Why Meths Drinkers?

For a long time now, my most widely viewed post has been the one I wrote almost 10 years ago about methylated spirits. I had heard a paper at an Alcohol and Drug History Society conference about people in Britain in the 1950s and 60s who became addicted to methylated spirits.

About two years, I had a sudden and brief uptick in views, and they were all of that original post. You can read about that here. On April 3 of this month, I had 1,151 views of which 1,120 were of the original post on methylated spirits. I believe this huge increase was due to a Call The Midwife episode which aired that Sunday and was about a meths drinker who was nearing the end of his life.

The episode described the symptoms of prolonged drinking of methylated spirits. They include rotting flesh, ulcers, gastritis, and gangrene. The show was preaching tolerance and understanding, even love, for the homeless, many of whom were meths drinkers.

For a few days following the episode, I had many more than usual views and visitors. By this week it is settling down, but I still am having slightly increased viewership. I really don’t understand why this is my most popular post, but I guess it is a topic that interests a lot of people.

Many years ago, prior to writing the post on methylated spirits, my most popular post was one I did on seeing a production of Mary Poppins in Israel. I also never understood why that was so popular. There is no accounting for what people will be interested in and try to seek more information about on the Internet.

Of course, posting this will probably lead to another temporary uptick in views. Maybe I should  find a way to stick the term “methylated spirits” in all my posts.

 

https://www.pbs.org/show/call-midwife/

 

See google console for past 28 days

Beer Roundup

I haven’t written about beer or even the liquor industry in general in quite a while and today seemed like a good day to get back to what was the original theme of this blog. I’ve decided to highlight two articles I have recently received that touch on some of the themes that I have discussed in previous posts.

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, June 2020, an African American brewer Marcus Baskerville, co-founder and head brewer of San Antonio’s Weathered Souls Brewery created the Black is Beautiful campaign ”to bring awareness to the injustices that many people of color face daily”. Black is Beautiful is a collaborative effort among many brewers to raise funds to combat police violence against people of color. You can read my post about that here.

Recently, also in an attempt to increase diversity in the overwhelmingly white craft brewing industry, Haymarket Brewing in Chicago invited six black owned beer business to collaborate on a beer, Chicago Uncommon, which they will tap this Sunday, Super Bowl Sunday. You can read more about this here.

Not only is craft brewing a very white industry, 93 percent, but it is also mostly male, 75 percent. Julia Herz was, for many years, the craft beer program director at the Brewers Association, the trade association for craft and home brewers. Last year, because of budget cuts due to Covid, she lost her job.

Now she is returning to the association, and her goal is to expand the population that participates in craft beer and home brewing. “Beer has no gender and anyone who is a legal drinking adult who wants to brew is legally allowed to brew. I want to emphasize that the club of homebrewers is open to all walks of life.” You can read more about Julia Herz and her goals for increased diversity in brewing here.

Smoking


Any practicing nurse in Massachusetts has to renew his or her license every two years. As part of the license renewal process every nurse has to have done 15 hours of continuing education credits otherwise known as CEU’s. Before I retired it was very easy for me to acquire those 15 hours because of trainings and in service workshops that the agency I worked for provided.

This year the renewal process snuck up on me and I had to figure how to meet the CEUs requirement. There are places online that allow you to fulfill the requirements by reading scholarly articles on various topics and then filling out a questionnaire. One of the essays I chose was about tobacco and smoking cessation.

I found the article informative. Something that stood out is that young people are continuing to become smokers. This is concerning because once you have the habit it is very hard to break it. Reading the essay about tobacco reminded me that in 2009 I had written a blog post about the liquor industry facing new regulations that the Obama administration had passed. I am reposting it below.

The interesting thing about the original post was that I discussed how tobacco’s fortunes had fallen while brewers and distillers were enjoying a great deal of public support. Public health advocates were not gaining much traction in their attempts to convince the public to drink less.

Society approval of the liquor industry, particularly beer, has only continued to increase in the 13 years since I posted about those tobacco regulations. Not only did the liquor industry get a tax break from the Trump legislation but most municipalities are thrilled to have a craft brewery in their town or city.

Neither the article I read for my CEUs or the blog post from 2009 talk about marijuana, but marijuana has also gained in public approval as many states including Massachusetts where I live now have recreational sale of THC.

Tobacco Legislation

6/16/2009

Last week, Congress passed, and President Obama signed legislation that greatly enhances federal regulation of the tobacco industry. As a historian, I generally think change happens slowly but the rapidity with which American society has transformed from cultural acceptance, even approval of smoking, to a completely negative view is startling.

When I was growing up, my parents and almost all the adults I knew smoked. As a teenager and young adult smoking was both everywhere – bars, restaurants, public events, and arenas – and heavily advertised on television. In the forty-five years since the Surgeon General’s report on the harm smoking causes, there has been a warning label, a ban on television advertising, the creation of smoke-free indoor space and, recently, smoke-free outdoor spaces.

The newspaper stories discussing the pending legislation use the term “addiction” to describe the practice of smoking. This also represents significant change. For much of American history, society has characterized nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol as legal, primarily harmless habits. Alcohol was usually the most problematic of the three. Now, nicotine, although legal, falls under the broad category of psychoactive, addictive substances, similar in their effects on the body.

Moralists have always viewed smoking as undesirable behavior. This attitude kept women from smoking for many years. When smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke became a public health issue, the battle lines changed. If alcohol use and or abuse ever became predominantly a public health issue rather than one of individual choice or morality, brewers and distillers could face more of an uphill battle to maintain the legitimacy of their industry.

 

NaNoWriMo Day 5

Today I worked on my book from a little after 12 pm to 6 pm and wrote 1,467 words, almost 6 pages. I am now exhausted. Since Sunday, I have written every day both for the book and this blog and exercised every day.  I am not sure I can keep up this pace, but I am really proud about the progress I am  making.

One reason I worked for so many hours today, is that I had planed to write something about Yale University. It turned out I don’t have all the material I need. I am not sure if I lost an article because of the flood or I never had it. That is going to be an ongoing issue because of the terrible damage we incurred from Tropical Storm Ida.

Because I an now waiting  to get the article from interlibrary loan, I wrote about something else. I was using material I was not that familiar with so I had to read  or at least skim the 180 or so page report, digest the information, and then summarize what I had read. it all took time.

By the time I actually publish this post and mention it on Facebook and Twitter, it will be past 6:30 pm. I think I will skip exercising for today and maybe have a stiff drink instead. Don’t judge.

 

Happy International Beer Day

Today is International Beer Day. To celebrate, here is a roundup of articles about the holiday. The first describes the day and provides a brief history of beer. In 2018 there were 7,450 breweries in the United States. I wonder if that number has decreased due to the pandemic. If you know the answer, please let me know.

The second link profiles seven cities across the world, looking at their top beers, beer festivals and the best places to drink beer. If you are traveling to any of the cities mentioned and like beer, this is a handy list to have.

The third article looks at Singapore beer. The Asian beer imported to America is usually a pale, nondescript lager so I would be excited to try some of the beers mentioned. I would love to go to Singapore and other places in Asia but  it is a very long flight and the time difference is brutal.

Finally, here is a link to a post I wrote in 2016 when we were traveling in Paris and London. On that trip we drank a lot of Leffe blond beer. Once we were home it was hard to get. Apparently, a liquor store near me now sells it. I am going to get a six-pack and drink one tonight to celebrate International Beer Day.

Cheers!

Michigan Beer

I recently finished reading a book about sex discrimination at the University of Michigan in the 1970s. The same day, a news item about craft brewing in Michigan appeared in my Google alerts. You can read that here.

Stroh’s was Michigan’s largest brewer. Here are some excerpt’s from Brewing Battles about that brewery.

Detroit had thirty-three breweries in 1890. Stroh’s was the most famous and long lived; the owners were descendants of Germans who had been brewing since 1775. By selling ice cream as well as beer it existed as an independent brewery until 1999.[1]

One of the most significant transactions which indicated that brewing was moving firmly away from its nineteenth century heritage occurred on June 10 1982, when the Stroh Brewing Company of Detroit purchased Schlitz. Stroh’s, a long established regional brewery based in Detroit vaulted itself into the first tier of the industry by acquiring Schlitz, one of the country’s largest brewers. Donald Shea, a vice-president of the USBA at the time of this acquisition, assessed the deal and its implication for the industry as “constant concentration within the industry, and as that happened, more and more larger breweries were building up their own shops.”[2]

Competition in the industry continued unabated even while brewing organizations sought reductions in taxes and campaigned against various neo-temperance initiatives. In 1996, Stroh’s continued its ascent into the top tier by purchasing Heileman Brewing. Heileman had made a run at achieving top tier status in the 1980s, but the Justice Department had halted its program of aggressive acquisitions. Russell Cleary, the son-in-law of Ray Kumm and his successor, spearheaded the expansion of the company. Stalled, the company became vulnerable; 1987 Alan Bond, an Australian investor, purchased the nation’s fourth largest brewer. In 1992, Bond went to jail for fraud in connection with a deal to save an Australian bank.[3]

In the 1980s Heileman brewed many different brands of beer including Old Style, its original product, Lone Star, Schmidt, and Carling Black Label. The company was responsible for forty percent of all the new brands in the decade.[4]

In 1991, Heileman developed yet another new product, Power Master, which was a malt liquor with 5.9 percent alcohol; most malt liquors contained 5.5 percent, regular beer 3.5 percent. African-Americans and Hispanics were the core market for malt liquors. Heileman’s marketing featured a young black man. The tagline was “bold, not harsh.” African-American political and community leaders objected to the beer and its marketing. Eventually BATF intervened and prohibited the company from marketing Power Master. The agency felt the name was a subtle attempt to convey the strength of the beer to the public.[5] Heileman’s marketing struggles indicated how far the brewing industry had come from the self-regulation policies that they had pursued from the 1930s on.

The USBA had always stressed restraint in marketing. The Nebraska plan that brewers developed during Repeal was the cornerstone of their approach. Increased competition in the industry and the diminished influence of the USBA led individual brewers to be bolder in their advertising. The specter of Prohibition had diminished.

In 1996, Stroh’s, planning to buy Heileman, was the country’s fourth largest brewer. Coors, in third place, had 10.1 percent of the market. Stroh’s and Heileman’s combined market share would be a little over nine percent. Stroh Brewing Company had been in existence for 149 years; in 1999 the company sold its brands to Miller and Pabst. Pabst got Schlitz. This sale marked the completion of forty years of consolidation of the brewing industry. The dismantling of Stroh, which employed 2,800 people, gave Miller and Anheuser–Busch seventy per cent of the market.[6]

 

[1] William H. Mulligan, “Stroh Brewing Company,” in Blocker et al., Encyclopedia, 598-600; Downard, Dictionary, 56-57, 185-186.

[2] “Shakeout in the Brewing Industry”; Shea interview, 2005.

[3] “Heileman’s Aggressive Style,” New York Times, August 15, 1979, D1; “Alan Bond Gets Jail in Australia,” New York Times, May 30, 1992, 35; Bob Skilnick, “Heileman, G., Brewing Company,” in Blocker et. al, Encyclopedia, 292-293.

[4] Philip E. Ross, “Bid for Heileman Spurs Stock,” New York Times, September 5, 1987, 31.

[5] Anthony Ramirez, “U.S. Is Challenging New Heileman Label,” New York Times, June 21, 1991, D15; “The Threat of Power Master,” New York Times, July 1, 1991, A12; “Heileman Told It Can’t Use the Power Master Name,” New York Times, July 2, 1991, D6; Kurt Eichenwald, “U.S. Rescinds Approval of A Malt Liquor,” New York Times, July 4, 1991, D3.

[6] Robyn Meredith, “Stroh to Buy Heileman in Big Brewery Deal,” New York Times, Match 1, 1996, D2; “Last call: Detroit-based Stroh Brewery will sell beer brands to Pabst, Miller,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, February 9, 1999, 3D http://www.elibrary.com/education (accessed January 23, 2001).

© Copyright, Amy Mittelman 2021

 

Workers and Unions

Union House and Union Bar Cards used in earlier years. Courtesy of UniteHere.

Workers at the Bessemer, Alabama, Amazon warehouse are trying to form a union. The story has gone national with both President Biden and Senator Marco Rubio weighing in on the side of the workers. Amazon has engaged in hard-ball anti-labor tactics in the past and we can assume they will pursue that course in Alabama.

Union membership and ensuing political power has been declining for years. Labor law most often favors the employer rather than the employee. The Bessemer workers hope that if they succeed this will prompt other Amazon workers in different parts of the country to attempt unionization as well.

Here is an excerpt from Brewing Battles about the brewery workers union in the late 19th century.

In the 1870s, the number of breweries in America reached a record 4,131 and by 1890, output had risen to over 227 million barrels from 3 million at the end of the war. Although there were breweries throughout the country, the business concentrated in urban areas. Lack of appropriate refrigeration made far flung distribution of beer impossible. Demographics also played an important role. Urban areas, with their large ethnic populations, particularly German, were the perfect marketplace for brewers. As a result, certain cities, such as New York, Milwaukee, and Chicago became brewing centers. In the South beer drinking and brewing did not really take hold perhaps because of the small immigrant population there as well as persistent illegal distilling or moonshine.[1]

Urban areas had the most breweries and also the most workers. Cities became the focal point of emerging labor and union activity. In 1886 the newly founded United Brewery Workers (UBW) engaged in a boycott of Peter Doegler Brewery, Brooklyn, New York. Boycotts, as well as union labels, were major weapons in ongoing union struggles with the brewers. A mass product such as beer befitted the use of both strategies. Working class-drinkers contributed greatly to the sales of malt liquors, which they purchased from local brewers. The boycott had originated in Ireland around issues of land and rent. Irish-American radicals adopted the concept of social ostracism which was the foundation of the tactic. The boycott was one element in the social adaptation of immigrants to their new world. Boycotts, parades, and mass demonstrations “provided opportunities for immigrant workers to participate in familiar patterns of protest and recreation.”[2] Pervasive in labor struggles in the 1880s, boycotts and the practice of social ostracism often went hand-in-hand. Both worked best in neighborhoods and small communities and helped foster consumer consciousness. The UBW strove to increase class consciousness.

The new union successfully negotiated a contract with the Brewers Association in the spring of 1886 which gave workers a weekly wage of $15 to $18 for a six day week, 10 hours a day. The young organization had certainly gained an “extraordinary victory.”[3]

1886 was a good year for brewery workers nationwide as unions developed in Baltimore, Chicago, New Jersey, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Detroit, San Francisco, and Buffalo. Many of the unions operated under the auspices of the Knights of Labor. In California Alfred Fuhrman, a sailor and the Federated Trades Council organized the Brewers’ and Maltsters’ Union of the Pacific Coast. Through a boycott of one San Francisco brewery, Fuhrman organized workers in five companies and achieved support throughout the Coast area.[4]

Brewery workers used tactics like the boycott and the union label to encourage workers from other industries to support their struggles with management. The UBW sought to build a strong union and to fully legitimate organized labor in the brewing industry. Towards that end, in conjunction with boycotts, the brewery workers and other unions promoted the concept of “union labor” which implied cooperation with pro-union management against anti-union owners. The average brewery laborer had a hard and grueling life before the advent of the union movement yet the UBW won changes in working conditions, hours, and wages more easily than they did advancements in recognition and jurisdiction. The early successes of the union in gaining ten hour days and increased wages in various cities served as the prelude to ten years of fighting with the brewers and the Brewers Association for union legitimacy.

Many unions formed in the 1880s evolved from strong craft heritages and traditions. Brewing, in many ways, was a traditional occupation; brewers certainly sought to present their business to the public in this light. Yet, at least since the Civil War, brewing required primarily unskilled and thus replaceable labor. The second convention of the UBW recognized this fact of life. Although the union strongly supported the hiring of experienced brewery workers over inexperienced ones, the convention proposed an inclusive union for all workers and trades in the industry; an industrial union. Organizing all the workers in an industry made it more difficult for management to break strikes. Thus the UBW consisted of beer-drivers, maltsters, firemen, and engineers, and became the first industrial union in the country to survive. This commitment to industrial unionism would lead to chronic jurisdictional difficulties with other unions and the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The union sought to organize all workers in the industry, yet it did not consider distillery workers as part of its jurisdiction. On this point the union agreed with the brewers’ view of division within the liquor industry.[5]

[1] For information about moonshine and illicit distilling in the South after the Civil War, see Wilbur R. Miller, Revenuers & Moonshiners: Enforcing Federal Liquor Law in the Mountain South, 1865-1900 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991).

[2] Michael A. Gordon, “The Labor Boycott in New York City, 1880-1886,” Labor History, 16 (Spring 1975), 194.

[3] Schlüter, The Brewing Industry 117; Gordon, “The Labor Boycott in New York City,” 213.

[4] Schlüter, The Brewing Industry, p 117-127; Ira Cross, A History Of the Labor Movement in California, 191-192.

[5] James Morris, Conflict Within the AFL, A Study of Craft Versus Industrial Unionism, 1901–1938, (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1958), 20. Another name for the UBW was National Union of United Brewery Workmen of the United States.

 

Methylated Spirits Revisited

On Sunday my site got 155 views. On Monday  121. That is a lot more views than I usually get. Most of them were to read my post on methylated spirits which is almost seven years old. I don’t really get it since when you google “methylated spirits” my post doesn’t come up.

I was going to tweet about this, but since Twitter still won’t let me tweet my URL, I decided to write a short post about it instead. The problem with Twitter is over 2 years old. I don’t think it will ever get fixed.

I am little afraid that the sudden increase in views  was some kind of hack, but everything seems okay. If anyone knows why there would suddenly be so much interest in methylated spirits, please let me know.

Denatured alcohol

Social Drinking

Can you be a social drinker? I recently read an article in The New York Times that would suggest the answer was no. The article itself was interesting and the comments were even more interesting. The vociferousness of the comments that defended drinking indicates that drinking in America has been normalized. The recent Atlantic article that asked why there is no anti-alcohol movement explored some of the reasons for that normalization. When I was at my writing retreat this fall, one of the other attendees was a woman who has recently stopped drinking and has a blog about it.

Prior to Prohibition, the temperance movement saw drinking as being both a moral and societal issue. They sought a civil response to the problems of drinking. Although prohibitionists counseled individuals to have the moral and individual strength to stop drinking, the movement sought to remove drinking from society through political and legislative means.

Since Prohibition, the liquor industry has been very successful in framing drinking and the serious issues it can cause as an individual disease. There have been some moments where the public health analysis of alcohol and the society-wide problems it causes, have been in ascendance. Both the movement to decrease drunk driving and the 1991 tax increase on alcohol had public health components.

Today the liquor industry is completely in control and health information detailing problems with liquor go nowhere. On television you see public service announcements on tobacco and vaping. There are none about drinking.

Here is a picture of a cirrhotic liver as one example of the damage excessive drinking can do to your body and health.

Cirrohotic Liver

Beer Days

October 27,  Sunday, was National American Beer Day. I will confess that I had not idea such a day existed. I read about it here.  According to the  website, National Today American Beer Day is a day to “celebrate distinctly domestic lagers and ales brewed across the country.” The site also describes three other days that one can celebrate beer.

There is International Beer Day which occurs on the first Friday in August and is a “global celebration of beer, taking place in pubs, breweries, and backyards all over the world. It’s a day for beer lovers everywhere to raise a toast to our brewers and bartenders and rejoice in the greatness of beer!”

National Beer Day is on April 7th and commemorates the day that beer became legal again after 13 years of Repeal. Upon signing the legislation, FDR apparently remarked, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”

National Today also describes National Beer Can Appreciation Day which is January 24th.  January 24, 1934, the Krueger Brewing Company produce the first beer in cans. I posted about the history of beer cans in 2011.

Krueger can. Photo courtesy of Brewery Collectibles Club of America.

Besides these days, there is also Repeal Day which is Dec. 5 and represents the day in 1933 that all alcoholic beverages became legal again.  Most, if not all, of these days seem like marketing ploys. The days that commemorate actual historical events have more legitimacy, but, in the end, all of these celebrations exist to convince you to buy and drink more beer.

Mark your calendars and let the drinking commence!

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