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!

Maine Beer

I recently read an article about Maine beer. The state is second, after Vermont, in the number of breweries per capita. Maine has over 80 breweries.[1]  Maine’s love of beer is a recent development. Here is an explanation from Brewing Battles.

“In Jacksonian America, the various states regulated the retail sale of alcohol, placing license fees on dealers as a minimal control on consumption. The growing temperance movement attacked the license system as inadequate and advocated new legislation. By 1850 reformers had moved from local control of liquor sales to statewide prohibition.[2] In every northern state except New Jersey and Pennsylvania legislators enacted or popular referenda passed “inclusive prohibitory or constitutional measures.”[3]

“In the 1850s, no state had the police capacity to enforce the provisions of this legislation, known as the Maine Law. As a result, advocates of the legislation created extra-legal groups, ostensibly to gather evidence and swear out complaints. Unfortunately, the “leagues” often overstepped these boundaries, generating violence. Both retailers and drinkers refused to accept the legitimacy of prohibition legislation. Liquor sellers organized to fight the Maine Law and the extra-legal enforcement “leagues,” and German and Irish immigrants opposed the law for cultural and economic reasons. The working class as a whole also resisted state intrusion into customary behavior.”[4]

Maine was the first state to pass such a law. Most states repealed the legislation by the 1860s. Maine repealed its law temporarily but reinstated it in 1857 and didn’t repeal it until 1934.[5]

Today, however, Maine is a poor state and beer is a source of reliable revenue. You can go on a Maine Beer trail and visit some of the over 80 breweries. We will be in Maine in August and I plan to visit at least of few of the breweries on the trail. I’ll let you know about the results.

 

[1] https://www.craftbrewingbusiness.com/news/infographic-what-states-have-the-most-breweries-per-resident/

[2] Tyrrell, Sobering Up, 226.

[3]; The Cyclopaedia of Temperance and Prohibition, (New York, 1891), 275–361.

[4] Tyrrell, Sobering Up, 290–307.

[5] William L. Downard, Dictionary of the History of the American Brewing and Distilling Industries (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980), 17.

Happy July 4th

In honor of the Fourth of July, here is an article about the top twenty-five beers in America, according to home brewers. I haven’t drunk many of them so the article has given me a goal.

Apparently today is  “National Independent Beer Run Day”; a day that the Brewers Association made up to get consumers to buy  independent, that is not macro beer, for the holiday. Marketing schemes like this are not new.

After Repeal, brewers attempted various campaigns The most prominent one was for bock beer in the spring. Here is another post from my pre-WordPress blog. It was for the Session, which was a blog carnival, which stopped publishing in 2018.

July 4, 2008


The Session #17: Going Against the Grain: Drinking Anti-Seasonally 

In my book, Brewing Battles,I explored the attempts of the immediate post-Prohibition brewers to develop a marketing strategy that would cover all seasons. The centerpiece was bock beer; for the journal, Modern Brewery Age,  this beer was the epitome of spring.

In the years before beer marketing was national and also before wide spread air-conditioning, the summer months usually saw an up surge in beer sales. However today it is not clear if increased beer drinking is so synonymous with warm weather.

Brewers vary in their focus on bock beer as a harbinger of spring. On a personal level when it is very warm I prefer a lighter beer such as a heifenweizen with a lemon. I also like a shandy or panache but I have been told that brewers dislike such combinations.

The Session is a blog carnival originated by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer.  For a summary of the Sessions thus far, check out Brookston’s handy guide

 

 

In the News

Here is a look at some articles about beer and distilled spirits that I have read recently.

George Lenker, the Beer Nut, writes about a new craft beer bar opening in Northampton. It is in my neck of the woods so I will definitely try it and let you know what I think.

Mankato, Minnesota was the home town of Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the Betsy-Tacy Books. I loved the books when I was growing up and last year I re-read them all. This article is about a brewery in Mankato. I hope to visit Mankato some day and see Lovelace’s house.  Now I will also plan on visiting the brewery.

The final article looks at craft beer and distilled spirits across the country. The author picks a local beverage for each state. The pick for Massachusetts is Mystic Brewery’s Table Beer which is a saison . Some of the other choices sound really good. I will keep them in mind when I am traveling.

 

Schenley Distillers Corporation

Recently I reviewed Bourbon Justice by Brian Haara. I can’t say much about the book at this time because the Journal of American History has to publish the review first. Reading about bourbon has prompted me to post an excerpt from a paper I gave at a ADHS conference a few years ago.

The paper looked at how bourbon evolved into a distinctly American drink. One of the key players in this process was Lewis Rosenstiel, owner of Schenley Distillers Corporation.

Lewis Solon Rosenstiel was a Cincinnati native, born in 1891. His first job was working for an uncle, David L. Johnson, owner of the Susquemac Distillery, Milton, Kentucky. Prohibition ended that employment. In 1922, while on vacation on the French Riviera, Rosenstiel met Winston Churchill. The future prime minster was of the opinion that Prohibition would end. He advised Rosenstiel of this.[1]

When Rosenstiel returned to America he began to buy closed distilleries; one of these, the Schenley distillery, located north of Pittsburgh, on the Alleghany River,[2] had a license to produce medical liquor.[3]  Rosenstiel named his company, Schenley Products Company (later Schenley Distillers Corporation) after this distillery and the town it was located in. He also bought another distillery in the same area, Joseph H. Finch, Co.[4] By the time Repeal came Rosenstiel had amassed at least thirty distilleries.[5]

During Prohibition Rosenstiel also worked as a whiskey broker, dealing in and trading whiskey warehouse receipts. Between the distilleries he had purchased and his warehouse receipts, Rosentiel had a large stock of aged whiskey which would be immediately available for sale once alcohol became legal again[6]. In 1934, Schenley Distillers Corporation had sales of over $40 million; Rosenstiel earned 6.9 million that year.[7]

Rosenstiel and Schenley were not based in Kentucky but in the immediate Repeal period, his company was the leading distiller until 1937 and then, again from 1944-1947.[8] Although Schenley produced both blended and straight whiskey, Rosenstiel became the most prominent spokesperson for bourbon as a distinct product.

Rosenstiel had a colorful past. He was arrested during Prohibition for “counterfeiting whiskey bottles and labels for illegal sale to the public.” The case against Rosenstiel was dismissed but one of his associates was convicted. This man, Joe Linney later became a Schenley distributor in Boston. [9]

Schenley was one of three distillers that became major factors in the distilled spirits industry following repeal. The other two were Seagram’s, owned by Sam and Edgar Bronfman, Canadians and National Distilleries, a company formed out of the remains of several pre-Prohibition combinations.

[1] Leonard Sloane, “Lewis Rosenstiel, Founder of Schenley Empire Dies, New York Times, Jan. 22, 1976, p.37. https://www.nytimes.com/1976/01/22/archives/lewis-rosenstiel-founder-of-schenley-empire-dies.html

[2] American Whiskey: Messin’ ‘Round The Old Mawn-Nonga-HeelahButton up your Overholt, when the wind blows free… http://www.ellenjaye.com/hist_mono3overholt.htm accessed 5/30/13

[3] Sloane, “Lewis Rosenstiel”.

[4] American Whiskey

[5] Harvard Business School, Lehman Brothers, 1850-2008, “Deal Books: Schenley Distillers Corporation”, https://www.library.hbs.edu/hc/lehman/Data-Resources/Companies-Deals/Schenley-Distillers-Corporation

[6] Sloane, “Lewis Rosenstiel”.

[7] Harvard Business School, “Deal Books”.

[8] American Whiskey

[9] The Mail Archive, “Crime, Big Business and Watergate”. http://www.mail-archive.com/[email protected]/msg11476.html

Chinese Drinking

I came across this really interesting article about Asian immigrants who live in Oregon and are the only distillers of the traditional Chines liquor, baijiu. When we were in China in 2005, we were frequently served baijiu. It is very viscous and has a high alcohol content.  The baijiu we had was made from sorghum. The people in Oregon seem to use rice.

I am posting something I wrote about out trip to China. I did post in the blog I had before this WordPress  site but I can’t seem to find out if I have ever posted it here. If it is a repeat, I apologize.

Chinese Drinking

My family and I recently returned from visiting Hong Kong and mainland China. My husband is the vice president of a private undergraduate liberal arts college and the purpose of our trip was to visit several Chinese educational institutions. Because of this, the very nice, friendly, and generous Chinese people we met treated us as celebrities or in their context, dignitaries. The main consequences of this treatment were many banquets held in our honor.

I have not attended that many banquets in the United States but the few I have been at have begun with a cocktail hour then proceeded to a multi course meal with dessert and wine. Chinese banquets are completely different from this. The meal always takes place in a private room around a round table. At each place setting there are three glasses; a water glass, a wine glass, and a very small shot glass, probably one-half ounce in capacity. At the beginning of the meal, the host will ask the honored guest, my husband in our case, if they want “spirits”.

At our first banquet this request elicited amused responses from the other Chinese guests as well as some good-natured warnings about the potent “firepower” of the spirits. The Chinese woman sitting next to me who spoke English stated the spirits “were not for women.” Although this surprised me, I wished to be polite and therefore refrained.

When my husband said he would try it, his water glass probably about eight ounces-was filled with a 50 percent alcohol, clear, viscous liquid. This alcoholic beverage was baijiu, which is distilled from sorghum. All the guests drinking also had their glasses filled. As the meal proceeded the host toasted my husband, pouring from his big glass into the small shot glass, raising it high, downing it while saying Gam Bei (Bottoms Up!) and then showing the empty glass to my husband. At that first banquet there must have been at least ten toasts. Many of the guests completely emptied their large glasses and then received refills. The whole event had a competitive and masculine tone with the goal being to see who can drink the most.

All of our subsequent banquets followed this pattern. Some did not involve spirits so the drinking was much more subdued. At different banquets, various participants had a greater or lesser affinity for alcohol and the total amount of alcohol consumed varied. Women did participate although not as vociferously as the men. Some participants filled their large glasses with water and then proceeded to participate in the social aspects of the toasting ritual without running the risk of inebriation.

As a historian who has written about alcohol and the industry and has attended over twenty-five years of conferences on the general subject, the heavy drinking I observed in China came as a complete surprise. The global studies of alcohol and drugs have always focused on opium and tea as China’s chosen psychoactive substances. There is also a literature that seems to suggest that, because Chinese drinking takes place during meals, it is more moderate.

Alcohol experts define binge drinking as the consumption of five or more drinks at one time. In the United States and increasingly internationally, it is college age people who most often indulge in this behavior. Binge drinking on college campuses has led to an increase in death from alcohol poisoning and is the subject of many research projects.

At the Chinese banquets I attended many of the men present had at least eight drinks. Binge drinking in America often has a ritualistic aspect; newly “legal” drinkers in the Southwest spend their first night as a twenty-one year old seeing how much alcohol they can consume. The showing of empty glasses and the good-natured urging to continue drinking at Chinese banquets is the same kind of behavior. There is obviously a whole aspect of Chinese consumption of psychoactive substances that remains unexplored.

When I was thinking about posting the above, a front page article in the New York Times appeared. Entitled, “Got a Mint, Comrade? China Cracks Down on Liquid Lunch,” the article discussed the Chines practice of lunchtime banquets where alcohol, usually baijiu, plays a large role. The Chinese government usually foots the bill for these alcohol-laden meals and thus wants to curtail the amount of drinking.

The article also indicates that consumption of baijiu has declined as a more prosperous, younger generation has begun to drink other spirits, wine, and beer. Around the same time the Times covered this story we entertained visiting Chinese scholars in our home. They all declared that the thing they missed most from home was baijiu. The drinking habits of China, both historically and in the ever-changing global market, call out for further exploration and research.

William K. Coors

Last month, William K. Coors died at the age of 102.He was the grandson of Adolph Coors, founder of Coors Brewing. Here is the New York Times obituary.

In acknowledgement of his passing, I am posting an excerpt from Brewing Battles (2007)about Coors.

Until the late 1970s Coors was a regional brewer; the beer was available in sixteen Western states. The Coors family sought nation-wide distribution of their beer, but faced several problems. Their appeal and brand recognition flowed from the Rocky Mountain springs that supplied the water for the beer. Building another brewery somewhere else would negate those advertising claims. Coors planned to compete in both beer types and advertising. By 1979, the company had a light beer and hoped to produce a super premium beer in the near future.[1]

Coors’ plans to diversify its products reflected the changing nature of the beer market since Repeal. Nineteenth century brewers brewed fresh lager for patrons at saloons. A few brewers persisted in brewing English ale. Although the German brewers had argued for the uniqueness of their product when confronting federal taxes in the 1860s, for much of their pre-Prohibition history they presented and promoted beer as beer. Most brewers had only a few different products and they didn’t really advertise one over the other.

During Repeal, brewers returned to a world of consumer products and brands. Slowly they began to develop different beers. Modern Brewery Age was a leader in promoting product differentiation, advertising, and marketing campaigns around specific items. Of course the brewers pushed for great latitude in production definition when producing the industry’s NRA code. They continued to resist ingredient and alcoholic content labeling.

True product differentiation began in the 1960s with malt liquor; it accelerated after Miller and Phillip Morris introduced light beer in 1975. Other categories of beer included super premium, dry, reduced alcohol, non-alcoholic, and beer coolers.[2] Anheuser–Busch has over sixty beers including Michelob, its super premium entry which the company has produced since 1896, as well as O’Douls, a non-alcoholic beer, and Bud Light.[3] Most other breweries do not have that many products; craft brewers usually have a few different beers. Boston Beer, makers of Sam Adams, produces about twenty-five different products.[4]

Coors was obviously hoping to move onto the national level and begin producing a variety of beers. The company developed a plan to move into two or three new states a year. By 1986 people in forty-five different states could buy Coors beer. The company maintained its number five position in the industry through massive advertising expenditures. Coors spent more than $10 a barrel on advertising and its total marketing expenses were $165 million in 1985. The company’s net income was $53.4 million from sales of $1.28 billion.[5]

By 1986 the fourth generation of Coors family members was running the company. Jeff Coors stated that the brewing industry “was much more of a marketing game today.” Beyond problems of market expansion, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the company faced a series of controversies. In 1977, Local 366 of the Colorado UBW began a strike against Coors. Coors, under the leadership of Bill Coors, consistently supported conservative causes; the company attempted to change the seniority system which would have resulted in a less powerful role for the local and its influence on discipline. Claiming union busting the local was on strike for two weeks when half of the workers returned to work. The company hired replacement workers for the remaining strikers. Coors wanted an open shop despite the fact that the brewery had had union representation for forty-two years. In 1978 employees decertified the union.

The union and other interested parties including Hispanics, homosexual rights activists, and feminists undertook a national boycott. Many groups believed Coors engaged in discriminatory labor practices. By initiating a boycott the UBW was returning to its nineteenth century roots. This boycott caused California sales to diminish by fifteen percent; California represented more than forty-five percent of Coors market. The boycott was a large impediment to the company’s attempts to produce beer and market beer for the national market.[6]

Ten years later, in 1987, the union and Coors came to an understanding. Coors agreed to non-interference with union organizing and to support a union contract for a proposed building project. In response the union ended the boycott. Coors changed its hiring practices and advertising focus. Coors had also completed an agreement with the Coalition of Hispanic Organizations in 1984. Jeff Coors was determined to avoid controversy.[7]

By 1991, all fifty states sold Coors beer, and the company had risen to the number three spot in the industry. It has the largest capacity brewery in the world at its headquarters in Golden, Colorado. That same year Anheuser–Busch’s market share was forty-four percent.[8]

 

[1] Jerry Knight, “Coors Plans Expansion,” Washington Post, 79.

[2] Beatrice Trum Hunter, “More Informative Beer Labels,” Consumer Research Magazine, October 1996, vol. 79, no. 10, 10-15.

[3] http://anheuser-busch.com/ (accessed April 2, 2007).

[4] http://samueladams.com/verification/ (accessed April2, 2007).

[5] Steven Greenhouse,” Coors Boys Stick to Business,” New York Times, November 30, 1986, 162. The family had suffered a tragedy in 1960 with the kidnapping and murder of Adolph Coors the third, eldest grandson of Adolph Coors, the company’s founder.

[6] Ibid; Amy Mittelman, “Labor in the U.S. Liquor Industry” in Blocker et al., Encyclopedia, 356-358.

[7] Ibid; Ruth Hamel and Tom Schreiner, “Coors Courts Hispanics,” American Demographic, November 1988, 54.

[8] William H. Mulligan, Jr. “Coors,” in Blocker, et. al., Encyclopedia, vol. 1, 174; Rick Desloge, “Anheuser-Busch on path to 50 percent share of market,” St. Louis Business Journal, February 11, 1991 1B.-2B.

©Amy Mittelman 2018.

Alewives

The relationship between women and the brewing industry is an interesting one. Women were a major force in the temperance and prohibition movement which led the brewing industry  to oppose women’s suffrage.

Historically women were involved in brewing beer throughout the middle ages and in America before industrialization. This article looks at that history. My only quibble is that women disappeared from the American brewing industry well before the 1950s.

When I was writing Brewing Battles, my research uncovered a few women involved in the United States Brewers Association. Here is what I wrote:

One way to begin to create a beverage that would appeal equally to both sexes was to employ women in the industry. Brewing was overwhelmingly male, but by 1937 Modern Brewer had unearthed two female beer sales personnel. The journal also had a woman, Elsie Singruen, as its technical editor. Ms. Singruen had studied brewing in Berlin, and had written on brewing techniques and the history of the craft. The technician made further history when she addressed the Philadelphia District Master Brewers in 1938. Ms. Singruen, the first female to speak publicly before a brewers group, gave a talk on “the history of American Brewing Literature.[1]*

[1] Modern Brewer, May 1937, 25; December 1937, 64;  April 1938, 39.

©Amy Mittelman 2018.