Prohibition

Why Americans Are Fond of Bland Beer

Craft beer notwithstanding, national-brand lagers still dominate the American beer market. It’s an enigma that economist Ranjit Dighe decided to figure out. What he discovered is that Americans’ taste for bland beer might as “well run in their veins”: we’ve preferred bland beers for more than a century.

The world-wide temperance movement of the 19th century earns some of the blame. In some countries, like England, beer was promoted as a “temperance beverage,” which had a lower alcohol content than spirits and wine. But the same argument didn’t quite fly here. We didn’t just gravitate to beers, but also opted for beers with the lowest alcohol content.

In the century that followed, a number of events held back Americans’ appreciation of stronger beers. During Prohibition and after Repeal, people shied away from hoppier beers. Then came World War II. Grain rations and price controls made it impossible to brew stronger, more-flavorful beers. At the same time, GIs fighting overseas were treated to low-alcohol beer; and they brought their tastes back to the States. After that came the 1970s, which brought in an era of “less filling” light version of national-brand beers.

One might that argue we’ve never recovered. One of the biggest craft-beer trends this year is “Session IPAs,” with lower ABVs and less hop content.

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Vermont Was Once a Dry State

Nowadays, Vermont is a craft beer mecca, a state where one can buy growlers of local micro products in gas stations. However, The Green Mountain State was dry for much of its history. A year after Maine passed a law barring the sale of alcohol, Vermont followed suit in 1852 and kept the ban in place 50 years. Less than two decades later, the 18th Amendment imposed prohibition nationwide.

Vermont’s original prohibition law has its roots in a temperance movement that began in New England in the 1820s. There was strong opposition to the law—it passed the legislature passed by just one vote—and enforcement was inconsistent. The law also contained a very large loophole. Alcohol used for medicinal purposes was still legal, and the manufacturers of patent medicines put plenty of alcohol in their products. Whether they made anyone healthier is debatable.

One of the last vestiges of prohibition ended in 1988, when state lawmakers repealed the ban on buying and consuming alcohol at the location where it is made. That enabled Greg Noonan to open the Vermont Pub & Brewery in Burlington, the first of the state’s 40 craft breweries.

Why Iceland Banned Beer Until 1989

Twenty-five years ago, Iceland’s parliament voted to legalize beer—which had been prohibited since 1915. It was strange enough that a European country still imposed prohibition so late in the century, but what made it even stranger was that wine and liquor had been legal for decades.

An article posted last Saturday in the BBC News Magazine explained what happened:

When full prohibition became law 100 years ago, alcohol in general was frowned upon, and beer was especially out of favour–for political reasons. Iceland was engaged in a struggle for independence from Denmark at the time, and Icelanders strongly associated beer with Danish lifestyles.

Simply put, beer was unpatriotic—just as drinking tea was in America in the years leading up to the Revolution.

At first, Icelandic prohibition applied to all alcoholic beverages. In 1921, however, parliament bowed Spain’s demand that it allow wine imports or else face a boycott of its number-one export, salted cod. In 1933, the same year the U.S. repealed Prohibition, Iceland re-legalized alcoholic beverages—with one exception: beer stronger than 2.25 percent alcohol. Since beer was cheaper than stronger beverages, lawmakers were afraid that legalizing it would result in a substantial increase in alcohol abuse.

Support for the beer ban started to wane in the 1970s, when Icelanders spent “city breaks” in other European cities and discovered pub culture. In 1979, parliament allowed Icelanders who’d visited foreign countries to bring beer home. Public opinion swung in favor of legalizing beer, and lawmakers saw legal beer as a source of tax revenue.

Beer prohibition ended on March 1, 1989. Every March 1, Icelanders celebrate Bjordagur, or Beer Day.

The Friday Mash (Grand Ole Opry Edition)

On this day in 1925, “Grand Ole Opry” radio show aired for the first time on WSM, a Nashville radio station. The Opry’s home, Ryman Auditorium, attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world.

And now….The Mash!

We begin in Kalamazoo, where Bell’s Brewery is selling glassware designed for Oberon. It’s called the American Wheat-Witbier Glass, and is made by Austrian glassware maker Spiegelau.

Mike Nichols is best remembered as a film director, but more than half a century ago, he and Elaine May created and voiced animated commercials for now-defunct Jax beer.

The Brewers Association has put together an infographic with statistics on the size of each state’s craft beer industry: number of breweries, production, and economic impact.

As it turned out, Pabst Blue Ribbon wasn’t sold to the Russians after all. The group that acquired it didn’t involve Oasis Beverages, itself the biggest independent brewer in Russia and Ukraine.

British lawmakers took the first step toward scrapping a centuries-old rule that requires “tenanted” pubs to buy their beer from the brewery that owns them.

An app called Next Glass has been called ”the Pandora for beer”. Using a mass spectrometer, the Next Glass lab staff use a mass spectrometer to analyze beers sent to the lab by Beer Census.

Finally, Jay Brooks’s blog linked a 1929 Mickey Mouse cartoon, ”The Galloping Gaucho,” in which Mickey enjoys a beer. Presumably he was outside the U.S., where Prohibition reigned. However, temperance groups couldn’t have been thrilled about a cartoon character drinking alcohol.

The Friday Mash (Macbeth Edition)

On this day in 1040, King Duncan I of Scotland was killed in battle against his first cousin and rival Macbeth. Seventeen years later, King Macbeth was killed at the Battle of Lumphanan. The Three Weird Sisters entered the picture 500 years later, courtesy of William Shakespeare.

“Double, double, time and trouble, fire burn”..and now The Mash!

We begin in Dodger Stadium, where Anheuser-Busch InBev will unveil a new beer aimed at Latino beer drinkers. Montejo, from A-B’s Mexican subsidiary, will be released throughout the Southwest.

Beer-fueled violence in college towns is nothing new. In 1884, a beer riot took place in Iowa City after local authorities put two men on trial for violating Iowa’s new prohibition law.

Pete Brown reports that underage drinking has fallen off sharply in Britain. His explanation: parents downing a few at home have made drinking less appealing to their children.

It’s Shark Week, a perfect time for a Narragansett, which has been called “the Forrest Gump of Beers” because of its association with celebrities, artists, sports teams, and politicians.

Blonde ales have acquired a “training-wheels beer” reputation, but Jay Brooks thinks they’re underappreciated. He calls them “light and refreshing” and perfect for a hot August day.

Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post ranked the beer selection at major-league ballparks. Seattle’s Safeco Field has the best selection, while Yankee Stadium has the worst.

Finally, brewpubs aren’t dead after all. An All About Beer story by Brandon Hernandez profiles restaurants that reinvented themselves as brewpubs and experienced an uptick in business afterward.

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.

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