty years of Chicago’s saloon regulation. This seminar embarks on a winding road to, through, and beyond the riot to see how a lone downtown brawl shaped over a quarter century of midwestern history.

One session. Registration – $85

Dr. Brian Alberts is a historian specializing in German immigration and American brewing during the 19th century. Through writing, teaching, public events, and developing collaborative beers, he explores the past through the lens of beer.

Materials List


  • A free digital course packet of additional material, compiled by the instructor and distributed electronically before the seminar begins.

First Reading:

  • Please read Richard Wilson Renner's short article, "In a Perfect Ferment: Chicago, the Know-Nothings, and the Riot for Lager Beer" (a digital file of this reading will be sent with the email confirming your registration).

  • Optional: Brian Albert's article "'Streets as Stages' - The Munich Beer Riots of 1844" from Good Beer Hunting.

Registration Information

Online registration opens at 9 am (CST) on Tuesday, September 1st.

Please note: Due to COVID-19, the Adult Education Seminars staff is working remotely and will be unable to process registration over the phone. For more information about registration, including a guide to online registration, see our Registration Information page. Questions? Please contact seminars program staff via email at seminars@newberry.org.

We offer a 10% discount to members, seniors, and students.

This seminar is part of the Newberry’s Adult Education Seminars Program. Learn more about registering for a seminar, program policies, or teaching a seminar.