As you may know, in 1920, the 66th U.S. congress overturned Woodrow Wilson’s Veto of the Volstead Act, thus initiating the prohibition of “intoxicating liquors” in the United States.
If you didn’t know that, now you do.
Prohibition was hard on many companies that had formerly made alcohol but it hit breweries particularly hard. Beer takes up much more volume than hard liquor does, and when you’re smuggling alcohol, the more economical you can be with your cargo, the more economical your entire bootlegging operation will be. Beer was not economical.
Thus if you were a large brewery, with huge copper kettles and filtering systems, you need to figure out some way to stay afloat until you could lobby to get the 18th amendment overturned.
Many companies were simply unable to survive. At the turn of the century there were thousands of breweries. After prohibition there were hundreds. And in an effort create nationally distributed beers again, fierce competition led to a decline in total breweries, so that in 1978, there were only 89 breweries, making approximately 25 nationally distributed beers. (Anheuser-Busch for instance, probably had a handful of breweries across the nation, all making Budweiser.)
Those that survived, did so in pretty creative fashion. To make it through the lean years of prohibition, many companies began making sodas, malted milk products that were then sold to companies like Nestle and Mars Inc. Others sold yeast cultures (since wine and cider making was still legal for home production). Some of them made candy and ice creams. Almost all of them made some kind of “near-beer”, basically a non-alcoholic beer that conformed to the government’s new standards. I feel like the line can easily be drawn to a lot of these products, considering the equipment that was on-hand in a brewery. Large kettles make it easy to boil liquids, which is ideal for candies and milk products and ice creams and such.
That said, at least one company survived due to a less expected side project: fine ceramic china and pottery.
In preparation for the tough times ahead, a wise man by the name of Adolf Coors, purchased Herold China and Pottery Company in 1913, 7 years ahead of the Volstead Act… BUT, only 3 years ahead of Colorado’s own state prohibition, enacted in 1916.
The ceramics division of Coors made everything from dinnerware, to scientific grade porcelain lab equipment (which previously was supplied primarily byyyyyy, you guessed it: Germany). WWI kind of killed that that business deal, and Coor’s stepped up to the plate to help out and was able to make enough money, that when the 21st amendment repealed prohibition in 1933, Coors was one of the few companies left, who could then redirect some of their attention to beer, while continuing what had become a very lucrative ceramics company.
Coor’s continued it’s reputation of creative business practices by being the first American brewer to use an all-aluminum two-piece beverage can. Coors currently operates the largest aluminum can producing plant in the world, known as the Rocky Mountain Metal Container, in Golden, Colorado.
That all said, Coor’s remained a regional beer up until the 1980’s when they achieved complete nationwide distribution. Up until that point, it became fairly popular to “smuggle” Coors from the west to the east. Not only did Archer’s Spirit Guide, Burt Reynolds do it, but I even know my own father once drove a trunk full of Coors from Kansas City, MO, to Michigan, as a gift to some Navy buddies who had fallen in love with the beer while stationed in San Francisco during Vietnam.
As you may have gathered by now, this week, you’re drinking:
Schlitz actually invented the “Tall Boy” in 1954 , but it certainly became popular amongst other brewers soon after. There should be no shortage of them at your local truck stop. If you can’t find Coors, get some PBR, or whatever your domestic-lager of choice may be. Knock as many down as you can handle. Throw the cans all over the place. Scream a battle cry.
Whiskey. Rocks. Just like Malory would have it.
Cupcakes. Vanilla. White icing. Sprinkles. Get some on your face. Have someone kiss it off. Party Party Party.