No matter where you go on earth, there is moonshine. It has been made from just about every imaginable foodstuff: grapes, grain, raw sugar, tree bark, horse milk and more. College students in the developed world drink it; so do day labourers in the world’s poorest slums and villages. All moonshine has two characteristics: it is highly alcoholic, and it is illegal. Kevin R. Kosar tells the colourful history of moonshine with characters that range from crusading lawmen, earnest farmers and clever tinkerers, to vicious smugglers and ruthless gangsters; from pontificating poets and sneaky swamp-rats, to adolescents looking for a thrill.
I picked up a copy of this book at the airport in Traverse City, Michigan, where, funny enough, I was attending a conference on alcohol regulation. Boy, I am glad I did.
Edward Butts did a fine job of putting together 23 chapters on drinks smuggling around the Great Lakes. The tales of mischief and intrepid dealing start in the 1690s when the scoundrel Antoine Laumet de la Mothe de Cadillac smuggled brandy about Lake Huron and Michigan. Butts carries the reader forward to the 1930s and the mayhem wrought by Al Capone, the Purple Gang, and other brutes who would do anything for a buck—be it selling toxic drinks or murdering those who interfered.
The cast of characters is quite something: Joyous Jenny, Gentleman Charlies Mills, and the “Pistol Packin’ Parson” J.Q.L. Spracklin. The structure of the book as a collection of free-standing yarns means you can pick it up and dip into it whenever you like. Keep it on your nightstand, in your desk at work, or on a shelf in your loo.
Outlaws of the Lakes is an enjoyable piece of amateur history, and has some great illustrations in it. For anyone interested in true crime tales or the lesser-known aspects of Prohibition history, this book will be a treat. Copies can be purchased online here.
Want to learn to homebrew? Then get this book. The author, Daniel Ironside, is an experienced homebrewer. The book lays out in straightforward and lucid prose the what and how of making beer from the simplest recipes (Summertime Blonde) to more complex iterations (Munich Dunkel).
Critically (yes. we’re serious), you can open this book and set it on the counter and it will stay open—which is important when you are stirring wort.
The craft beer scene in Ohio is getting better and better. One sign of it’s impressive growth is this: a book has been written on it. Rick Armon reports:
“Ohio’s Craft Beers ($18.95, Black Squirrel Books, an imprint of Kent State University Press) is available now or will be soon at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores. The 243-page book profiles more than 40 of Ohio’s larger and influential breweries, offering the backstory of each and recommending beers to try. It features more than 125 color photographs taken by Gaston, a foreword by Smokehouse Brewing Co. owner Lenny Kolada, and many sidebars on tasting rooms, “starter” beers and other recommendations….” (Read more at Ohio.com)
“It should not be forgotten,” writes historian Ellen NicKenzie Lawson, “that one possible derivation of the word Manhattan is the Native-American word manahachtanienk, which translates as ‘place of general inebriation.'” It thus should not surprise that when the federal government imposed Prohibition, New York City became the nation’s biggest scofflaw.
Drinking was a normal daily activity for many city dwellers. The poor drank in rough taverns and the working classes in beer saloons. The rich and learned had opulent clubs like the Union Club (est. 1836) and Century Association (est. 1847) where they could knock back Madeira, Champagne and anything else their bellies desired.
When Prohibition first hit the city in 1920, Mayor John F. Hylan shrugged. “I have never been a drinker or a smoker,” he told a crowd. “But that does not mean I am for Prohibition. I believe in personal freedom.”
Voters replaced Hylan in 1925 with a boozier pol. Jimmy Walker was a carouser and a drinker, whose nocturnal gallivanting earned him the moniker “the night mayor.” Walker advocated policies to make some drinking licit. When that failed, he ignored Prohibition and shamelessly hung out in speakeasies, celebrating the night. But it wasn’t all fun and games during the time of teetotalism. Prohibition unleashed mayhem in Manhattan, as Lawson richly details in “Smugglers, Bootleggers, and Scofflaws” (SUNY Press).
To understand why, one need only consider the basic economics of the matter. Outlawing the supply of goods and services does not demand for those things disappear. Supply instead shifts from licit producer and sellers to illicit ones, who will fight among themselves for market share. The quality of the product may decline, as firms can’t be held unaccountable by either the government or customers.
So it was that the city became riven with gangs, who formed complex syndicates that trafficked in smuggled, illicitly produced and often toxic alcoholic beverages. With 30,000 speakeasies operating and millions of bottles and kegs of drink being consumed, one can only imagine how immense was the untaxed wealth flowing into the pockets of thugs like Big Bill Dwyer and Lucky Luciano.
Manhattan and its fellow boroughs — Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island — are surrounded by water. Massive amounts of liquor and other strong drinks slipped into the city via ships like the Mazel Tov, which deposited lord-only-knows-how-much liquor. The tugs, barges, tankers and speedboats were joined by trucks and automobiles, which hauled hooch over the spans of new bridges built in the previous few decades. Trains also brought intoxicating drinks to town. Surveying the insanity in 1932, abstemious titan John D. Rockefeller, wrote:
“When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.”
New York City was greatly relieved in 1933. Prohibition was abolished, in part, due to the machinations of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (a New Yorker). Legal drinking establishments rapidly opened across the city and the speakeasies died off. The hoodlums shifted into other rackets, with so little moonshine in demand. The prices for drinks went down and the quality went up. People were happy.
The 21st Amendment, to its credit, carved back the federal government’s role in alcohol policy. Its major downside was that it immensely empowered states to regulate the trade of alcohol, an arrangement that runs headfirst into the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3). Like most states, New York erected all sorts of protectionist, anti-trade and often corrupt policies that inhibit the free trade of alcohol among the states, to say nothing of within them. That, however, is a subject for another day.
“It should not be forgotten,” writes historian Ellen NicKenzie Lawson, “that one possible derivation of the word Manhattan is the Native-American word Manahachtanienk, which translates as ‘place of general inebriation.'”
So, when politicians in Washington, DC decided to impose Prohibition on the nation, New York City became the biggest scofflaw. The town openly and brazenly disobeyed the teetotalism, as Lawson richly details in Smugglers, Bootleggers, and Scofflaws (SUNY Press, 2013).
To tell the story, Dr. Lawson worked through heaps of original records—some 90 boxes of materials held in the National Archives. She discovered some amazing things, and brings to light facts you will not find in other histories of Prohibition.
Prohibition unleashed mayhem in Manhattan, where drinking was a daily habit for many denizens. To understand why, one need only consider the basic economics of the matter. Demand for a good will not disappear by abolishing the legal market for it. Supply will simply shift from licit producers and sellers to illicit ones, who will fight among themselves for market share. The quality of the product may decline, as a firms are unable to be held unaccountable by either the government or customers.
So it was that the Big City became riven with gangs, who formed complex syndicates that trafficked smuggled and illicitly produced (and often toxic) alcoholic beverages. With 30,000 speakeasies operating and millions of bottles and kegs of drink being consumed, one can only imagine the immensity of the untaxed wealth flowing into the pockets of thugs like Big Bill Dwyer and Lucky Luciano.