OLD TOWN — In the 1870s, Anna Blessing's great-great-great-great grandfather ran a brewery in Naperville that employed a young man named Adolph Coors.
According to brewery legend, Coors quit Stenger Brewery because he didn't want to marry into the family. Instead, he moved to Colorado, where he built his namesake beer empire.
Blessing may not be an heir to the Coors fortune, but the Old Town author will always have that story — which she tells as an introduction to her latest book, "Locally Brewed, Portraits of Craft Breweries From America's Heartland."
"In part, this is a book about beer," Blessing writes, "but mostly it is a book about people: the craftspeople and artisans who brew the beer."
The collection of 20 Midwestern brewery profiles offers beer geeks the kind of craft beer backstories that makes that first taste of an indie brewery's newest frothy concoction an all-the-more-tasty experience.
Blessing highlights humble beginnings, ambitious beer projects and even what music plays while the artisan brewers craft their signature beers.
Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo, Mich., got its start in a 15-gallon soup pot.
Great Lakes Brewery has teamed with University of Chicago archaeologists in a yet unrealized attempt to brew a beer made by history's first beer drinkers — the Sumerians.
Doug Hurst at Metropolitan Brewery in Ravenswood brewed his first beer instead of writing a term paper in a botany class at the University of Wisconsin.
And beers at Three Floyds Brewery in Munster, Ind., are often crafted to the tune of face-melting metal bands — Black Sabbath, Slayer, Bad Brains and Iron Maiden, among them.
"You talk to brewers, and they'll say they're just making beer they would want to drink. But it's more than that. The craft beer movement has such a focus on innovation, a melding of science and art," Blessing says. "Craft beer drinkers today are looking for the new interesting thing, and they want to know the story behind it."
For Blessing, telling the stories of local artisans and shop owners — mom-and-pop operations that value entrepreneurship over mass production — has long been a passion.
Blessing, who lives in Old Town, grew up in Portland, Ore., where she says supporting locally owned small businesses and organic farms was taken very seriously. And when the "eat local food" movement spread across the country, Blessing was inspired to tell the stories of the people — like her beer-brewing ancestors in Naperville — that in a small way were changing how people eat.
In 2012, Blessing wrote and photographed "Locally Grown: Portraits of Artisanal Farms From America's Heartland," which profiled the forgotten farmers who provide ingredients that Chicago celebrity chefs turn into entrees that are equal parts supper and art.
"Chefs are notoriously hard to pin down for interviews, but it turns out they have all the time in the world to talk about their farmers," Blessing says. "Those locally grown artisanal farms work with some of Chicago's best chefs, and I wanted to write about the relationships between them."
Those talks naturally inspired her to tell the stories of local brewers who make the beer that celebrity chefs suggest as a complement to their fancy, artistic entrees.
Ultimately, Blessing says, she's learned that if you really want to know about something — a big city, a fancy restaurant or a tasty beer — spend time with the people who make it great.
"I've found that you can get to know a city by just walking everywhere, talking to people, listening to their stories, asking them about their favorite places to go, the businesses they own and how they live," says Blessing, who has also written 17 "Eat.Shop" city guide books.
"It's amazing the depth of information locals offer and how you can get to know a city and get beyond all the well known spots because of its people," she says.