19 Sep Retro Indy: From Breweries To Bootlegging
Competition came in 1863 in the form of the Pete Lieber Brewery on Madison Ave. The Casper Maus Brewery on West New York Street came in 1868.
The three breweries joined forces in 1889 to form the Indianapolis Brewing Company and began exporting beer to Canada and Cuba.
Whether small or large operations, there were at least 18 breweries operating in Indianapolis and they were turning out brews called Duesseldorfer, Lieber’s Gold Medal Beer, Indiana Club Pilsner Style, Imperial and Duselager. In brewing terms, the industry “bloomed” until Indiana became a dry state in 1918 – well before Congress passed the Volstead Act Oct 27, 1919.
This wasn’t the first time the state struggled with alcohol. In 1790, the sale of liquor to soldiers was prohibited as was the sale to Native Americans. The temperance movement gained steam in the mid-nineteenth century with the formation of several orders and societies that exposed the evils of drink.
Prohibition was the death knell for Indiana breweries and it never seemed to recover from it following the repeal in 1933.
But prohibition didn’t stop the production of alcohol – it just drove it underground. Liquor was made from sometimes lethal concoction of denatured alcohol, flavoring and water and was sold out of houses, hotels and restaurant back rooms called “Blind Tigers”. Bootleggers produced “white mule” whisky, bathtub gin and hooch that would make your hair stand on end. Improperly distilled “rotgut” could cause paralysis, blindness or death.
A bad batch of liquor could land you in the emergency room or a jail cell if you were selling or producing it. Raids and arrests at speakeasies were numerous and in some cases the street literally flowed with alcohol. A May 26, 1920 Indianapolis Star article reported that “150 gallons of various liquor were seized” and dumped in the sewer. News reports accounted arrests, trials, police runs, hospital calls all related to illegal alcohol sales, but Indianapolis appears to have been spared the organized crime that plagued the country during Prohibition.
The 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution to repeal Prohibition passed December 5, 1933.
As Al Capone once said, “Prohibition has made nothing but trouble.”