Bottom of the barrel: The US brewing industry and saloon culture before and during National Prohibition, 1900–1933

Thomas Welskopp


Although the deep structural crisis of the American “Old-Time Saloon” and the beer brewing industry was self-inflicted, National Prohibition hit them hard in 1920. Whereas the saloon completely vanished from the scene, giving way to the more or less clandestine “speakeasy”, the brewing companies which did not go out of business altogether or did not resort to the production of legal surrogates like “near beer”, strove desperately after strategies for survival. For lesser known breweries the alliance with organized crime allowed them to enter the illicit shadow economy. Larger corporations fiddled around until they discovered that they could produce the ingredient components of “real” beer and sell it wholesale to the bootleggers as long as their product was not yet fermented and contained no alcohol. In an absolutely legal way they thus provided the raw materials upon which the reconstruction of an (illegal) beer market could take place in the second half of the 1920s.


United States; Prohibition; saloon; brewing industry; organized crime