Prohibition

Prohibition: The Hidden Story

Monday was National Beer Day, which celebrated the return of 3.2 beer in 1933 after 13 years of Prohibition. Ginger Johnson of Women Enjoying Beer used that occasion to acquaint us with 12 things you may not know about the “Great Experiment.” One of which is that the expression “Great Experiment” was coined by Senator William Borah of Idaho, not Herbert Hoover.

Prohibition didn’t outlaw drinking, and the Volstead Act contained enough loopholes that people found legal ways to get their hands on alcohol. As for illegal ways, the federal government was woefully unprepared to enforce the law (and some states and cities were not inclined to help Uncle Sam enforce an unpopular law). The result was speakeasies and “blind tigers,” which had the unintended effect of attracting women, who were generally not welcome in pre-Prohibition saloons. And speaking of women, there were far more of them who belonged to anti-Prohibition organizations such as the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform than the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which was instrumental in making Prohibition the law of the land.

As Paul Harvey would say, “now you know the rest of the story.”

Travel Advisory

Chances are that the place where you live has some strange liquor laws. However, it could be worse. Jess Novak of The Daily Meal is here to take you on a tour of ten countries where alcohol is illegal.

“Illegal” is relative. India, which has a federal system of government somewhat like that of the U.S., has both “wet” and “dry” states and varying drinking ages–much like the U.S. decades ago. At the other end of the spectrum is Saudi Arabia, which is not only dry but punishes offenders, including foreigners, with flogging. In between are countries like Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, which allow non-Muslims to buy and drink alcohol, but with heavy restrictions.

Don’t expect to see many beer festivals in these countries on the calendar.

How Breweries Survived During Prohibition

When Prohibition ended in 1933, only a handful of breweries in the United States were still operating. Nick Green of MentalFloss.com explains how these breweries survived a 13-year period during which their main line of business was illegal.

To begin with, brewery owners knew well in advance that Prohibition was coming, and thus had time to think of alternatives. The most common was “near beer,” which the Volstead Act defined as having less than 0.5 percent alcohol. Brewers had experience with low-alcohol beer, thanks to a World War I emergency measure that outlawed beer with an alcohol content higher than 2.75 percent.

Breweries got into numerous other lines of business. Ice cream was one. Anheuser-Busch owned a fleet of refrigerated trucks, and put them to work carrying a different product. Adolph Coors mass-produced ceramic tubes and rods for the military, along with lines of dinnerware. Many of the big breweries sold malt extract “as a cooking product” which was in fact used for homebrewing, then prohibited by the Volstead Act. Other breweries converted their equipment to dye-making: the transition was easy, and a shortage of imports created a postwar “dye famine.”

Best and Worst Beer Presidents

Shortly before the 2008 election (more about that in a moment), beer writer Rick Lyke wrote a column about the best and worst beer presidents. The folks at All About Beer, where the column originally appeared, tweeted it earlier today in honor of Presidents Day.

Heading the “Best Beer Presidents” list is Franklin D. Roosevelt, who campaigned against Prohibition. He’s joined by Jimmy Carter, who signed a bill legalizing homebrewing; James Madison, who promoted beer as a healthier alternative to hard liquor; and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom brewed their own. Barack Obama, who won the 2008 election, revived the tradition of homebrewing in the White House.

Warren G. Harding, who supported Prohibition but flouted the law in private, tops the “Worst Beer Presidents” list. Others on the list include Rutherford B. Hayes, whose wife, “Lemonade Lucy” Hayes, banished alcohol from the White House; George H.W. Bush, who doubled the excise tax on beer; Woodrow Wilson, who was against Prohibition but failed to stop it; and Abraham Lincoln, who signed legislation creating the federal beer tax to raise revenue during the Civil War.

The Lingering Effects of Prohibition

It’s been 80 years since the 21st Amendment ended Prohibition and left most liquor regulation up to the states. That’s the good news. The bad news is that many states still have strange laws that govern alcoholic beverages. Author Aaron Goldfarb, writing in Esquire magazine, offers his top ten remnants of Prohibition. You’re undoubtedly familiar with some of them, such Sunday blue laws; dry counties; and ABV caps, which still exist in a few states.

Others are downright weird, such as Pennsylvania’s “case law” (you must buy at least 24 beers at a time), Indiana’s ban on cold beer sales, and bans on Election Day sales in a few states whose politics might drive one to drink. And with Christmas coming up, you should know that in Washington, D.C., it’s illegal to use Santa Claus to promote alcohol.

The Friday Mash (Ansel Adams Edition)

Seventy-two years ago today, photographer Ansel Adams took a black-and-white photograph of a moonrise over the town of Hernandez, New Mexico. The image has been called “a perfect marriage of straight and pure photography.”

And now….The Mash!

We begin in St. Louis, where Busch Stadium beer vendor Patrick Ferris donated all of his tips from Game 3 of the World Series to a family whose seven-year-old son was killed in a house fire.

Hard-line Islamists in Indonesia are pushing for national alcohol prohibition. Many localities in the world’s fourth most-populous country have already banned the sale of alcohol.

Tool time! In China’s Shandong Province, 20 helicopter pilots tried to to open a beer bottle…using bottle openers mounted to the skids of their choppers.

Winchester, Kentucky, is the official birthplace of beer cheese, and the city now offers a self-guided tour of businesses connected with this distinctive Kentucky product.

Now that marijuana is legal in Washington, the Redhook Ale Brewery is teaming up with a Seattle micro to produce a hemp-infused beer called–you guessed it–Joint Effort.

This might win you a bar bet. The nation’s first brewery to can its beer was the Kreuger Brewery of Newark, New Jersey. The cans were so popular that Kreuger took market share away from national breweries.

Finally, British Columbia government is considering whether to allow beer sales in supermarkets. Meanwhile, Ontario’s premier says she opposes supermarket beer sales.

Don’t Forget: It’s New Beer’s Eve

On Sunday, at a minute past midnight, beer lovers can celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Cullen-Harrison Act, which re-legalized “3.2 beer” in the United States. The act of Congress, which raised the upper limit of what was considered “non-intoxicating,” was the first step toward outright repeal of Prohibition, which occurred later in 1933 with the passage of the 21st amendment.

As soon as the new law took effect, the nation’s surviving breweries were ready, with trucks at the ready filled with cases and barrels of beer. Within 24 hours, more than 1.5 million barrels of beer had been distributed. Several of those barrels went straight to the White House and the U.S. Capitol.

What if Prohibition Never Happened?

The latest Examiner.com column by Charlie Papazian poses an intriguing question: what if the 18th Amendment, which imposed national Prohibition, never became law?

If Prohibition never happened, we wouldn’t have had bathtub gin or speakeasies, the U.S. Treasury would have continued to take in millions in excise taxes, and gangsters like Al Capone would have been forced to find some other industry. And millions of Americans wouldn’t have had to break the law to enjoy an adult beverage.

But Papazian also sees a downside to Prohibition never happening. Lawmakers might not have outlawed “tied houses.” That, plus inevitable consolidation of the industry, could have created a barrier to entry so high that small breweries would struggle to survive. Without distributors, small brewers would have little chance of getting their product on the shelves and into bars. And if big brewers pushed huge quantities of cheap beer, a backlash leading to high taxes and tough restrictions might have occurred.

The ultimate question Papazian asks is, “If there was no Prohibition would we have today’s 2,400 small breweries?”

Repeal of Prohibition: Are We There Yet?

Seventy-nine years ago today the 21st Amendment became part of the Constitution. But did it really undo the damage wrought by Prohibition, and the forces that made the “Great Experiment” possible?

In 2008, historian Maureen Ogle wrote an op-ed in USA Today in which she contended that Americans never stopped demonizing alcohol. Here’s her take on what happened after 1933:

States, counties, and municipalities burdened manufacturers and retailers with complicated licensing requirements. Lawmakers separated manufacturers from the public by inserting distributors between the two. A welter of laws restricted the hours and days that people could buy drink. New state-owned liquor stores oozed the “alcohol is evil” message….Children who accompanied their parents on those trips got the intended message: This stuff is bad!

She concludes, “Put another way, repeal institutionalized the demonization of alcohol.”

Beer…By the Numbers

  • Pubs’ share of Ireland’s beer consumption: 67 percent.
  • Ireland’s annual beer consumption: 4.02 million barrels.
  • Beer’s share of Ireland’s alcohol consumption: 47 percent (wine is second, with 27 percent).
  • Economic impact of the Great American Beer Festival on Denver’s economy: $7 million.
  • GABF revenue from ticket sales: $2 million.
  • Alcoholic content of Armageddon, the world’s strongest beer: 65 percent.
  • Price of a single bottle of Armageddon: $52.
  • Price of a single bottle of Samuel Adams Utopias: $190.
  • Beer tax increase proposed by the French government: 160 percent.
  • Expected increase in the price of a beer after the tax hike: 20 percent.
  • Imports’ share of France’s beer market: 30 percent.
  • Calories in a pint of British session ale: 170.
  • Calories in a pint of orange juice: 256.
  • Homebrew shops in existence in the U.S. in 1929, when Prohibition was in force: 25,000.
  • Estimated U.S. homebrew production in 1929: 22.6 million barrels.
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