Jews and Brews

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Miriam Kingsberg, an assistant professor in the department of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She visited the Jewish Museum Munich in July 2016 and has provided this review of their recent show, “Beer is the Wine of This Land: Jewish Brewery Tales.” Enjoy!

Friends of ADHS may be interested to learn of a new bilingual (German and English) exhibit: “Beer is the Wine of this Land: Jewish Brewery Tales” at the Jewish Museum Munich (Jüdisches Museum München). This event is part of a city-wide celebration of the five hundredth anniversary of the “Purity Law” that restricted German beer ingredients to barley, hops, and water (yeast was added later). The exhibit was inaugurated in April 2016 and will run through August 1, 2017. Admission is included in the museum’s general ticket price (6 euros for adults, 3 euros for students and the elderly, free for children under age eighteen).

German Jewish Museum
Jewish Museum Munich exterior and beer garden, summer 2016 (author photo)

The Jewish Museum Munich opened in 2007 in the heart of the old city, next to a new synagogue completed a year earlier (the historic synagogue was destroyed by the Nazis on Kristallnacht). Observers may notice a (deliberate) contrast to the iconic Jewish Museum of Berlin, which was established in 2001 and is often regarded as a model for similar institutions around the country. Berlin traces the full sweep of Jewish history in Germany and northern Europe, with special attention to the Third Reich (1933-1945) and the Holocaust. The Munich museum, by contrast, does not find it possible to reconstruct Jewish life under the Nazis, citing the lack of surviving artifacts as the primary reason. Instead, the institution seeks to educate the local public and visitors about Jewish culture and experiences—an especially important mission given today’s relatively small local community. On the basement floor, ritual objects from the permanent collection highlight the observances, celebrations, and rhythms of Jewish life.

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Religion and Anti-Prohibition

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Brendan Payne, a Ph.D. candidate in U.S. History at Baylor University finishing his dissertation, “Cup of Salvation: Race, Religion, and (Anti-)Prohibition in Texas, 1885-1935.” Enjoy!

Jews and BoozeWhen I tell people that my dissertation addresses religion and alcohol prohibition, many recall stories of relatives involved in the noble experiment. Almost invariably, those who make a point of their ancestors’ religiosity recount how they joined the crusade for prohibition, such as a grandmother who led a chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union or a minister who railed against demon rum, while those who mention their grandfather’s bootlegging have little to comment on his piety. The implicit assumption – that religion inspired only prohibition’s backers and not its opponents – may be too blunt for most scholars to state plainly, though this assumption casts a significant shadow over much of prohibition scholarship. Only a few books, such as Marni Davis’s Jews and Booze, deal in-depth with an overwhelmingly wet religious minority, though even that work is more interested in the tremendously important questions of ethnicity and American identity than in religion as such. Too many academic works on prohibition that address religion either focus almost exclusively on drys or oversimplify the connection between faith and prohibition, with (for example) Catholics always being wet and Baptists invariably dry.

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Politics & Poison: Government Sanctioned Murder During Prohibition

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Liz Greene, a history geek and an anxiety-ridden realist from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can follow her latest misadventures on her blog, Instant Lo. Enjoy!

When it comes to failed social experiments in U.S. history, Prohibition takes the cake. Far from ushering in the utopian society promised by the temperance movement, Prohibition only succeeded in making matters much worse.

The new law was met with outright rebellion. Bootleggers made a fortune distilling and selling alcohol. Thousands of speakeasies popped up, serving a thirsty population who cared little for the legality of the situation. Organized crime rose to the forefront, distributing booze, warring with rival gangs, and taking out innocent bystanders in the process. Murder became a familiar headline. [1]

But the mob and unskilled bootleggers weren’t the only ones causing death and destruction during Prohibition. The federal government had a large role to play as well.

Green 1

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African American Agency and (Anti-)Prohibition

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Brendan Payne, a Ph.D. candidate in U.S. History at Baylor University finishing his dissertation, “Cup of Salvation: Race, Religion, and (Anti-)Prohibition in Texas, 1885-1935.” Enjoy!

It is no secret that African Americans have received modest scholarly attention when it comes to alcohol prohibition. Some historians have gone so far as to omit African Americans from a significant role in the issue altogether. In his 2010 book Jesus and Gin, Barry Hankins argued that African Americans “either took a pass or were not allowed to participate” on a white culture war issue such as prohibition due to their social marginalization and legally enforced segregation (p. 170). It is true that African Americans were often barred from full political engagement on the issue, especially during his focus on the 1920s, yet many works on prohibition have managed to incorporate African Americans. Most of these works have treated them as peripheral to the narrative, usually either as victims of a prohibition movement arrayed against them or as followers of reformist whites seeking racial uplift through mutual striving. One recent example of the latter perspective is Robert Wuthnow’s 2015 study of religion and politics in Texas, Rough Country. He described prohibition as a policy “of special interest to white churches” and reduced African American ministers’ support for the reform as reactive to white initiative (p. 171). While some attention on prohibition is better than none, such marginal treatment can have the effect of stripping African Americans in the past of their agency, essentially framing them as pawns in a white man’s (and woman’s) game.

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The Points Interview: Henry H. Work

Editor’s Note: Points is delighted to welcome Henry H. Work, an American cooper (that’s barrel-maker for those who don’t know) who now lives in beautiful New Zealand. Work’s new book is called Wood, Whisky and Wine: A History of Barrels (University of Chicago Press, 2015), and it tells the surprisingly important story of the humble barrel and its important, millenia-long effects on the production of intoxicating spirits. Wood was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about the role that barrels have played in the drinks you might enjoy today, as well as the long history of how barrels have shaped human history. 

Henry H. WorkDescribe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The bourbon, scotch, or Cabernet Sauvignon served to bar patrons has been aged in barrels. Most likely the same for that Chardonnay, or at least it has an oak influence. Rums, whiskeys, cognacs, ports and sherries are also barrel aged. One has to appreciate the fact that so many of our traditional alcoholic drinks have been aged or processed in wooden barrels. That this simple container, developed at least 2,000 years ago, is still so much a part of the alcoholic beverage industry is pretty amazing. And its role is largely unmentioned, as it normally performs its functions quietly, behind the scenes.

To the bartender, understanding how barrels are made, and more importantly how they modify and enhance the liquids that are stored and aged in them, will improve the drink-lore narrative and customer’s appreciation.

What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

Today, the wooden barrel is primarily used only for the aging of alcoholic beverages. This, of course, is still a critical part of information for historians as they attempt to piece together how alcoholic beverages were used and evolved in the various cultures. However, it was but a few decades ago that the barrel was the container of choice for aging, shipping and storing a vast and mixed number of other commodities and supplies. And for Western society, this was true for at least the past thousand years, and they were possibly in common use in Roman times.

One of the obvious uses of barrels was to ship crude oil – for which we still use the term to measure the amount of bulk petroleum. Other products ranged from apples to vinegar and cement to whale oil. Certainly, this information is only peripheral within the scope of an alcohol historian’s research. But because the barrels were such a common container, especially starting about five hundred years ago, their understanding can aid the historian’s understanding of why and how certain beverages could develop and progress.

Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?

What I find fascinating is the public’s lack of knowledge about barrels. Unless one tours a winery or distillery, we normally see barrels only as tables in bars or cut up into planters; not as their intended use. Even the term for the craftsmen who built the barrels, the coopers, is not commonly known, nor is their art understood. And yet barrels were ubiquitous and extremely common up until just a century ago.

So I want the general public to be aware of this important tool which helped traders and seafarers spread our society and culture, for better or worse, around the world.

Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?

It is believed that the Celtic tribes living in France and Germany, before being invaded and overrun by the Romans, were the first to develop the wooden barrels of the style we still see today. But exactly where or when? Because the Celts had no written language, it is extremely difficult to trace the barrel’s origins. Additionally, this research is complicated by the fact that the barrels, being made of wood, decompose quickly, leaving nary a trace. To pinpoint the barrel’s origins is my next quest.

Through vastly improved archaeological technology in recent years, much more is known about the Celtic culture. There are now a number of museums and on-going digs at some of the European Celtic oppidum (hilltop forts) which are continuing to provide insight. Actually visiting these places to research the details of the Celtic culture may provide further clues to the barrels true origins. A tour of these sites is something I hope to do in the near future.

BONUS QUESTION: In an audio version of this book, who should provide the narration?

I would choose someone with a deep baritone voice, and preferably someone with an English accent as that seems most appropriate to this historic container.