Did The FBI Poison Innocent People During Prohibition?

Why yes, yes they did. Shocking, isn’t it. I wrote about this a few years ago, in Poisoning People During Prohibition: A Disturbing Parable, when Deborah Blum’s book The Poisoner’s Handbook was published. She detailed the story there, as did a few other news outlets at the time. But I bring it up again because one of the YouTube channels my son Porter subscribes to, Alltime Conspiracies, posted a video about this dark tale in our history. It’s entitled Did The FBI Poison Innocent People?, and details how over the final seven years of Prohibition, our government in effect murdered over 10,000 Americans in the name of stopping people from drinking illegal alcohol.

Popular Is As Popular Does

A variation of “stupid is as stupid does,” either works, as far as I’m concerned. Because this is a stupid type of study that keeps going around and pretending to be scientific and valuable, of which it appears to be neither. The latest one of these, entitled Beverage- and brand-specific binge alcohol consumption among underage youth in the US, appeared in the May edition of the Journal of Substance Use (although the Post’s infographic mis-identifies the source as the “Journal of Substance Abuse,” which ceased publication in 2002). What it “found,” is that when underage youth drink, and binge drink (a ridiculously defined term), they drink popular brands of alcohol, from which they draw sinister conclusions. Here’s how the Washington Post reported the the absurd conclusions drawn in What underage drinkers drink when they binge drink:

“The most important finding is that the phenomenon of binge drinking among our youth is extremely brand specific,” Dr. Michael Siegel, professor at Boston University School of Public Health and one of the study’s authors, said in an interview. “For the first time we’ve found the brands that are most responsible for binge drinking among our nation’s youth.”

For the first time? Seriously? This sort of “study” has been done before, as I detailed last year in New Study Concludes Kids Drink Same Beers As Adults, in which I found it’s been done previous to that one, as well. It’s not exactly groundbreaking, or new.


Perhaps most obnoxious is Alcohol Justice, who naturally has been tweeting with their usual glee anything that they believe shows alcohol in a negative light. Here’s how they characterized it:

What underage drinkers drink when they binge drink http://wapo.st/1u1V76Y Spoiler alert: BEER.”

So what’s especially annoying about that, is that while beer is indeed number one on the list, of the 25 brands listed, only 8 are beers, or only 32%. And even by the total percentage, the eight beer brands are 44%, less than half. Then there’s the fact that the spirits and wine are, on average, much higher in alcohol than beer, so comparing straight percentages skews the actual amount of alcohol consumed. If we adjusted this for the amount of alcohol in each, and thus how much alcohol was consumed, the amount of beer would likely plummet to an even smaller percentage of the whole. So by virtually every measure, beer is not the biggest culprit, yet Alcohol Justice singles it out with typical ignobility by saying “Spoiler alert: BEER.” Yet it’s not really beer, if you bother to actually look at the data. In the abstract of the actual study, even the conclusion of the researchers is that “binge drinking among youth is most commonly involves spirits [sic].” But Alcohol Justice ignores that — reading is hard, after all — and targets beer once more.

Of course, the data itself is questionable, too. According to the abstract, it was compiled via “[a]n Internet panel [that] was used to obtain a sample of 1032 underage youth aged 13–20, who drank alcohol in the last 30 d. For each brand consumed, youth reported drinking quantity and frequency, and whether they engaged in binge drinking with that brand (≥5 drinks for males and ≥4 for females). Each youth reporting binge drinking with a brand constituted a binge drinking report.” So they put up an internet poll and asked kids to report on their own illegal activity. How scientific. How could anything go wrong?

But it’s especially the conclusions they draw from them that seem absurd. For example, as was found in the previous study I reported on, Bud Light was the brand most often chosen. But Bud Light is, of course, the best-selling brand of beer in the U.S., a fact you’d think the researchers would be aware of. You don’t need a slide rule to figure why the beer that most of their parents are buying, might also be the one their kids are drinking, too. The same is true for just about every brand on the list, all very popular ones, the best-sellers in their individual categories. So you’d expect that they’d be the same brands consumed by our youth, especially if they’re taking them from their parents or other adults’ stashes. It’s the most obvious reason. Even if minors are asking adults to buy them some booze, the more popular brands would be the ones most readily available and sold by the most retailers. But the obvious answers seem to always elude the scientists, who seem more interested in making tenuous, off-the-wall but apparently agenda-supporting conclusions.

But even if we assumed that beer was number one, so what? In terms of both volume and sales, beer outsells every other adult beverage by a wide margin. So why wouldn’t that be across the board, including underage drinking, too. Why would they appear to be surprised that the best-selling type of alcohol, as well as the best-selling brand of beer, are also the most popular among minors?

And they seem to do the same thing with the others, too. So instead of recognizing that Jack Daniels in the best-selling whiskey (the chart incorrectly calls it bourbon, which I’m not sure means the researchers or the Post don’t know what they’re talking about), they instead go down the road less traveled of bizarre reasoning.

The list of the most popular alcohol brands among America’s heavy-drinking youth might appear somewhat disjointed at first glance. Some of them, after all, are difficult to comprehend — Jack Daniel’s bourbons [sic], for one, is significantly more expensive than other lower shelf whiskeys, and yet ranks as the second most popular brand across all spirits and beers. But there’s actually a reasonably clear thread that could be tying them all together: millions upon millions of dollars in marketing.

“Why are these brands the most popular? Is there something in their marketing? There could be messages in their marketing efforts that are encouraging the use of these not just by youths but also in excess,” Siegel said. “We need to take a closer look at the marketing practices of these larger brands.”

Yup, kids choose them because of “millions upon millions of dollars in marketing,” not because they’re already the most popular brands, or because their parents drink them and so are in their homes, or because they’re the brands available for sale at the most places. Yes, you could argue that it’s marketing that built and now maintains their popularity, but that some malicious scheme will be revealed by “tak[ing] a closer look at the marketing practices of these larger brands” is completely absurd. When you go looking for a bogeyman, that’s what you find, especially when you ignore the simple, logical answers and try to find something more complicated. Because it seems like they’re going out of their way to ignore the obvious in favor of finding something to blame alcohol companies for.

Another reason to suspect this study is about promoting an agenda is something they state in “Background and objectives.” They begin their “study” with this underlying premise. “Binge drinking is a common and risky pattern of alcohol consumption among youth.” But as even the NIH admits, “[s]ince 2007, alcohol use and heavy drinking have shown appreciable declines in national surveys of middle and high school students. One study found that 12th-grade alcohol use declined from 66.4 percent to 62 percent in 2013, with a similar downward trend seen in eighth- and 10th-graders.”

And finally, in the Post article’s conclusion, author Roberto A. Ferdman, whose beat is “food policy, consumer business, and Latin American economics,” really shows what he doesn’t know about beer and its history, with this. “Currently, national and state-level policies aimed at curbing underage drinking are more focused on the point of purchase and consumption than on the time of potential indoctrination that precedes them.” Hardly. The moment prohibition ended, prohibitionist organizations began targeting advertising regulations to limit where, when and how alcohol could be advertised, along with where it could be sold, to whom, and all manner of other restrictions intended to do anything they could to limit it, figuring it was the next best thing if they couldn’t outlaw it outright. And they’ve been crying about that very issue ever since, incessantly trying to move the needle to limit “the time of potential indoctrination that precedes” … “the point of purchase and consumption,” exactly what Ferdman seems to think has been ignored has been the number priority of prohibitionist strategies for over eighty years.

I find it amazing that these types of so-called “studies” — what are essentially internet polls — are taken seriously and that they find journals willing to publish them, in effect legitimizing them somewhat. Because if it’s in a journal, the mainstream media often just writes about it uncritically, taking them at face value. But more insidious, prohibitionist organizations, like the ever delightful Alcohol Justice, will distort then and even fabricate their already questionable findings to use in their own agenda, like saying it’s beer that’s the biggest culprit, when even the study does not say that.

Recent Addiction News Roundup

Regular readers know I frequently write about my belief that AA and other abstinence-only programs are doomed to fail and are not the way we should be approaching people with drinking problems. Here’s a couple of recent articles to add to the mounting evidence that our peculiar dogma about addiction is unraveling.

The first is Addicts Are Made, Not Born: And It’s Not the Drugs That Create Them, which was in SF Weekly. It covers a study done at Columbia University that concluded that the “[m]ost commonly held fears about meth are unfounded, just as they were with crack, just as they were with marijuana.”

“The science points to opportunity and surroundings as the key factors in determining who ends up ‘addicted.’ Provided choice, people will opt not to start on the road to being a fiend. Given nothing else to do, they may try drugs.” So we continue to attack the drugs, or the alcohol, but ignore the reasons people try them. Brilliant.

The second was in Psychology Today, entitled Failure as the Antidote to Addiction, which suggests that by never allowing kids to fail at anything, they never learn how to deal with adversity, or more importantly, overcome it. It seems like the same thing as with disease, where by keeping everything totally sterile and hygienic, we don’t build up the immunities to fight diseases when we encounter them.

The article features a school in Pennsylvania that’s letting kids fail at small tasks and then giving them the tools to learn from them.

Failure is an indispensable part of all innovation. When students design or build something and it fails, everyone can see that it failed; there is nothing abstract or removed about it. The most important part of the learning process is what happens next: trying to figure out why it failed and what can be done to fix it. This is how students learn to be resilient.

The other benefit is that students who learn to fail are less likely to become addicts later in life. Because “[a]ddicts react to challenges and failure by. . . you know. Somehow they failed to learn that failure is a necessary part of living, the only route to success, to coping, to dealing with the universe. And learning how to cope with failure can only occur when people, kids, encounter reality directly.”

I also think that’s why we need alcohol education, and not continue to have policies that keep kids away from alcohol or people drinking it. It, too, creates the same dangerous situation where they know nothing about the etiquette of drinking and end up bingeing in secret, which is far more dangerous, and which is also the whole point of the Amethyst Initiative.


What Breweries Did During Prohibition To Stay In Business

Here’s an interesting list from Mental Floss concerning something most of us rarely think about. What did the few American breweries that managed to keep the doors open during prohibition do? Some of the products they continued to make included.

  • Ice Cream
  • Pottery
  • Malt Extract
  • Dyes
  • Beer

But check out Mental Floss’ How Breweries Kept Busy During Prohibition for a fuller explanation.


Beer In Film #21: Prohibition: The Forgotten Crusade

Today’s beer video is a short film about prohibition and its effects. Entitled Prohibition: The Forgotten Crusade, it was created by Jared K. Productions. They originally uploaded it in 2007 but because it uses old footage, it looks much older than that, so when it was actually produced I can’t say.

Four Score and Seven Beers Ago

Today, of course, is the 80th anniversary of the repeal of prohibition, a.k.a. Repeal Day. Below is the original resolution from Congress, signed the following day.


You may recall that earlier this year was also the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. So I was goofing around this morning and modified Lincoln’s famous speech as a toast to the end of prohibition, which I titled “Four Score and Seven Beers Ago.” A score, to save you from checking Dictionary.com is 20 years, which is how long ago the 21st Amendment was ratified. Enjoy.

Four score and seven beers ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, the end of prohibition, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are entitled to a beer.

Now we are engaged in a great social war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met in a great brewery of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of this kettle, as a final resting place for the malt who here gave its life that that beer might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should toast this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this beer. The brave malt, hops and yeast, who fermented here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add more hops or filter it. The world will little note, nor long remember what beer we drank here, but it can never forget what they brewed here. It is for us the drinkers, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished beer which they who brewed here have thus far made with noble hops. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task of drinking more beer — that from these honored beers we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of hops — that we here highly resolve that these bottles shall not have been emptied in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom to drink beer — and that this beer of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Don’t read too much into it, again I was just goofing around with the words. I suppose it could be used as a toast if you were at a brewery, but otherwise, it’s just a little spoof, nothing more.


So join me in bridging time and drinking a toast to prohibition’s end, 80 years later, and, of course, stay wet, my friends. Happy Repeal Day.


Snacking Between Meals Leads to Alcoholism & Death

Before Prohibition became a reality, the prohibitionists used shameless propaganda to advance their cause, and it became increasingly absurd as time went on. When the temperance movement began in the 1830s, it was primarily against hard liquor, and beer was thought of as a drink of moderation, which by comparison it was. But over time, the movement became more and more intolerant of not just all alcohol, but many other things, such as coffee, pickles, pie, sugar, tea, and even meat. Abstinence itself became a goal. It became entirely fanatical, and in many cases was backed by religious factions and led by preachers. This transition is chronicled nicely in Jessica Warner’s “All or Nothing: A Short History of Abstinence in America.”

So by 1915, when this piece of propaganda was published, the prohibitionists were in the full flower of absurdity. It’s from a temperance program by evangelist Thomas F. Hubbard, published by the Wagoner Printing Company of Galesburg, Illinois. It’s showing how you could destroy the life of your son by being an “indulgent mother,” leading them down the path (or stairs) to “a drunkard’s grave.” So remember; never, ever be nice to your children. Just look what might happen.


See if you can follow the logic. If you allow your son to have a little food between meals, a.k.a. “a snack,” it will undoubtedly make him ill, causing you to ease his pain by giving him — gasp — medicine and “soothing syrups.” That, in turn, will undoubtedly lead you to let him eat too many pickles and pork (it’s always bacon’s fault) and “Mexicanized Dishes and pepper sauces,” you know … spices! But once he’s got a taste for flavor, he won’t be so easily satisfied anymore. Hot foods and the “other white meat” will, of course, lead your son to an indulgent life of rich pastry and candy, damn the luck. He’ll want to wash down all those sweet confectionaries with “tea, coffee and coca” (sic). And you know that can’t be good. It’s a slippery slope from there. He’ll then want to drink “sodas, pop and ginger ale.” After that, your son will need to relax with a cigarette or other tobacco. What else could he possibly want? He had no choice, really. You can’t really blame him. After soda pop, everyone needs to light up. It’s only natural. And once you begin smoking, you can’t really help but start gambling. It’s inevitable. Once you light up that ciggie, playing cards, throwing dice and picking up a pool cue can’t be far behind. It just can’t be helped. And you know what every gambler on the face of the Earth does, right? You got it: drink “liquor and strong drink.” And he can’t just drink it on occasion, but he keeps on drinking it, never stopping until he reaches “a drunkard’s grave.” And all because you gave him some Goldfish or Cheez-Its between meals. It’s so obvious. One unbroken chain from snacking to death, with no possible way to break the cycle. It’s like walking down the stairs. Gravity takes over and you can’t help but keep taking each successive step until you have one foot in the grave.

It is, of course, completely absurd, but one has to assume prohibitionists really believed it, just as some people today actually believe that one drink makes someone an alcoholic. And while I can’t imagine today’s anti-alcohol groups rising to this level of evangelical disinformation, they are, sad to say, moving in that direction. Alcohol Justice, for example (who insist they’re not neo-prohibitionists), has hardened their position of late and now takes the position that there are no safe levels of moderate drinking. They no longer take issue with whether one drink, or two drinks or however many drinks is appropriate for moderate consumption. They’re now proselytizing that zero is the only number of drinks that will keep you from falling into a life of ruin and becoming a burden on society, costing the teetotalers many millions of dollars. Total abstinence is now the only way to save yourself. That sure sounds like history repeating itself to me. With MADD, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and many others turning toward this position and using increasingly absurdist propaganda, often in the form of “pseudo-scientific studies,” to further their agenda how long can it be before we see this sort of thing in the present. So remember mothers, keep beating your children and never indulge them anything, no matter how much pain they’re in or how much pleasure it might give them. Compassion and love are for sissies. If you want to keep your son out of the drunkard’s grave, you’ll need to crack the whip. After all, it’s for their own good. I’m sure the neo-prohibitionists would approve.

Modern anti-alcohol propaganda: beer leads directly to heroin, or beer is the same as heroin.

Ken Burns Discusses Prohibition

I suspect many of you watched the Ken Burns documentary series Prohibition, based on the Daniel Okrent book Last Call, when it aired a few months ago on PBS. In the latest issue of Reason magazine there is an interview with Ken Burns, discussing the documentary. Since they mentioned that there was a filmed version of the interview on Reason.tv, I thought I’d share that version of the Prohibition interview.

The Remaining Heritage Breweries

Charlie Papazian had an interesting series of posts (See Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) a few years back that I thought was worth revisiting about what he refers to as “heritage breweries,” a term that he used to describe the few small breweries that not only survived prohibition but are still in business today, over 75 year later. According to his research, when prohibition summarily closed down thriving businesses in 1919, at a stroke 1,179 breweries were out of business, or at least no longer allowed to make their primary product: beer.

Of the ones that reopened thirteen years later, when prohibition was repealed only a handful managed to make it into the present, braving untold challenges, merger-manias, fickle consumers and ever more oppressive attacks by neo-prohibitionists unconvinced of prohibition’s massive failure. Papazian divides the heritage brewers into four types:

  1. Small, Independent and owned by the original family Heritage Brewers.
  2. Small breweries that have survived that are no longer owned by the original family, yet still independent of the large brewing companies.
  3. Breweries that have survived but are no longer owned by the original family, nor independent of a large brewing company.
  4. Small brewery that may remotely be considered a Heritage Brewery, though original family ownership and location is far removed from the current operation.

Of the first type, those still owned by the original family, only four remain.

  1. August Schell Brewing, New Ulm, Minnesota. (Founded in 1860)
  2. Matt Brewing / Saranac Brewery, Utica, New York. (Founded in 1888)
  3. Straub Brewery, St. Mary, Pennsylvania. (Founded in 1831)
  4. Yuengling Brewery, a.k.a. D. G. Yuengling and Son Inc., Pottsville, Pennsylvania. (Founded in 1829)

For the second type, breweries still considered independent but no longer owned by their original founders or their family, there are a mere seven left.

  1. Anchor Brewing, San Francisco, California. (Founded in 1896)
  2. Dundee Ales & Lagers, f.k.a. J.W. Dundee, High Falls Brewing, and Genesee Brewing (prior to 2000), Rochester, New York. (Founded in 1857)
  3. Iron City Brewing, f.k.a. Pittsburgh Brewing, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Founded in 1861)
  4. Lion Brewery, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Founded in 1905)
  5. Minhas Craft Brewery, Monroe, Wisconsin. (Founded in 1845 as the Blumer Brewery but from 1947 and on it was known as the Joseph Huber Brewing Co. before being bought by the Canadian Mountain Crest Brewing Co. of Calgary, Alberta in 2006)
    Minhas was not listed in Charlie’s original list, and I can only speculate as to why. Despite their parent company, Mountain Crest, having been founded only in 2003, it appears to be very well-funded and seems to do business along the lines of a very big brewer and not a small one. Likewise, Minhas, after taking over Huber five years ago, has operated it like a big, rather than small, beer business.
  6. Spoetzl Brewery (Shiner Beer), Shiner, Texas. (Founded in 1909)
  7. Stevens Point Brewing, Stevens Point, Wisconsin. (Founded in 1857)

Of the third type, breweries “no longer owned by the original family, nor independent of a large brewing company,” only one remains, and I’m not sure if it really does fit in the third group.

  1. Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. (Founded in 1867.) Bought by Miller Brewing, now MillerCoors, in 1988.

I say that because it seems to me that while MillerCoors does own the brewery outright, the family, led today by Jake Leinenkugel, does maintain a certain amount of autonomy and makes a lot of their own decisions about the business. I interviewed Jake a number of years ago for an article I wrote for American Brewer magazine, and that was certainly the impression I was left with. It may not be “owned” by the family any longer, but they do seem to control their own destiny, and that has to count for something.

The fourth, and final category, as outlined by Papazian, is one in which the “original family ownership and location is far removed from the current operation.” Of this type, there are only two remaining.

  1. Cold Springs Brewery, (Originally established as the Mississippi Brewing Company, changed to Gluek Brewing Company sold to G. Heileman, then original brewery was demolished and then restablished itself as Cold Springs in 1997, changed back to Gluek and then back again to Cold Springs Brewery again recently), Cold Springs, Minnesota. (Founded in 1857)
  2. Dixie Brewing, New Orleans, Louisiana. The beer is said to be contract brewed at other locations. (Founded in 1907)

Totaled up, there are only thirteen breweries still in existence that were in business 92 years ago, when prohibition began. Twelve, if you discount brands that are contract brewed, such as Dixie is now post-Katrina. Now that’s just small breweries, but the picture’s not much rosier even if you include everybody, big and small.

  1. Anheuser-Busch InBev, St. Louis, Missouri or New York City, or Leuven, Belgium. (Founded in 1852 as Bavarian Brewery, name changed to E. Anheuser & Co. in 1860, incorporated as Anheuser-Busch in 1875)
    Given the takeover by InBev in 2008 and August Busch IV no longer a member of the board, essentially that would place ABI in Type 4.
  2. MillerCoors, Chicago, Illinois.
    Whether to consider them together or separately, that it is the question.
    • Coors Brewing, Golden, Colorado (Founded in 1873)
      Merged with Molson to form MolsonCoors in 2004, merged their U.S. operations with Miller in 2008 to form MillerCoors. Despite all that mergering, Pete Coors is still involved in running at least part of the company his family founded, but it’s a bit of a crapshoot where they’d fit in Papazian’s categories.
    • Miller Brewing, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Founded in 1855)
      Founder Frederick Miller’s granddaughter, who hated alcohol, sold the company to W.R. Grace in 1966. In 1969, Phillip Morris acquired Miller but sold it to the South African Breweries in 2002 to form SABMiller, and they also merged their U.S. operations with Coors in 2008 to form MillerCoors. That would put them, too, in category 4.
  3. Pabst Brewing, Greenwich, Connecticut or San Antonio, Texas or Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Founded in 1844)
    The Pabst family sold out back in the 1950s, if I recall correctly, and it was recently bought by Greek billionaire Dean Metropoulos. They haven’t owned an actual brewery in years, contracting all of their many brands of beer so it’s unclear, like Dixie, if they should be included at all. If so, they’re a clear Type 4.

Even pulling everybody, big or small, contract beer company or actual brewery, that’s still only 18 remaining from the original 1,179 left. That’s only 1.5% still in business after 82 years. Back out the big guys, and it’s 1.2%. I’m an inveterate pessimist, so I find that sad. I know that’s business in general, and many of the brewery mergers are the result of the cannibalistic nature of many of the big brewers (and corporate business more generally), but I’m a romantic pessimist, the worst kind. As much as I don’t really like the beers so many of the fallen breweries (and many of the remaining big ones, too) make, I still think we lose some part of our history every time yet another one closes or is bought out.