There’s no doubt that Prohibition had an enormous impact on American brewers. The popularity and fascination with the topic continues to be celebrated and talked about every year on December 5 (1933), the anniversary of the ratification of the 21st Amendment which repealed Prohibition. The 18th Amendment, which made Prohibition law, was arguably the only amendment in the United States Constitution to restrict rights rather than expand them.
Prohibition by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick
You can now download the new Ken Burns and Lynn Novick film, Prohibition, which aired in October on PBS. All three parts of the series shed light on where the movement came from, why it was such a big issue for Americans, and busts some myths about this ‘noble experiment.’
Having previewed the entire series, I was astounded by many things that accompanied this era. Here are a few of the themes I walked away with from the film.
- It was common for families to make illegal alcohol to simply feed their families.
- Prohibition fanned the flames on an apparently impending sexual revolution.
- The making of illegal liquor was intertwined with someones societal status and notoriety.
- The protracted timeline of how long it took the movement to build and then the suddenness of the actual passing of the new amendment was startling and disturbing.
- That corruption and the unfathomable wealth that accompanied it was a pivotal aspect of our nation’s history.
How Brewers Reacted to Prohibition
As for the brewers affected by Prohibition, well, they had seen the writing on the wall and needed to react simply to survive. Many switched to making ‘soft drinks’ or other non-alcoholic beverages. Some chose to retrofit their breweries to make other products and some simply shuttered and closed. It was surely a gut-wrenching time for the country’s small brewers who had been making their own American dream come true. Those who did rise from the smashed barrels had incredible stories to tell of how they made it through.
Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer, by historian Maureen Ogle is a great resource for a more in-depth look at the growth of the Temperance Movement, Prohibition and the recovery of the country after Repeal.
Prohibition Timeline (for those of us who need a visual)
Savor the Flavor
One thing to always and absolutely keep in mind is that craft beer is meant to be enjoyed in moderation. Alcohol is a privilege, not a right (Take the CraftBeer.com Poll). There are many organizations in the U.S. who work to protect craft brewers, their products and your right to enjoy them responsibly.
- Brewers Association the trade association that works to promote and protect small and independent American brewers, their craft beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts.
- American Homebrewers Association the community for an estimated 750,000 American’s who happily brew at home.
- National Beer Wholesalers Association: the trade association of independent beer distributors.
Whether you’re an enthusiastic consumer, homebrewer, professional brewery, distributor or retailer, there are many clever ways to savor the flavor of craft beer.
Plan Your Own Repeal Day Party
- Prohibition Home Party: If you love a good party with craft beer, here’s your chance to be the host with the most! Invite friends over to enjoy craft beer and food to celebrate Repeal. Encourage guests to bring their favorite bomber of beer in a brown bag and dress the part. Supply some simple favors to liven it up.
- Homebrewers Prohibition Party: Look into what kinds of beers were made pre-Prohibition and either brew a batch yourself to share, or get your local homebrew club involved in a group brew. Lining up willing volunteers to help you enjoy the brew while watching Prohibition is easier than knowing a dark alley door password.
- Business Party: If you’re a craft beer oriented business, then it’s time to get a customer Repeal party on the map! Rename your brews just for the occasion, offer creative beer cocktails, serve beers with 1920s era snacks, have staff dress up and host a costume contest for your guests.
However you decide to celebrate Repeal, this topic is a part of our permanent national fabric, so let’s celebrate legal American craft beer.
Cheers to Repeal!!