This post was written for my original blog on March 9, 2017. I am reposting it as is.
Not long ago, I saw a book advertised on Facebook called Beer Money: A Memoir of Privilege and Loss. Written by Frances Stroh and published in 2016, this is the story of the famed Michigan brewing family by the same name. When I was growing up, Stroh’s beer was well known as a brew for working class people. I seem to remember people drinking it in college, too. It was cheap.
The Stroh’s brewing dynasty was based in Detroit, Michigan. Frances Stroh, who was born in 1968, grew up with tremendous privilege. Her father took her on shopping trips to New York City and London. She went to private schools and was tended to by servants. Stroh, along with her brothers, seemed poised for a lifetime of privilege. Her brothers were expected to one day take over the beer company and continue its success into the new millennium. Stroh’s father even used to teach Frances what she should do if someone tried to abduct her. He’d turned the training into a game Stroh hated and he’d force her to play.
Now, in 2017, the Stroh family no longer makes beer. The money is gone. In the 1980s, Frances Stroh’s family was worth about $700 million. Now, there’s nothing left but what Stroh’s father left her in his will. He disinherited Stroh’s brothers. Stroh writes that what is left are basically her father’s collections, which she will sell and then split the proceeds with her surviving siblings.
Beer Money is the story of what it was like to grow up an heiress and then see the entire fortune vanish in a matter of years. Frances Stroh is a very evocative writer and an excellent photographer, a passion she shared with her late father, Eric Stroh. This book is full of her wistful memories and some very poignant and interesting photographs. She writes about going to private school and being kicked out, later forced to attend public school like her brothers when no private school would take her.
Stroh watched her family’s fortune disappear as Detroit’s auto industry crumbled. Over the course of sixteen years, the Stroh family lost over $9 billion. Her family also dealt with serious personal problems caused by divorce. One of Stroh’s brothers, now deceased, became an alcoholic and drug addict and died while apparently experiencing some kind of psychosis. He leapt from a hotel window in Forth Worth, Texas, thinking he was being chased. Eric Stroh, for his part, died alone after not tending to a wound on his leg caused by untreated diabetes. It was as if he’d simply given up.
If anything, this book serves as a cautionary tale to those who are blessed with good fortune. It’s a reminder not to piss away one’s gifts. Maybe it’s also a reminder that with wealth can come great burdens.
Frances Stroh has managed to do okay for herself, despite her family’s tremendous losses. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Duke University and went on to get a Fulbright Scholarship. I am very impressed with her writing style, which reveals a surprisingly candid look at her family. I understand this book caused some strife among the surviving members of the Stroh family, but I’m glad Frances Stroh took the time to write her book. It was well worth the read. I may never look at Stroh’s beer and its affiliated brands in quite the same way again.
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