Return of booze welcomed back years agoBy Rob Carrigan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Drinking Coloradans, of age, haven’t worried about being on the wrong side of the law for the last eight decades now. Angel’s Share or the Devil’s Cut, there is no need to call for the police. Thanks to the Repeal of Prohibition, we have been mostly legal since Sept. 26, 1933.
A few of the breweries survived prohibition (Coors, for example.) Others reopened (Tivoli) and craft brewing, in last 20 years, has taken on new life here in Colorado. More than 10 percent of the nation’s craft breweries can be found in Colorado — impressive, given that the state is home to less than 2 percent of the country’s population. Colorado may have as many as 300 breweries. Additionally, we have wineries, distilleries, meaderies and gin joints.
“Locally produced moonshine — known variously as Sugar Moon, so named because it was cooked up from Colorado’s plentiful supply of sugar beets, and inexpensive, cask-conditioned Leadville Moon, made, it was rumored, using black powder and old miners’ overalls — was readily available, literally on many street corners. Newsboys for the News and The Denver Times (owned by the same management) offered customers their illicit products so openly that their pro-dry rival, The Post, was moved to complain in a headline: “A Bottle of Booze with Every News.”
But if distillation and filtration are done improperly, it can contain highly toxic methanol or traces of lead from the still. Symptoms include abdominal pain, anemia, renal failure, hypertension, blindness, and death,” wrote Denver Post bloggers in The Spot, on the 80th anniversary of repeal.
“Moonshine’s physical dangers aside, voters had a love/hate relationship with Prohibition. By the mid-1920s, public attitudes favoring Prohibition began to change. There was an increasing realization that Prohibition was costing the country jobs and tax revenues.
By early 1932, it was becoming clear to the public and to bootleggers that Prohibition was on its way out. The dry spell ended with 3.2 beer, a tentative preamble to the coming of total repeal. At 12:01 am on Friday, April 7, 1933, the first cases rolled out of the Coors brewery in Golden, Colorado, marking the end of years of “drought” for American beer drinkers. Full repeal loosed a tidal wave of consumption of full-strength beer in December 1933. It was as though a booze dam had burst, it was reported in The Spot.
Prohibition or “the long dry spell’ came early to all of Colorado, and in some communities here, booze was illegal even before that.
"Along with six other states, Colorado passed prohibition three years before most of the rest of the nation, led largely by a crusade of religious leaders and women voters,” wrote Michael Madigan in “Heroes, Villains, Dames & Disasters: 150 Years of Front-Page Stories from the Rocky Mountain News."
“It was estimated that 1,615 saloons and dramshops and 12 breweries were immediately put out of business.”
Personally, I don’t think I could ever forgive such nonsense, and perhaps, like thousands of others, would have sought “alternatives.”
But other “dry” cities struggled with the question long before that. Colorado Springs for example outlawed liquor from day one.
“City founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer had forbidden liquor from being made or sold anywhere in the city,” noted a Dave Phillips of the Colorado Springs Gazette in an article a few years ago.
“Palmer wanted to create an attractive, orderly city that would appeal to new settlers, as opposed to some of the wilder communities in the West with there saloons,” the Gazette article quoted Matt Mayberry of the Colorado Spring Pioneers Museum. “But people still want their alcohol and will come up with inventive ways to get around the law.”
Enter the practice of using booze as medicine.
With a prescription from a doctor, a ‘patient’ was allowed to buy a quart of whiskey.
According to most reports, many a resident in the town suffered from ‘snake bite’ and required a dose from the pharmacy.
“More people are bitten by snakes than in any town of this size I know of,” noted a writer for the Pueblo Chieftain in the 1880s of its Northern neighbor. “It is a little remarkable with what facility a man can get a prescription for snakebite in such a temperance town.”
By the turn of the century, many of the local pharmacies in Colorado Springs had dispensed with the formality of a doctor’s prescription and were quietly pouring drinks at fountain counters. Perhaps you would be required to order a ‘nectar’ or ‘wild strawberry’ by code word but the concoction was generally familiar and refreshing when it arrived from the ‘jerk.’
The profits involved allowed pharmacy owners to pay any steep fines, or legal fees to keep the business rolling and the liquor flowing in most cases.
But by the first of January, 1916, the entire state was once again legally prohibited from selling spirits.
“Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Boulder, Cripple Creek and all the mountain and other towns went dry at midnight without ceremony,” according to the front page of the Rocky Mountain News. “Most saloons closed their doors before the final hour.”
And in Denver proper. “Toward midnight an immense throng gathered on Curtis Street and other streets in the downtown business section, tooted horns and in other ways welcomed in the New Year.”
The same article observed however that some folks were prone to skirt such laws.
“Meanwhile, the citizens who were loath to break ancient habits with the stroke of the clock were well provided. For days gurgling packages have accompanied the homeowner to the legal security of his cellar.”
The “honor” of being the first drunk arrested on January 1, 1916, belonged to either John Hanson, forty-nine, a laborer (he was The Post’s nominee), or Charles Robbins, thirty-eight, a farmer from Longmont (chosen by the News). Hanson drew a round of applause from other prisoners when he was led into jail. Three young men, taking advantage of an exception in the law that prohibited drinking in public places but not on public sidewalks, sat on the curb at Sixteenth and California streets in the heart of downtown and shared a large stein of beer, reported the Spot.
1. A man sits near a moonshine still in Anton Herbenich's home in Pueblo, Colorado. The still consists of a covered metal container, pipes, and barrels. Bottles and jars of liquor are arranged on a counter.
2. A group of men wearing suits and hats stand near a large still and barrels of liquor near Greeley (Weld County), Colorado. One man leans his arm on a pile of sacks with labels reading: "100 lbs, Cerelose, Product Refining Co., New York, U.S.A."
3. View southeast over the Adolph Coors Company brewery plant, Golden, Colorado, shows multi-story buildings, dark smoke pours from the tall smokestack, railroad freight boxcars and rooftop sign: "Coors Pure Malted Milk." Coors was the world's largest producer of malted milk during the Prohibition era. Slope of South Table Mountain shows on right.