Our Yankee cousins south of the 49th parallel have reason to celebrate this month.
Yes, gentle reader, April 7 marked the festival of New Beer’s Eve, so named for being that glorious day way back in 1933 that was the end of Prohibition in the USA. Much like the lineups of today for a new iPad or Star Trek movie, the thirsty folk of the American public lined up for hours, waiting for the saloons and public houses to throw open their doors at exactly midnight on April 7.
As you might imagine, there was much rejoicing on the streets in the lead-up to midnight, which is how the night became known as New Beer’s Eve, marking the first (legal) drink those fine upstanding citizens had enjoyed for 13 long years.
There might have even been a few revelers enjoying a bit of their illicit hooch, as clandestine local liquor production was rampant, as was smuggling in hooch across the Canadian and Mexican borders.
In fact, the Detroit River separating Windsor (Ontario) from Detroit was the busiest rum-running location between Canada and the USA, with up to 75% of the booze smuggled in from Canada crossing the border at this point.
Seagrams and Hiram Walker were two Ontario distillers who became very wealthy providing clandestine shipments of whisky across the border. Many a Canadian fisherman would supplement his income with the occasional midnight jaunt across the water with a boat full of whisky, eagerly received by the waiting bootleggers on the American side.
Some of the shipments were not clandestine at all, as there were many members of the US Coast Guard who would look the other way when incentivized with just a few bottles of hooch.
Seagrams did particularly well in 1933, as they had a huge inventory of well-aged Canadian whisky ready and waiting for American consumers as soon as Prohibition was repealed. Since whisky takes so long to age, it was several years before the American distilleries were able to produce even a drop for their own thirsty market.
Faithful readers may recall that your humble narrator has made no secret of his disdain for the fizzy yellow water they try to pass off as beer on the south side of the border.
However, in the spirit of unity to all our fellow boozers, your intrepid liquor reporter was able to secure a small shipment of Yuengling Traditional Lager, from the oldest operating brewery in the USA.
The Yuengling name is an anglicized version of Jüngling, the surname of the German immigrant who started the brewery way back in 1829. The brewery has been handed down from father to son, and is currently in the 5th generation of family ownership, with the 6th generation already being groomed for succession.
Despite its odd name, the Yuengling (pronounced ying-ling) brewery is so popular that it is forced to limit its geographic distribution, because local demand consumes 100% of their production capacity of 4.2 million hectolitres. To give you an idea of scale, that is nearly ten times the size of Calgary’s own Big Rock.
Mentally preparing myself for the occasion, I had this fine example of a historic US beer locked away in the cellar awaiting New Beer’s Eve, patiently waiting until the stroke of midnight to crack it open to celebrate the end of Prohibition, or what Winston Churchill famously referred to as an affront to the whole history of mankind.
Despite the best intentions of waiting until midnight for historical accuracy before cracking it open to celebrate the end of Prohibition, your intrepid liquor reporter must admit that impatience got the better of him, and got an illicit thrill from sipping a few drams from my private whisky reserve in order to set the mood.
Perhaps that impatience was well-founded, as those thirsty imbibers that laboured under the dry yoke of oppression for 13 long years were also known to flout government meddling into their preferred tipple, and slip in a wee sip of the hooch when the urge struck them as well.
Your humble narrator will try to show more restraint next month, when he celebrates the upcoming 90th anniversary of the end of Prohibition in Alberta, but sometimes that delicious liquor just calls out for me to drink it.