American Ale Part 1- Prohibition

January 5, 2017

 America has a very difficult history with alcohol, despite now having over 4,000 micro-breweries it at one point had none (at least legally). This was called Prohibition, a national ban on any alcoholic beverage starting on the 16th of January 1920. While it didn’t properly stop alcohol consumption, it killed the legal business around it leading to black Market success

 

Alcohol for a long time had a somewhat negative perception, even outside America and especially in some religious groups. This was true for the American Temperance movement, who beginning in 1826 started to push for many social reforms but notably for us their dry crusade. Although the group grew large little headway in banning alcohol was made, bans like In Maine only lasted 5 years. While ultimately unsuccessful they helped create an atmosphere and precedent for change to come.

 

It was to be two other groups which became closely related that helped drive prohibition to success, the Prohibition Party and Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. While women lacked the right to vote till after Prohibition was past, the Prohibition Party did let women join and even speak for them. The WCTU was also focused on doing the ground work, making alcohol less acceptable in society and helping to police states where they had success like Kansas which outlawed alcohol in 1881. The Prohibition Party allowed the issue to be brought to congress and eventually became a common talking point. With a push from many religious groups, many introduced pledges not to drink which in a time when church was the centre of the society was hard to avoid. Though there were some pushback from “Wets.” This was the name given to anti-prohibitionists which were helped by Protestants and Roman Catholics. In 1917 then President Woodrow Wilson implemented a temporary prohibition as World War 1 was creating grain storages. Although he would later attempt to veto the then Volstead Act, Prohibitionists had gained enough political power to push through the Eighteenth Amendment starting the Prohibition on Alcohol.

 

While supporters of it felt very happy and sure it would last, it wasn’t long before cracks started to appear. Enforcing such a law was incredibly difficult, even something as simple like drinking establishments didn’t disappear as 'speakeasies' became common place. Many had begun hoarding alcohol before the act came into effect, this was much easier for the rich, than the poor who lacked the space to store large quantities, yet would be more likely suspected and punished. Urban areas were generally less sympathetic to the new law and helped the rise in crime surrounding prohibition.

 

It was criminals who truly benefitted however, bootlegging as it became known was the illegal production of alcohol. In a way they were the homebrewers of their time, though with more mafia connections and a less friendly attitude. Some would make their own, others smuggled it across from Cuba, while others cleaned industrial alcohols to be fit (well more fit than they were) for drinking or forge medical prescriptions for medical whiskey. Prohibitions biggest success was the making of very affluent criminals, some like Al Capone becoming incredibly famous and having a worth of $100 million. This fame reached Hollywood leading to a slew of gangster movies in the 1930s.

 

It was not till 1933 that the Cullen-Harrison Act repealed prohibition. The Great Depression had only  increased people’s appetite for strong liquor, so an impossible to enforce law struggled even harder. The damage to the industry had already been done though, only illegal breweries were still standing in any sense and with war coming smaller ones would not be able to set up and survive. American brewing still had a difficult time ahead.

 

 

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