Interesting that almost every homebrewer can tell you when homebrewing was once again legalized. Through the efforts of Senator Alan Cranston from California, President Jimmy Carter signed a bill in 1978 that brought legal status to homebrewing in 1979; but most homebrewers are unaware of the particulars that ended homebrewing during Prohibition. In actuality, it was not homebrewing per se that was criminalized, it was the way that malt syrup (extract) could be labeled and advertised that was altered…
From Beer & Food: An American History by Bob Skilnik;
By 1927, the malt extract industry found itself under increased pressure from Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, Lincoln C. Andrews, who decided to take on the industry for what he believed were abuses being practiced by the thousands of Malt-and-Hop shops throughout the country. Andrews took particular umbrage with “…Malt-and-Hops shops who display in their show windows together with Malt Syrup, complete paraphernalia for making a home beverage.” Feeling the political heat, the malt syrup trade association set up eight self-governing regulations to police the sale of their products and passed these on to the Prohibition Department for its approval. This acquiescence by the malt syrup industry ended the ambiguous legal status of homebrewing until President Jimmy Carter signed a bill into law in 1978 that firmly legalized the practice in early 1979. The regulations for the sale and advertising of malt syrup were as follows:
Pertaining to the sale of Malt Syrup adopted by the National Trade Associations and now OK’d by the Prohibition Department.Under the provisions of Section 18, Title II of the Volstead Act:
(a) The possession or distribution of any formula, direction or recipe for the manufacture of intoxicating liquor is prohibited;
(b) The sale of any substance, advertised, designed or intended for use in the manufacture of intoxicating liquor is prohibited. The question of whether or not a product is being sold for use in the manufacture of intoxicating liquor is determined largely, if not entirely, from the labels appearing upon the product and the advertising used in connection with its sale. If from such labels or advertising, it is apparent that it is the intention of the seller that the product shall be used in the manufacture of intoxicating liquor, then its sale becomes a violation of the section above quoted regardless of whether the product is actually used in the manufacture of intoxicating liquor or not. The assembling and sale of malt syrup, hops and gelatin in one package has been condemned by the Treasury Department in that it tends to establish the intent of the seller that the product be used in the manufacture of prohibited beverages, and the sale of such composite package must be stopped immediately. The advertising, sale or gift of yeast, corn sugar or gelatin in connection with the sale of malt syrup tends to establish the purpose for which the product is being sold and such sale ~ advertising or gift must be discontinued immediately. So that there may be no inference gathered from the labels or advertising that the product is being sold for anything except food purposes, we make the following recommendations in regard to the labels and advertising used in connection with the sale of malt syrup:
1st: Labels and advertising should contain no language that in any manner refers to beverages or that the product may be used in the manufacture of a prohibited beverage;
2nd: Labels and advertising should contain no cuts, figures or designs that by inference or otherwise convey the idea that the product is intended for or may be used in the manufacture of a prohibited beverage; 3rd: All names formerly used in connection with the sale of intoxicating beverages, such as “Bock” “Stout” “Porter” must be eliminated from labels and advertising;4th: All names which embrace or include the word “brew” (whether in the English, German or any other language) or which convey the idea, either directly or indirectly, that the product is intended for brewing purposes, must be eliminated from labels and advertising;5th: All cuts of stems, mugs, breweries, or brewery equipment, must be eliminated from all labels and advertising;6th: Any and all language, which either directly or indirectly conveys the idea that the product may be used in the manufacture of a prohibited beverage must be stricken from labels and advertising;7th: All such expressions as “no boil” “no fuss” “no muss’s” “no odor” “ready for use” must be eliminated from all labels and advertising.8th: All warnings appearing on labels or in advertising wherein the purchaser is warned against the use of the product in the manufacture of an intoxicating beverage must be stricken there from.
Cooking With Malt Extract
Since the legal restrictions, written by the malt industry and approved by the federal government, left open a gaping loophole that still allowed the manufacture and sale of malt extract for “food purposes,” the government was able to turn their heads from the real purpose of malt syrup while the manufacture of malt extract continued. But this move also gave the malt syrup trade association, aka, the brewers, a second chance to get their product not only back into American households, but into their kitchens too. Knowingly or not, the introduction of malt syrup into food recipes by the deposed breweries established the first step for why there’s probably a beer or two in your refrigerator right now.
The malt syrup ruling was finalized in 1927, but already the taste for Prohibition was waning. The $50 million yearly cost for the unsuccessful efforts to stop bootlegging was accumulating, with no visible returns. Hundreds of millions of dollars of lost tax revenue from the drink trade were affecting cities, states, and the federal government. Al Smith, who had narrowly missed his second push for the 1924 Democratic Party nomination for president, was a known “wet” advocate. In 1927, Smith’s third push for the party’s nomination the following year was a given. His populist position on the repeal of National Prohibition was a reflection of a growing distain by the American public of the “Noble Experiment.” If Repeal could be seen in the horizon, this time the brewing industry would need to be ready to get beer back into the house again—and keep it there.
In 1928, the Jos. Schlitz Beverage Company published Schlitz Malt Syrup in the Home, a thirty-two-page pamphlet of food recipes using malt syrup that also managed to boast of the patriotic role that malt syrup had assumed during the sugar-rationing days of World War I. Other malt syrup firms followed with their own recipe renditions. The product was ignored as a kitchen aid in the earliest days of Prohibition, utilized instead for homebrewing after the reality of no legal beer had set in. To further the argument that the syrup was indeed an item for cooking, the booklet came with the endorsement of Jessie De Both, a “nationally known dietician” and Director and General Manager of De Both Home Makers’ Schools. De Both attested that “I have reviewed the recipes appearing in this booklet, and found them correct as to volume and proportions. I have also found that by including Schlitz Malt Syrup in these food combinations, the flavor and nutritive value is enhanced considerably.” Schlitz was still ascribing to the old nutritional benefit position, even listing its malt syrup’s caloric value of ninety per ounce, adding that “This is equivalent to 1 oz. of honey, or 1 ¼ oz. of wheat bread, or 1 ¼ oz. of sirloin steak, or 5 oz. of whole milk.”
By 1929, there still seemed to be some confusion as to the legitimacy of malt syrup, even if purportedly used solely for home cooking purposes. The Best Malt Products Company of Chicago, formerly the Best Brewing Company, made note of the public’s supposed confusion, especially concerning the use of hopped malt syrup, in a small fold-out food recipe pamphlet that the company published that year. “The government says that ‘no action prohibiting the sale of Hop-Flavored Malt Syrup is being contemplated,’” the pamphlet assured readers on its back page.
Since 1927, when the regulations of how malt syrup could be labeled and advertised were instituted, it appears that the malt syrup industry itself was still unsure as to how to proceed. The booklet noted that the two-year span between implementation of the regulations and the publishing of the recipes “…was probably the most unstable period in the history of the malt syrup industry…” The fact that Best Malt Products was also the largest private-label manufacturer of malt syrup for wholesalers and retailers probably prompted the company’s full-page explanation of the legality of continued sales of malt syrup.
One has to question, however, whether or not the malt industry was sincere in providing food recipes using their products to keep malt syrup sales up or simply to have provided them as a subterfuge while their products continued to make its way into homebrewing vessels.
Gussie Busch of St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch reportedly had his own idea of food recipes that used A-B’s malt syrups. “You could no more eat the malt syrup cookies. They were so bitter…,” he claimed years after Prohibition. Then why continue with such a culinary charade? “If you really want to know, we ended up as the biggest bootlegging supply house in the United States.”
COMING NEXT: Cooking With Malt Extracts