A Lady Tests Out 1920’s New Non-Alcohol Brews

20728_product_frontLady Sings The Brews

With the advent of Prohibition, the surviving U.S. breweries turned to non-alcohol brews. Powerhouse Anheuser-Busch made at least two, one under the name Budweiser. The law permitted a maximum of .5 oz alcohol, a far cry from the 5% lager norm before the war.

Still, Bud and many other ex-brewers still in business dealt in the new article – better to save some business than lose it all. Former breweries also made malt for baking industries, soft drinks, ice cream, cheese – anything to survive.

In 1920 in New York, a feature appeared in the New York Tribune rating the new N/A beers. It’s a surprisingly modern piece albeit 96 years old, with a few changes of style it would fit right in to any city newspaper today.

Budweiser’s non-alcohol (N/A) and a few New York-area NAs were tested and tasted, a bottle of pre-Pro beer was even included to ensure a full and fair assessment. The verdict was positive and upbeat. The “brews” were good, some very good and close to the real thing. Considerable information was given on how they were made. It was basically regular beer with the alcohol boiled off.  Some brewers added back hops to freshen up the taste. Not a few added sugars of various kinds.

The article was written by a woman, Anne Lewis Pierce. The prose is assured, snappy, informative. She makes a few jokes in the piece, almost like someone dispensing dry wit at the bar. She calls the real Budweiser the beer “of sacred memory”. She says men were added to the panel so it would not be too “feminized”.  (Perhaps an ironic twist there if you get the drift). She had a practiced hand at beer styles, some people like dry light beers, she said, others dark sweet ones. One New York N/A reminded her of “strong porter”.

One of the boys, almost. Unusual for the time.

Who was Anne L. Pierce?

She had had a long career working in Washington with the legendary Harvey Wiley, M.D. (1844-1930), who was also a chemist. After an academic career, Wiley worked as chief chemist for the Department of Agriculture and was a pioneer of food safety. He basically wrote the Pure Food and Drugs Act which appeared just before WW I. After his government stint, he headed up the lab run by Good Housekeeping magazine which tested foods and food equipment and advised on food safety.

After she left government, Pierce joined up with Wiley again to work for Good Housekeeping. Later, she wrote about food for readers of the Trib in New York, she would also give recipes, advice on diet and nutrition, and chronicle visits to food plants including the early large scale processor, Campbell’s Foods.

She was no doubt an effective bureaucrat, one story described her as “staunch”. In line with the conventions of the day it noted she was “brown-eyed” and with a good complexion. All Washington called her Anne, it said. You see her pictured with Wiley, here.

I haven’t been able to determine her training, it was probably in chemistry or home economics but her writing shows her highly knowledgeable about food and its technics, e.g., she reels off the final gravities of the N/A beers like a pro.

And so the government food background explains her easy familiarity with beer types and beer lingo. She would have participated in hearings on beer and whiskey standards. She probably helped Wiley write standards for the new pure food law. She sounds too as if she liked beer and you don’t have to read between the lines to see she thought all-malt beer was best. She was past the point of any idea that corn and rice were adulterants, but still the liking for all-malt beer comes through and she states it in regard both to NA beer and real beer.

You can read the full Trib story, here.  In a related feature, recipes for “Dutch suppers” were given. They paired different kinds of fast meals with the new beers, which clearly showed real beer was used in pre-Pro times to accompany these foods. Welsh rabbits, frankfurters or “hot dogs” (the quotes are hers), liverwurst, were among them. I wonder where the term “Dutch” comes from, maybe a corruption of Deutsch for German? There seems nothing specifically “Dutch” about the meals but Germanic, yes. And there you see too an early pairing of beer and foods.

Pierce didn’t say, but once in the consumers hands, a lot of that N/A brew was “needled”, injected with a shot of alcohol to make it real beer.

Bud’s 1920 ersatz beer is again available at least in Canada – it’s called Budweiser Prohibition. I’ve been meaning to try it, and will soon, I’ll even needle it to have an upper case version so to speak.  Reports suggest it is rich and on the sweet side.

I wonder if A-B InBev dusted off the 1920 recipe. One thing did change at least though, the new brew uses a vacuum process to take out the ethanol vs. the boiling used for the 1920 version. But still, they might be similar. I’ll give my taste notes and compare them to Anne Pierce’s 96 years ago.

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