Monday, December 5, 2011

Happy Repeal Day

If you are a beer drinker, or drinker of any type of alcohol for that matter, today is a very important day to celebrate: Repeal Day. On December 5th, 1933, the repeal of prohibition was accomplished with the passage of the 21st Amendment of the Constitution.

Today we should raise a glass to people such as John D. Rockefeller, Jr., William H. Stayton, Joseph H. Choate, Jr.,  the three du Pont brothers (Irénée, Lammot and Pierre) and Pauline Sabin (founder of the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform) for their efforts to bring alcoholic beverages back into our lives.

And of course, on the other hand, we can curse the Congress that sat under Woodrow Wilson in 1919 and passed the absurd National Prohibition Act, despite Wilson's veto.

What many people may not know about Prohibition is how it changed brewing in the United States. Before Prohibition, American beer culture wasn't dominated by major national beer brands like Budweiser, Coors, etc. There were bunches of small, neighborhood brewers, serving a variety of styles to the friends and neighbors close to them.

However, when the National Prohibition Act was passed, many of these smaller brewers were forced to find other occupations and professions to make a living. When prohibition was repealed 13 years later, most of these smaller breweries didn't return, but the larger brewing companies survived and were able to resume operations. Thus, the variety of local and regional styles that existed pre-Prohibition were replaced with the mass-produced, filler-laden 'light lager' style that we've all come to know and hate.

Of course, fortunately for us craft beer drinkers, we've seen the BMC popularity waning over the past few years, and the craft beer presence around the country increasing. The variety of styles available seems to be ever-increasing, more and more micro and nanobreweries are popping up, and we are finally returning to the pre-Prohibition days of appreciating the smaller, hometown brewery.

So how can you celebrate Repeal Day? Well, you could always visit your local brewpub to show some appreciation for the neighborhood brewer. Head to 75th Street Brewery or McCoy's to have a couple beers or take home a growler. Make sure to tell them that you are drinking in honor of Joseph H. Choate, Jr. to thoroughly confuse them.

Or, if you are planning on an evening at home, pick up a six-pack of Anchor Steam. Steam beer (or California common beer, as it is typically called since Anchor trademarked the term 'steam beer') was a popular style of beer on the West Coast in the mid-19th century to early 20th century. The Anchor Brewing Company that we know today was founded in 1896, but was on the verge of closing until Frederick Louis Maytag II purchased it in 1965. Maytag reworked the recipe of the steam beer, and became the first person to brew beer without adjuncts or fillers since the repeal of Prohibition, essentially becoming the first modern craft brewer.

Today is a true beer drinker's holiday. Celebrate beer, celebrate the local brewery. And probably most importantly, celebrate the fact that we don't have to drink a stranger's bathtub hooch in the middle of a filthy underground speakeasy.


  1. I think you have an unrealistic view of what the beer industry was like in 1919. There were about 1500 breweries but the industry was dominated by Schlitz, Pabst, AB, Miller etc. Kinda like today, except far less variety. Most of the little breweries were making the same adjunct lager the big ones were.

    When the 21st Amendment passed there were 31 breweries. In 1950 there were 500. In 1983 there were 51. It is kind of hard to blame Prohibition for the situation in 1983. Not saying I support Prohibition but the ideas that everyone was drinking Imperial Stout and IPA in 1919, or that Prohibition created the big breweries or that Prohibition was responsible for the lack of breweries 30 years ago are fantasy.

  2. Furthermore, calling Fritz Maytag the first modern craft brewer is incredibly generous. Are we really meant to believe this heir to the Maytag fortune really got his hand dirty and brewed Anchor Steam? Please. Everyone knows he is more at home in the mahogany paneled den at York Creek Vineyards. Give me a break. Also, do you really want to call Anchor Steam the first modern craft beer? It's the beer that nearly ran Anchor Brewing out of business! Any home brewer worth his weight in grain knows the California Common really is one of the easiest styles of beer to make. Maytag might as well have changed the Anchor Steam recipe to something like a Zwickel or a Patersbier. Ha, now there's something I'd like to see!

  3. Well, considering I wasn't alive in 1919, I based this post on research I did and common logic. If you were alive then, congrats, and I guess that explains why you are always so crotchety when you comment here.

    1) I never said that the major brands didn't exist then or that Prohibition created them. But they certainly didn't dominate then like they do today, because they didn't have the size, reach, and sheer distribution power. In 1902 Pabst produced 1 million barrels. In 2007, AB produced over 125 million. So while a small, out of the way town today has easy access to Bud or Coors, back then they would turn to small local brewers.

    2) I never commented on anything about the fluctuating number of breweries through the last 50 years of the 20th century, and it really has nothing to do with what I was saying. I simply said that many of those smaller, pre-Prohibition breweries couldn't start back up again after being put out of work for 13 years by Prohibition. Again, fact.

    3) Also never said that people were drinking Imperial Stout or IPA in 1919. But the high number of European immigrants in the first decade of the 20th century certainly had a lot of influence on bringing new styles of brewing to the United States. And steam beer is a perfect example of a style of beer that was a result of having to acclimate to new brewing conditions and environment.

    Anything else? Thanks for trolling, see you next time!

  4. Also, John, the Brewers Association refers to Maytag as the first modern microbrewery pioneer. So if you have an issue, take it up with them:

  5. Oh please, don't get me started on the Brewers Association...

  6. John,

    This article, written in 1983, also refers to Fritz Maytag as "the father of the microbrewery movement."

    Perhaps he wasn't the one doing the actual brewing, but the article depicts a man who was very involved with the operations at Anchor, not just a millionaire that sits "at home in the mahogany paneled den at York Creek Vineyards."

    Next time you want to come trolling, please come armed with some information to back up your cunty remarks. Otherwise, just sit at home and continue to spank off to your third place home brewing medals.

  7. We all realize the 1st and 2nd John aren't the same person right?

  8. Do we need to start using the first initial of last names like this is a second grade classroom?

  9. Goddamnit. I didn't even pay attention.

    Thanks for calling that out, Chimpo.

  10. Not falling for this againDecember 5, 2011 at 2:25 PM

    Ha Ha, I'm not feeding the troll this time. Happy Repeal Day - Which just so happens to be my B-Day also.

  11. Glad to see controversy still abounds here at KC Beer Blog!

  12. Correction: I mostly jerk off to the NHC gold medal.

    I think blaming prohibition for the status of craft beer is blame shifting. People drink pale, lightly flavored lagers from large companies all over the world because that is what they want regardless of what is available. None of us only buy hand crafted stuff. Budweiser is no different than Ford or Levi or Maglight etc. Craft beer is dying in Belgium and Germany but thriving here, Sweden and Japan. It is just trends, no big legislative conspiracy.

    Nice to see you fake John.

  13. Wheew...reading these comments reminds me of exactly why alcohol is necessary to function in our society. Cheers to the 21st!

  14. Pat, I think you're doing a solid job so far. You've uncovered an interesting Fritz Maytag sensitivity syndrome in John...either that or he's just a fan of swill. Or simply a douche.

    Repeal Day should be celebrated in America each year. It's more truthful than Thanksgiving and is technically officially older than turkey day. Nobody really knows if the Wapanoag actually helped the Pilgrims in Plymouth or if colonists in Virginia or Florida beat them to it. But we all can agree on the exact date and even time that the horror known as Prohibition officially ended.

    John, perhaps you should book a flight to Munich if you think that craft beer is dying in Germany. If you knew ein bischen of a thing about beer in Deutschland, you'd know that its dotted with hundreds of smaller breweries, many of which only brew enough for the towns in which they've been a part of for hundreds of years. Bavarians in particular are fiercely proud to drink what their local town produces. They sure as hell don't drink Beck's or Warsteiner.

  15. The real John said, "Correction: I mostly jerk off to the NHC gold medal."