Monday, February 14, 2011

Beer, Prohibition and the Valentine’s Day Massacre

And other, long-term drawbacks of a zealot Temperance Society

The Volstead Act - Prohibition (1919 – 1932)

How many times have you turned the channel on your TV only to see some old movie portraying the roaring twenties with the Feds, G-Men or the Chicago Police busting up the gangsters, or worse, busting up barrels of innocent beer with axes? It’s enough to make you jump up from the couch and scream, “Stop the madness, you dirty rats!!! You’re making a terrible mistake!!!!” Sadly, those mugs probably had no idea they would be affecting the beer-drinking enjoyment of their children and their children’s children for decades upon decades after Prohibition was lifted. How’s that you say? Glad you asked, wiseguy!

The U.S. Brewing industry was totally shut down along with the rest of the alcohol-producing industries. Brewing was forced underground and the illegal distribution of suspect beer and booze was controlled mainly by the mob and a fistful of backwoods moonshiners. The small, “Local” neighborhood brewer of quality ale was driven out of business. Prohibition brought about some violent times. In Chicago alone, 700 deaths (getting whacked) were related to mob violence. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, spearheaded by the notorious gangster, Al Capone occurred during the heat of prohibition on February 14, 1929. Public outcry was fast and forceful. Enough was enough! It was the beginning of the end for the Volstead Act. The U.S. lost over $34.5 billion dollars in tax revenue in addition to hugely increased law enforcement costs. The “great experiment” had gone terribly wrong.

It is understood that cheap, poorly made beer, (though it has always been brewed by some undesirable elements throughout history) didn’t start to flood the American market in earnest until directly after prohibition. This horrible trend continued to fester through World War II and well beyond and on into today.

During Prohibition, decent folks were sneaking off to speakeasies for a taste of a near beer–like potion laced with grain alcohol. This was sometimes a gastric if not fatal mistake. During and soon after the prohibition was repealed, the any of the remaining small craft brewers who managed to survive by making soda or near beer were driven out of business for good by brewing giants. The mega-swill brewers benefited in more ways than one by the thirteen plus years of prohibition. Number one, people under the legal drinking age when prohibition began, never experienced the pleasure of a real beer. Number two, in thirteen plus years of being deprived, beer drinkers had forgotten or had become complacent about beer quality and were simply satisfied that any beer was available. Number three, Beer could now be mass-produced using cheap grains such as rice, corn or other grain adjuncts. The amount of hops pitched into a brew vat was cut in half and the quality of the hops was an inferior grade. Time-honored brewing methods were thrown out the window in favor of speed and quantity. Mass production, slick marketing and transporting massive quantities of “suds” to every corner of the country was the new game in town. Cheaply made beer began to infiltrate the well-established European craft brew market as well. Hey, profit margins don’t lie. One by one, small, local brewers on both sides of the Atlantic lost out to the massive brewing giants. If situation wasn’t bleak enough, canned beer became available in 1935. This new “convenience” for the beer drinking public created an enormous production advantage for the mass-mega swill brewers. Most small brewers didn’t have the capital to invest in the canning machinery or the space to operate it and thus lost out on a valuable market share. The perfect storm was brewing, so to speak.

Then there’s advertising. It’s no wonder so many unsuspecting individuals are lured into drinking inferior beer – we’re bombarded by endless idiotic advertising campaigns telling us we are not worthy of love or friendship if we don’t drink their particular brand of beer. We all know who these companies are and we all know what their objective is (to brain wash us into buying their crappy products). Lord only knows why those ads are so effective!

It’s been a long hard road for small quality brewers to gain market share. It’s been an uphill battle that many of us beer lovers can’t take lightly. Now granted, there are people walking around without taste buds that actually prefer bland, stale and flavorless beer to a well-made craft brew, and that’s fine, but we the beer-loving people have been hosed for years. And we’re not going to take it anymore!

So let’s keep up the good fight, be brave, and turn your friends and family on to real craft brewed beer. Rest assured, the arrogant Goliath Breweries who were giving so much momentum by the prohibition will come down in size. And we will be rewarded with a wonderful variety of beautifully crafted lagers and ales. The craft movement is in full swing and continues to get better. So raise a glass to real beer and the brewers who create them.


“He was a wise man who invented beer” - Plato

No comments:

Post a Comment