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It wasn’t as though Oshkoshers had gone without beer during Prohibition. There’s plenty of evidence that the city was awash in bootleg beer all through the dry years. But the burden of illegality changed both the beer itself and the way people related to it.
When legal beer began its comeback in 1933, the sense of anticipation ran high in Oshkosh. It was noticeable weeks prior to the law being changed. In the run-up to April 7, the Daily Northwestern ran one story after another whetting the appetites of Oshkosh beer drinkers.
Three weeks before legal beer began flowing again, a representative of Rahr Brewing told the Daily Northwestern about the store of beer the brewery had stockpiled and ready to go. “We’re not saying how much we've got, but we've got all we can legally have stored, under our near-beer permit."
At this point, it was still illegal to produce beer. Brewers here skirted the law by stockpiling beer that was purportedly brewed for the purpose of converting it to near-beer later. Of course, they had no such intention of denaturing it. Meaning, that when the law did change, there would be several thousand barrels of properly aged beer ready to hit the market. The Oshkosh Brewing company alone had over 3,000 barrels of real beer in its lagering tanks. The Daily Northwestern assured Oshkoshers that when, “The sale of the foamy, amber fluid is made legal, everybody will be able to buy all they want, from a steinful to a barrelful or more.”
On March 22, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Beer and Wine Revenue Act. This would legalize beer of less than 3.2% alcohol by weight on April 7, 1933. Immediately after the bill was signed, both Rahr Brewing and the Oshkosh Brewing Company blew their plant whistles alerting Oshkosh that legal beer was on its way. Peoples would have probably done the same, if they’d had a whistle.
I’ve gotten carried away here. I only meant to show you the ad, that’s up there near the top of the post. This one captures the goofy sort of glee that people here must have been experiencing. Look at the expression on the guy’s face in the drawing. He's made to appear half mad with happiness.
This ad was published on the same day Roosevelt signed the Beer and Wine Revenue Act. After the signing, someone at Rahr must have immediately phoned the Daily Northwestern and told them to run it in the evening paper. That night, the Rahr's began taking orders for their beer. At 12:00 a.m. on April 7, the brewery whistles blew again as the beer began going out the door.
One more thing I want to point out. The text of this ad has an interesting tidbit near the end. It reads, “Rahr’s will make 1933’s Elk's Head Beer as enjoyable and as refreshing as it was back in 1918 and the years before that.”
Why did they mention 1918 when the first phase of beer being outlawed didn't occur until 1919? I doubt it was a mistake. In 1919, grain rationing induced by America’s entrance into World War I meant that the recipe for Rahr’s beer had to be changed. The Rahr’s took their beer seriously. And they respected their customers enough to reference the year when their beer had last been at its best. I like that.
Imagine cracking open that first bottle of Rahr’s Elk’s Head beer in 1933. I would have probably looked as maniacally happy as the guy in the drawing. I’ll bet a beer never tasted so good.