The Military and Whiskey's 250-Year Relationship

R Street's Kevin Kosar has written a history of whiskey in the military for KCET. He traces the intertwined relationship of booze and troops from early America to the present: 

"Whiskey, as any enlistee will tell you, is popular among America’s fighting forces. Military installations’ drinks shops (“Class 6” stores) are stocked with a galaxy of intoxicating drinks — beer, spirits, wines — but whiskey is especially popular. And it isn’t just any whiskey — it’s the American-made bourbons, ryes and Tennessee whiskeys that really move off the shelves.

Certainly, the popularity of whiskey among soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines can be explained partly as a reflection of American taste in general. Americans purchased more than 30 million cases of American whiskeylast year, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

But for military men and women, whiskey holds an additional appeal beyond its glorious amber color, robust flavor and mood-alleviating powers — it may even be more American than apple pie (which seems to have been invented in England). Whiskey has been with the America’s armed forces since the earliest days of the republic..."

Read the whole piece here.

Pennsylvania Legislative Committee Considers Modest Liquor Licensing Reform


Like many states, Pennsylvania has strict tied-house laws stemming from the post-Prohibition era. As a result, some Keystone State breweries have had trouble with things like leasing space or property from an entity that possesses a restaurant or retailing license. According to The Legal Intelligencer, a key legislative committee may advance reforms to this law:

"The Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ Liquor Control Committee is set to vote on a measure to lift liquor licensing restrictions that have been in place since the repeal of Prohibition.

On Tuesday, the committee is expected to pass amendments to the Liquor Code in HB 1902, a measure introduced by the committee chairman, Rep. Adam Harris, R-Juniata. If passed by the General Assembly, the bill would end the state’s practice of “interlocking prohibition,” a form of tied-house law that disallows holders of liquor manufacturing licenses from also holding retail bar and restaurant licenses.

Tied-house laws make it illegal for a manufacturer to induce a retailer to sell only one brand of liquor. Lawmakers said the current letter of Pennsylvania law presents modern-day problems. For example, under the law, a landlord with a license to serve alcohol couldn’t lease space to a manufacturer of alcohol..."

Read more here.

In Indiana, Sunday Sales Gain Traction but the Beer Stays Warm


Indiana has two of the most notorious alcohol laws on the books: a broad prohibition against Sunday carryout sales and a rule preventing convenience stores and gas stations from selling chilled beer. Despite polls indicating that Indiana residents are strongly in favor of Sunday sales and cold beer, reform efforts to change these laws have thus far failed. According to the IndyStar, a new alliance may open up Sunday sales but still leave Hoosier State residents stuck with warm brews:

"Liquor stores and the trade group representing big-box grocers say they have forged an alliance that could lead to them selling alcohol in Indiana on Sundays for the first time since Prohibition.

But the unlikely accord between the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers and the Indiana Retail Council opposes the expansion of cold beer sales and has drawn the ire of another key interest group: convenience stores, which have been fighting for years to win state approval to sell cold beer.

While the once-warring parties to the agreement hailed it as a landmark alliance to forcefully push for Sunday sales, convenience store owners blasted it as a back-room deal too narrow to merit consideration by the state legislature.

“They are cutting a deal which greatly benefits themselves, at the expense of Hoosiers who have identified the cold beer prohibition as the No. 1 alcohol reform needed in the state,” said Scot Imus, executive director of the Indiana Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association..."

Read the rest here.

Wisconsin Legislature Considers Lowering the Drinking Age


A group of state legislators in Wisconsin are urging their colleagues to consider lowering the state's legal drinking age from 21 to 19. According to The Daily Cardinal, Wisconsin already has some of the more flexible drinking laws in the county, as minors in the state are permitted to drink booze if accompanied by a legal guardian:

"Already one of the booziest states in the union, Wisconsin could allow residents as young as 19 to belly up to the bar and walk through liquor stores under proposed legislation.

The bill, introduced by three Republican state legislators, would set Wisconsin apart from the rest of the country by lowering the drinking age from the federally-mandated 21 to 19.

Wisconsin’s alcohol regulation policies already stand out nationally, as minors are allowed to consume alcohol with a guardian of legal age.

Departing from federal standards, however, does not come free: States that do so lose crucial federal money. In Wisconsin, that loss could amount to over $50 million per year..."

Read the whole story here.

Indiana Residents Support Cold Beer and Sunday Sales


In addition to basketball, Indiana is famous for its, er, unique alcohol laws. Not only does Indiana's "warm beer law" forbid convenience stores and gas stations from selling chilled beer, but the Hoosier State also has one of the most stringent blue laws in the country (forbidding all sales of carryout alcohol on Sundays). Unsurprisingly, these laws hurt consumers in the state and remain deeply unpopular, according to the Indy Star:

"Solid majorities of Hoosiers support expanding both cold beer and Sunday alcohol sales, according to a new poll.

Some 61 percent of Hoosiers favor expanding cold beer sales and 58 percent favor Sunday carryout sales, according to the Old National Bank/Ball State University 2017 Hoosier Survey. 

The poll of 600 Hoosiers, conducted in early October, found the margin of support for expanding alcohol sales widened from 2014, when similar questions were asked. For cold beer, support was 30 percentage points greater than opposition; for Sunday sales, it was 28 points higher...

The results, provided to IndyStar, come as a legislative commission is considering whether to recommend changes to Indiana’s alcohol laws. Currently, the sale of cold beer for carryout is limited mostly to package liquor stores. Sunday alcohol sales for carryout are prohibited outside breweries, wineries and distilleries.

The question is whether public opinion carries more weight than powerful interests, led by the state’s liquor store industry, which has successfully lobbied the Indiana General Assembly to block cold beer expansion and thwart wider Sunday alcohol sales..."

Read more here.





Recapping Maryland's "Reform on Tap" Task Force


This past Spring, covered the debate around Maryland's controversial beer legislation, H.B. 1283. While the bill were moderated before passage, the law has remained unpopular among brewers in the Old Line State. In the aftermath of its enactment, Maryland formed a task force to meet with various stakeholders--brewers, retailers, distributors--to review and address Maryland's outdated beer laws. After a series of townhall-style meetings, the task force has concluded its efforts, and's Greg Parnas has compiled a comprehensive update on the situation and what might be next:

"This past spring saw the emergence of a contentious legislative fight in Maryland over HB 1283 between brewers on one side and their counterparts in the three tier system, wholesalers and retailers, on the other. In its original form, HB 1283 would have brought new restrictions on craft breweries in Maryland that could have severely harmed the craft beer industry in the state. Thankfully, due to public outcry, the worst aspects of the bill were able to be modified in the Senate before final passage (via a backroom negotiation between the Brewers Association of Maryland (BAM) and the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA)).

In the aftermath of these events, including some odd side-lining of the Committee Chairmen who oversee alcohol regulation, Comptroller Franchot announced the formation of the Reform on Tap Task Force, whose goal would be to push for reform of Maryland’s beer laws. The Comptroller announced his findings at the final Task Force meeting today in Annapolis. In lieu of its conclusion, DCBeer decided to interview the various participants and stakeholders of the Task Force and get their perspective on its work and what comes next..."

The entire piece is well worth reading (available here).

When the Whiskey Making Was Hard, But the Government Was Easy


R Street's Jarrett Dieterle recently attended the 10th anniversary celebration of George Washington's rebuilt Mt. Vernon distillery. He wrote the following piece for Reason about whiskey making during Washington's time and how it was harder in every way except dealing with the government:

George Washington's rebuilt distillery at Mount Vernon recently celebrated its 10th anniversary with a team of master distillers from around the country producing a commemorative rye whiskey using the old-fashioned methods of Washington's time.

When Mount Vernon farm manager James Anderson pitched the idea of opening a whiskey distillery to Washington in 1797, it was hardly a novel idea. Many early Americans distilled alcohol and whiskey surpassed rum as the young nation's spirit of choice after the Revolutionary War.

Despite a somewhat saturated market, Washington quickly distinguished himself in the whiskey business—his distillery would become one of the largest in the country, producing 11,000 gallons during its peak years.

Washington's success should not obscure the fact that making whiskey at the turn of the 18th century was hard. Everything about the whiskey-making process—from milling the grain, to stirring the mash, to firing the stills—was an order of magnitude more difficult than today's mechanized and streamlined process...

Entrepreneur that he was, Washington would be awed by the technological advancements in distilling capitalism has created—advances that, ultimately, have resulted in the wonderfully consistent and smooth whiskeys we enjoy today.

His awe would surely turn to disgust if someone tried to explain to Washington the modern-day nightmare that is the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Commission. For all of the hard work to produce liquor in his time, dealing with the government was easy...

Read the whole piece here (including a neat video on the distilling process at Mt. Vernon).

Michigan Considers Legislation to Reform Beer Growler Sales


The Michigan legislature is currently considering a bill that would streamline the licensing process for selling and refilling beer growlers in the state. Specifically, the legislation would ensure that retailers such as grocery stores no longer need to obtain specialized tavern or distributor licenses to sell growlers. Jarrett Skorup, a policy analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, testified in favor of the bill:

This bill is a simple one — it lowers the threshold by one major step to make it easier for people to buy and sell beer. At the end of the day, this bill expands the ability for people to freely buy a legal product with no cost to the state or other residents. The Mackinac Center is happy to support it...


Current rules simply cause higher prices and drive more business underground. The current rules regarding who can sell growlers are overly confusing and have caused people to get into trouble needlessly. We’re happy to see legislators consider chopping back one more regulation and we encourage you to look at the system from top-to-bottom as a whole..."

 The full testimony is available here.

Arkansas Liquor Stores Sue Over Law Allowing Groceries to Sell Wine


Earlier this year, Arkansas enacted reforms to its alcohol laws that would allow grocery stores in the state's wet counties (some Arkansas counties are still dry) to sell all types of wine. Previously, grocery stores in the state could only sell certain types of "small-farm" wine. According to ArkansasOnline, several liquor store owners in the state are now suing to block implementation of the new law:

"Four small independent liquor stores in Arkansas will get a chance Nov. 13 to try to persuade a federal judge to temporarily halt the implementation of a new law that would allow grocery stores to sell any brand of wine.

Act 508 of 2017, which took effect Oct. 1, allows grocery stores in the state's 40 wet counties to expand their wine sales to include more than just wines from small farms that produce 250,000 gallons or less a year. Before the law took effect, grocery stores were limited to selling only the small-farm wines.

The legislation was signed into law March 15 by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who cited its "positive considerations for the consumer." It was backed by Wal-Mart Stores and Kroger Co., whose spokesmen said it would allow them to improve their selections and respond to consumers' demands. But many liquor store owners opposed the legislation, saying it would harm their businesses.

On Oct. 23, the four liquor stores sued the director of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and its five commissioners, saying the new law unfairly allows grocery stores to bypass restrictions that apply to liquor stores, and that it conflicts with existing state laws..."

Read the rest here.

The Library of Virginia's Teetotalers and Moonshiners Exhibit


The team recently made a trip to Richmond, Virginia to visit the Library of Virginia's Teetotalers & Moonshiners exhibit. Given Virginia's rich history with moonshine, Richmond is an ideal location for such an exhibit. The exhibit is open through December 5, and it tells the story of how Prohibition started local before going global. 

The display starts by recounting the time period right before national Prohibition, when Virginia already was starting to clamp down on booze. In 1877, the state legislature started taxing alcoholic spirits, and by 1886 it gave counties the ability to shutter saloons and other drinking establishments within their borders (what became known as the "local option"). On the brink of Prohibition going national, nearly 90% of Virginia counties had shut down their drinking establishments.

Not satisfied with the local option, Prohibition fever--spurred on by the Progressive and Temperance movements--quickly advanced to the state level, where in 1914 the legislature approved a ballot referendum on statewide prohibition. State citizens voted in favor of the statewide booze ban, although the exhibit notes that African Americans and the white working-class--two constituencies who disfavored the ban--were largely excluded from the vote. 

While Prohibition wouldn't become nationalized until 1920, Virginia wasted little time in commencing its crackdown on bootleggers. November 1, 1916 was the official "last call" for Virginia distillers, breweries, and bars; most went out of business during the dry years, although some large companies were able to stay afloat by switching their production to beverages such as soda.

As followers of the Prohibition Era know, a black market of booze quickly sprang up despite the government's best enforcement efforts. As one placard at the exhibit described it:

"Prohibition created a thriving underground economy and culture. Those in the know used passwords and secret knocks to access 'nip joints' and speakeasies. Moonshiners, makers or sellers of illicit whiskey, hid their operations in remote rural landscapes. Hidden compartments in clothing, everyday items, and even cars moved alcohol from place to place."

Virginia was ground zero for this moonshining culture, as remote regions of the Blue Ridge Mountains--places like Franklin County in southwest Virginia--made for ideal bootlegging locales. As R Street's Jarrett Dieterle recently wrote in a piece on Virginia moonshine for NPR's "The Salt":

"[During Prohibition] Virginia's backwoods distillers were forced underground. Moonshining in the Blue Ridge Mountains became so notorious that Franklin County, in the southwest corner of Virginia, was dubbed the "Moonshine Capital of the World," after it was estimated that 99 out of 100 county residents were involved in the moonshine trade.

Before Prohibition, 'getting moonshine in areas like Franklin County was not much different from buying eggs or milk,' says Matt Bondurant. Bondurant's novel, Wettest County in the World, is based on his grandfather's moonshining exploits in Franklin County. Matt's brother Robert now runs Bondurant Brothers Distillery, which distills unaged whiskey not far from Franklin. 'But when Prohibition came around, then it became a potential money-making possibility,' says Bondurant.

Money led to crime, which in turn led to the dramatic law-enforcement raids, car chases and prosecutions that so many Americans associate with Prohibition-era moonshining. Moonshiners were forced to operate in remote Appalachian regions like Franklin to avoid detection, and they went to great lengths to hide their efforts — including burying their stills underneath fake graveyards back in the mountains.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the exhibit was its discussion of Prohibition's legacy. Although it notes that Prohibition "barely stemmed the flow of alcohol across the country," it also points out that certain vestiges of Prohibition are still with us. Namely, in 1933, when Prohibition was repealed, Virginia established the Alcoholic Beverage Control department to regulate booze within the state. Other states likewise passed comprehensive regulatory regimes governing alcohol in the immediate aftermath of repeal.

Unfortunately, this post-Prohibition regulatory structure remains mostly intact to this day. As R Street has noted in the past, Virginia labors under some of the worst alcohol laws in the country. It remains a "control state" in which distilled spirits can only be sold in government-operated liquor stores, and it severely taxes and handicaps its spirits producers. 

Indeed, while it's tempting to view an exhibit like Teetotalers & Moonshiners as merely a window into a long ago past--one that will remain relegated to the dustbin of history--the legacy of Prohibition still haunts us in many ways. More than anything, learning about the Prohibition Era underscores the importance of pursuing rational alcoholic beverage laws that promote free enterprise and consumer choice. 

For more pictures from the exhibit (both ones taken by the team and ones provided by the exhibit itself), check out the below slideshow: