Next time you’re out drinking with friends, propose a trivia question to them: How many years long was Prohibition?
A couple years, most of them will guess. Someone might even be bold and say five or so. The real answer? Over 13.
Unbelievably, from January 17th, 1920 until December 5th, 1933, the production, sale, and transport of alcohol was banned in the U.S. of A., though actual drinking never was. Still, this was obviously debilitating for many of our country’s breweries, distilleries, and wineries. In fact, pre-Prohibition, America counted some 2,000 distilleries, over 4,000 breweries, and a wine industry finally beginning to blossom. A few years after Prohibition was repealed, there were only a few producers of each left in the entire land. It would take our modern “craft” revival of the past decade or two for the ranks to once again get boosted to more lofty numbers (we’re back to around 1,000 distilleries and 5,000 breweries).
Still, how often have you seen an old brewery or distillery claim they’ve been around since eighteen-hundred-whatever, producing their product before Prohibition—and still producing it afterward? What exactly were they doing for those thirteen years in between?
Some were sitting on the asses, or even forced to disband. Others were making cereals, soft drinks, and ice cream. But you might be surprised to know, many were also producing alcohol (or alcohol-ish products). Amazingly, these were done in mostly above-board ways—think DIY kits—with business exploiting loopholes that, while legal, went against the spirit of the ban. As you can imagine, very few customers were complaining.
Here is a look at a few ways breweries, distilleries and wineries—some you might still know of today—outsmarted the Volstead Act and Prohibition to keep America tipsy.