12/07/2008

Prohibition Genealogy

I'll be the first to admit that it sometimes takes me longer to put 2 and 2 together than it takes the average person. But how did I miss making the connection that my grandparents were kids during prohibition? I knew they were kids throughout the depression (1929-1939), but somehow failed to realize that this meant they were kids during prohibition (1920-1933). I just looked it up in the family genealogy... Grandpa L was born in 1922, Grandma L in 1925, and Grandma F was born in 1916.

I asked Grandpa and Grandma L about it yesterday, and they both had memories of prohibition. Specifically, the had memories of how their families flouted the law. Let me refresh our collective memories. The 18th ammendment prohibited "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors", which was basically anything with ethanol in it, with a few exceptions which I haven't bothered looking up.

And how did my proud American ancestors react to this restriction of their ability to purchase beer, wine, brandy and schnaaps? Well, my Grandpa's family brewed their own beer in the basement. Grandpa didn't remember, but I'm guessing this involved malt syrup, water and bread yeast. Probably not the tastiest thing ever, but apparently palatable enough. Grandma's family took a different approach, possibly because they had a source a few doors down where they could buy the distilled stuff. I'd guess the difference was a cultural one, though. Grandpa's lineage is german, so beer was the object, with brandy and schnaaps viewed more as window dressing. Grandma comes from Polish stock, more oriented to vodka. Whatever bathtub hooch the guy down the street had must have fit the bill nicely.

I'll have to see if I can find out what Grandma F's family did during prohibition. They're Norwegian-descended, so their alcoholic heritage would have combined farmhouse brewing and flavored spirits. On the other hand, her granddad moonlighted as a lay preacher, so maybe illicit liquor wasn't an option. I'll let you know if I find out.

1 comment:

BA said...

My grandfather said that his parents had two barrels of wine in the basement. They drank one while the other aged. Living on a farm they turned anything sweet and fermentable into wine. He still makes wine but unfortunately he likes it so sweet that even when mixed with 7up I can hardly drink it. He uses bread yeast. One time I got him some wine yeast from the homebrewing store. But he makes it so loaded with suger and is impatient in letting it ferment. He bottled it too soon and all the bottles exploded. Too bad, if he had waited it would have had a lot of alcohol.

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