The Cullen Bill and the Post-Prohibition Glass Bottle Monopoly

  “It was the keg, not the bottle that disappeared during prohibition, the heyday of the bootlegger.”– Hugh J. McMackin, Secretary of the National Wholesale Wine and Liquor Dealers’ Association (July 22, 1935) Figure 1- U.S. Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the Cullen-Harrison Act, which permitted the sale of low-alcohol beer (3.2% ABV) and wine, March 21, 1933. Upon signing the legislation, Roosevelt made his famous remark, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.” The Repeal of Prohibition, as welcome as it was to the liquor industry, was well choreographed by the industry’s biggest players. One of the means with which these companies were able to seize control the trade was through the lobbying of government for favorable...

1917-1920. The Prelude to Prohibition

There is no doubt that Prohibition altered the landscape of the liquor industry in innumerable ways. The National Prohibition Act may have become established law in 1920, but other laws passed in the years leading up to its implementation began several years before. The country’s distillers had been battling temperance forces since the early 1800s, but three quarters of a century had turned a handful of fiery preachers and zealots into a nation-wide movement with its political agenda winning ground from the local courtrooms to Congress. Liquor was the first major moral wedge issue in politics.* The early 20th century saw a nation divided between the “wets” and the “drys” even if America’s citizens were more interested in being...

Why Are the Insides of Whiskey Barrels Charred?

Occum’s razor basically states that “the simplest explanation is most likely the right one”. While that may not always be the case, when we address the questions “When did whiskey begin being aged in charred barrels” and “What is the history that led to coopers adopting this technique for whiskey making”, I think we often miss the obvious answers because they’re not clever. The idea that a cow could light a barn on fire and accidentally char the inside of Kentucky’s first distiller, Elijah Craig’s whiskey barrels is…romantic. A complete load of nonsense, but romantic. Leaving aside the fact that Elijah Craig was NOT Kentucky’s first distiller or that bourbon most certainly was NOT the first whiskey to be aged in charred oak…well, let’s just disregard that...

Pre-Prohibition Distillers of Pennsylvania

I have spent the last few years researching and cataloging information on nearly 200 distilleries that produced rye whiskey across Pennsylvania before 1920. The information about Pennsylvania’s distilling history along with the traditions that established Pennsylvania as the leader in American rye whiskey production has been lost to generations of Pennsylvanians, not to mention the many new whiskey drinkers just learning about our country’s distilling heritage. I am making my best effort to reopen the history book of Pennsylvania rye whiskey and bring these distilleries back into the conversation. Bourbon is a whiskey that began its introduction to American drinkers in the early 1800s, joining the rye whiskey that had already been sitting comfortably...

Remember Remember the 5th of November…

It’s the 5th of November…Guy Fawkes Day… Did you know that George Washington condemned the celebration of Guy Fawkes Day, otherwise known at the time as “Pope Day”? The colonies were in need of the support of Canadian, French Catholics and, needless to say, his soldiers burning the Pope in effigy was not ideal in winning the Canadians’ trust.  Before the American colonies found another enemy to distrust (namely the British), many colonists were staunchly anti-Catholic. The prejudices against Catholics in the new colonies were carried over from Europe. Guy Fawkes and his Catholic conspirators’ attempt to blow up the English King James and his new Parliament (and replace him with his Catholic daughter) did not go over well in London. In Boston, before...