As you toast the new year with your jug, mug, glass, or stein, it is perhaps a good moment to consider Indy’s tempestuous temperance history:
While, no doubt, early area residents soothed their thirst with a variety of alcoholic concoctions, (probably brought overland or in flatboats, or brewed in private stills) as early as 1790 the Northwest Territory prohibited selling any of that liquor to soldiers or Native Americans. That law was repealed in 1795, but modified regulations have continued to restrict… or down-right prohibit… the distribution or sale of liquor in this region ever since.
Ten years after the first decree, the territorial legislature enacted a law allowing taverns to be licensed to sell liquor by the drink — though the sale of alcoholic beverages was largely regulated by local authorities. By 1807, a law providing for the licensing and regulation of such establishments was enacted. Offenses were punishable by hefty fine or revocation of licenses. The legislature also moved to forbid the sale of liquor to minors (though the definition of “minor” was somewhat ill-defined).
The year Indiana became a state, 1816, saw prohibition of the Sunday sale of liquor and the sale of alcohol to drunks. The state’s legislature also limited the amount of alcohol that could be purchased on credit.
In the mid-Nineteenth Century, spurred on by Protestant evangelists who opposed alcohol on moral grounds, the first Temperance Movement gained popular support. Disorderly behavior in the region was blamed (in the press) on excessive drinking. By 1830, The Indiana Temperance Society had been established and the “legal age” was legally determined to be at eighteen years old.
It was into this climate of control that the first Indy brewery was established by John L. Young and William Wernweg, on the south side of Maryland Street near West Street. The venture was short-lived. By 1840, Wernweg had gone back to his original occupation (bridge builder) and the company ended up selling their yeast to housewives instead of brewing beer.
Indy again dabbled with dryness in 1855. With “thanks” to the Sons of Temperance and other groups who regarded alcohol as the devil’s own brew, the Indiana Legislature passed a law completely restricting manufacture or sale of liquor to “medical, scientific and sacramental” purposes.
It took nothing less than public insurrection to overturn the decree later that year when, after three night watchmen arrested two inebriated men for disturbing the peace, dozens of local citizens marched on the authorities in attempt to free them. A fight ensued but, as prominent citizens were involved, charges (and eventually the law) were dropped.
Not to be daunted by any previous hub-bub, one C.F. Schmidt became the first successful Indy brewmaster, and began churning out beer by the barrels in 1859. The Schmidt enterprise eventually occupied an entire block on Alabama Street with a complex that included ice houses, malt and bottling houses, and facilities to house 50 horses and 30 delivery wagons. By that time, the Indiana law makers had found it necessary to implement penalties for drunken stagecoach drivers.
The Schmidt enterprise gained competition from the Pete Lieber Brewery on Madison Avenue and the Casper Maus Brewery located on West and New York Streets. The three companies would eventually merge in 1868 to become the Indianapolis Brewing Company which flourished until the Volstead Act (the “Prohibition” we all recognize, immortalized in old movies about flappers and bath tub gin) put a stopper on the bottle in 1918.
The company was temporarily resurrected by a Lawrence P. Bardin but… alas… Bardin was convicted of selling 11 oz of beer in 12 oz bottles during WWII, for which he served a six-month prison term in 1948.
After WWII, some attempts to reinvigorate the trade came and went, but it wasn’t until about 20 years ago that the Indy suds scene found its resurgence.
Interested in discovering more hoppin’ history? Check out these fascinating HI-brew articles:
Anheuster Busch Brewing Association
Tell us: Do you have any artifacts from Indy Brewers of old? And… Do you have a favorite (current) Indy brewery? Leave your comments below.
Enjoy a safe and festive new year!
Back in the 1940s my father. Arthur P. Boyd, owned the Midwest Sash & Door Company. We manufactured storm windows and doors out of redwood. However, redwood was difficult and expensive to come by. Then one day, my father learned that a long-abandoned brewery on the east side was being torn down, and the ancient beer vats had been made of 4″ x 6″ redwood planks eight feet long! They were straight as a string and, obviously, completely dry, but they had been faced inside with a thick coating of wax to make them water or beer proof. Unfortunately, while the brewery was still in operation, some of the wax had flaked or worn off, because many of the huge planks had become saturated with beer. When we ran those planks through our saws and particularly our planer, a plume of beer-flavored sawdust permeated the near-east side factory. At 18, I thought it a marvelous addition to a dull neighborhood; my father (a teetotaler), was less excited. But it was great lumber!
Jack, that’s a fantastic story! Thanks so much for sharing. Do you, by chance, remember the name of the brewery?
Lisa — Sorry. Not only was that 65 years ago, but I’m not sure I ever knew the name of the brewery. I just remember it was on the east side of Indianapolis (I have problems spelling it Indy), and it had been out of commission since well before prohibition. However, I DO remember the smell!