April 7, 1933 A Good Time for a Beer

Wine seemed better suited to the sensibilities of the Roman palate, when Tacitus maligned the bitter brew of Germanic barbarians.  Nevertheless, the letters of Roman cavalry commanders from the Roman Britain period, c. 97-103 AD, include requests for more “cerevisia”, for the legionaries.

Given the right combination of sugars, almost any cereal will undergo simple fermentation, due to the presence of wild yeasts in the air.  It seems likely our cave-dwelling ancestors experienced their first beer, as the result of this process.

Alulu_Beer_Receipt
From Wikipedia: “Alulu beer receipt – This records a purchase of “best” beer from a brewer, c. 2050 BC from the Sumerian city of Umma in ancient Iraq”.

Starch dusted stones were found with the remains of doum-palm and chamomile in the 18,000-year old Wadi Kubbaniya in upper Egypt.  While it’s difficult to confirm, University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern says, “it’s very likely they were making beer there”.

Chemical analysis of pottery shards date the earliest barley beer to 3400BC, in the Zagros Mountains of Iran.

Wine seemed better suited to the sensibilities of the Roman palate, when Tacitus maligned the bitter brew of Germanic barbarians.  Nevertheless, the letters of Roman cavalry commanders from the Roman Britain period, c. 97-103 AD, include requests for more “cerevisia”, for the legionaries.

In North and South America, native peoples brewed fermented beverages from local ingredients, including agave sap, the first spring tips of the spruce tree, and maize.

beer-ingredients
“Ancient cultures used an array of ingredients to make their alcoholic beverages, including emmer wheat, wild yeast, chamomile, thyme and oregano. (Landon Nordeman)” H/T Smithsonian magazine

PilgrimsandbeerclipThe Pilgrims left the Netherlands city of Leiden in 1620, hoping for rich farmland and congenial climate in the New World.  Not the frozen, rocky soil of New England.  Lookouts spotted the wind-swept shores of Cape Cod on November 9, 1620, and may have kept going, had they had enough beer.  One Mayflower passenger wrote in his diary: “We could not now take time for further search… our victuals being much spent, especially our beer…

Prior to the invention of the drum roaster in 1817, malt was typically dried over wood, charcoal, or straw fires, leaving a smoky quality that would seem foreign to the modern beer drinker.  William Harrison wrote in his “Description of England” in 1577, “For the wood-dried malt, when it is brewed, beside that the drink is higher of colour, it doth hurt and annoy the head of him that is not used thereto, because of the smoke”.

Smoky flavor didn’t trouble the true aficionado of the age.  When the Meux Brewery casks let go in 1814 spilling nearly 400,000 gallons onto the street, hundreds of Britons hurried to scoop it up in pots and pans.  Some even lapped it up, doggy-style.

1,389 were trampled to death and another 1,300 injured in a suds stampede, when someone thought the beer had run out at the coronation of Czar Nicholas II, in 1896.

Khodynka Field

The 18th amendment, better known as “prohibition”, went into effect at midnight, January 16, 1920. For thirteen years it was illegal to import, export, transport or sell liquor, wine or beer in the United States.

Portable stills went on sale within a week, and organized smuggling was quick to follow. California grape growers increased acreage by over 700% over the first five years, selling dry blocks of grapes as “bricks of rhine” or “blocks of port”. The mayor of New York City sent instructions on wine making, to his constituents.

Smuggling operations became widespread, as cars were souped up to outrun “the law”. This would lead to competitive car racing, beginning first on the streets and back roads and later moving to dedicated race tracks.  It’s why we have NASCAR, today.

Organized crime became vastly more powerful due to the influx of enormous sums of cash.  The corruption of public officials was a national scandal.

8482519-standard

Gaining convictions for breaking a law that everyone hated became increasingly difficult. There were over 7,000 prohibition related arrests in New York alone between 1921 and 1923.  Only 27 resulted in convictions.

Finally, even John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a lifelong teetotaler who contributed $350,000 to the Anti-Saloon League, had to announce his support for repeal.

It’s difficult to compare rates of alcohol consumption before and during prohibition.  If death by cirrhosis of the liver is any indication, alcohol consumption didn’t decrease by more than 10 to 20 per cent.

Beer_bootleggerFDR signed the Cullen–Harrison Act into law on March 22, 1933, commenting “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”  The law went effect on April 7, allowing Americans to buy, sell and drink beer containing up to 3.2% alcohol.

A team of draft horses hauled a wagon up Pennsylvania Avenue, delivering a case of beer to the White House – the first public appearance of the Budweiser Clydesdales.

Clydesdale, Pennsylvania Ave

“Dry” leaders tried to prohibit consumption of alcohol on military bases in 1941, but military authorities claimed it was good for morale. Brewers were required to allocate 15% of total annual production to be used by the armed forces. So essential were beer manufacturers to the war effort, that teamsters were ordered to end a labor strike against Minneapolis breweries.  Near the end of WWII, the army made plans to operate recaptured French breweries, to ensure adequate supplies for the troops.

48b46833649f65cf2a72e6d7c8b2e20c

18 states continued prohibition at the state level after the national repeal, the last state finally dropping it in 1966. Almost 2/3rds of all states adopted some form of local option, enabling residents of political subdivisions to vote for or against local prohibition.  Some counties remain dry to this day.  Ironically, Lynchburg County, Tennessee, home to the Jack Daniel distillery, is one such dry county.

The night before Roosevelt’s law went into effect, April 6, 1933, beer lovers lined up at the doors of their favorite public houses, waiting for their first legal beer in thirteen years.  A million and a half barrels of the stuff were consumed on April 7, a date remembered to this day as “National Beer Day”.

So it is that, from that day to this, April 6 is celebrated as “New Beer’s Eve”.  Sláinte.

alcoholsayings-389

May 30, 1896 Beer Stampede

A rumor began to spread among the crowd that there wasn’t enough beer or pretzels to go around. At that point the police force of 1,800 wasn’t enough to maintain order

Nicholas II was crowned Czar of Russia on May 26, 1896, according to the Gregorian calendar. It was traditional to hold a celebration banquet, and the date was set for May 30 at Khodynka Field.

Romanov
Czar Nicholas II & family, colorized by the Russian artist Olga Shirnina, also known as ‘klimbim’

It was customary to give gifts to the guests of such a celebration.  In this case everyone was to receive a bread roll, a piece of sausage, pretzels, gingerbread, and a cup of beer.  150 buffets and 20 pubs were built for their distribution.

Khodynka FieldPeople began to gather on the 29th.  By 5:00am on the 30th, the crowd was estimated at half a million. A rumor began to spread among the crowd that there wasn’t enough beer or pretzels to go around.  At that point the police force of 1,800 wasn’t enough to maintain order. The crush of the crowd and the resulting panic resulted in a human stampede.  Before it was over 1,389 people were trampled to death, and another 1,300 injured.

The new Czar and his wife didn’t hear about it right away.  When they did, the pair spent the rest of that day visiting people hospitalized by the stampede. Nicholas thought it best not to attend a ball put on that night by the French embassy, fearing that it would make him appear insensitive to the suffering of his subjects. His advisers persuaded him to go, however, and later events seem to prove that the Czar was correct. There was great public indignation over the event in Russia, despite generous subsidies paid to the victims by the Russian government.

Mystics prophesied that Nicholas’ refusal to decline the invitation would lead to his doom.  J. Balmont wrote in 1905 that “Who started his reign with Khodynka, will finish it by mounting the scaffold”.

On July 17, 1918, communist forces under Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as “Lenin”, assassinated Czar Nicholas along with his wife and children, in Yekaterinburg. It was the end of the Romanov Dynasty, the end of Czarist Russia.  The number of citizens murdered by the totalitarian system of government which took its place, has been estimated as high as sixty million.