V is for Volstead Act | Devil's Peak Brewing Beer Glossary

V is for Volstead Act

V is for Volstead Act

A fate worse than death. All of the delicious craft beer you’ve come to  know and love – every drop of it – has been transformed into contraband. What’s worse? Everybody surrounding South Africa is still sucking down Blockhouse like it’s going out of style. Devil’s Peak has been forced to set up shop in Namibia. Zim, Botswana, Mozambique – they’re drinking craft beer like kings . . . as is the rest of the world.

But here’s South Africa – beerless.

This is what the people of the United States faced on January 16th, 1920. The Volstead Act was signed, becoming the 18th Amendment to the constitution. And it wasn’t just beer, it was all alcohol. No more lazy days in the wine farms. No more ruckus nights with brandy and Coke.

In the previous ten years the Temperance Campaign, organised largely by women, had already managed to secure the banning of liquor in 25 states, but it was the signing of the Volstead Act that sealed the fate of an entire nation.

What’s more, it also divided the nation in a way it had not seen since the Civil War. Drys vs wets. Abstainers vs those who would imbibe.

Organised crime skyrocketed as gangs scrambled to supply an unending demand for booze, and the Federal Prohibition Agents fought a never-ending and fruitless war to stop them.

But can prohibition be tied to the widespread marketing and consumption of lagers and light lagers? Did it kill “real beer”?

The answer, surprisingly, is no.

As Germans immigrated into the United States during the mid 1800’s, they brought with them the spirit of their beer-rich homeland. They also brought the knowledge of brewing world class lagers . . . and a thirst to drink them! By the start of the 20th century, over 20 years before the Volstead Act, America’s appetite for lagers had grown to eclipse that of ales.

When prohibition ended in 1933, the demand for lager had not changed. The use of corn and rice in beer production continued, but this was already common practice in the late 19th and early 20th century.

So it wasn’t prohibition that killed the ale. It wasn’t big beer that forced “adjuncts” into lagers to cut corners. It was the drinking public’s demand for a product they enjoyed.

How would you have handled prohibition? Speakeasies? Homebrewing? Or would you have been a law-abiding citizen and given up the golden drink for good?

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