The date was June 19, 1926, and the United States was struggling through the Prohibition Era (1919/1920-1933), a time in which the U.S. government cracked down on the mass-production and sale of alcoholic beverages. They did this through questionable and ineffective means that produced underwhelming and ironically lawless results. Although the Temperance Movement and an alliance of dry politicians were in favor of Prohibition, Representative Fiorello La Guardia of New York was in no way a fan. On that June day in 1926, Representative La Guardia decided to express his dissent in a very educational public service announcement that the populace would be sure to drink up—he invited twenty people from the news industry into his Washington D.C. office and then proceeded to demonstrate to them how someone in the United States could use legal store-bought ingredients to make an alcoholic beer.
As the band of newsmen jostled for positions in Fiorello La Guardia’s Congressional office, the representative readied his ingredients. His desk was covered with glass cups and various bottles of different liquids. Like a chemistry teacher, Rep. La Guardia proceeded to hold up one of the bottles for all in the room to see. It was a non-alcoholic (or legally low-alcohol) brew—a product called “near beer.” He took this legal and accessible item and poured its contents into a glass. With that step completed, Rep. La Guardia next showed the reporters another bottle from the table. It was a container of malt extract tonic, another easily-obtainable product that was legal to own during Prohibition. After opening the bottle of extract, Rep. La Guardia raised up the glass with the non-alcoholic beverage already in it, and, upon receiving the full attention of the reporters, he made a show of pouring most of the malt extract into the near beer. After giving the concoction some time to ferment, Rep. La Guardia proclaimed that he had made a 2% beer with simply-procured, legal products. As a final touch, the representative drank the beer and sent the reporters on their way to print reports on his informative stunt.
Representative Fiorello La Guardia received rave reviews from the newspapers that attended his alcohol exposition. Dry politicians, however, balked at the gall of the man and protested. Yet, verbal jabs from his fellow Congressmen did not stop Rep. La Guardia from bringing his brewing show on the road. He was known to have done a second beer production exposition in his home state of New York. Prohibition, however, would not end in the United States until 1933.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Photograph of Fiorello La Guardia dated between ca. 1915 and ca. 1920, [Public Domain] via the U.S. Library of Congress and Creative Commons).