History How the Army Made Lager America’s Beer

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USS ALASKA

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How the Army Made Lager America’s Beer

Miranda Summers Lowe

December 17, 2018

...This is all a lot of background to explain how the Army made lager America’s beer. But it brings us to where beer is sitting at the outbreak of the Civil War: an empty factory because it’s illegal. But what was happening in the Army at the same time? Soldiers serving on the frontiers or distant posts had largely missed the first great prohibition movement and continued with a longstanding tradition of whiskey consumption, which made frontier life more bearable. The new regiments of volunteers being raised all over the country, however, were not well supported in this tradition by the dry communities that surrounded them.

Let’s go back to the Turners. At the outbreak of the Civil War, the regular Army had what we would now call a readiness problem. Physical training was limited to drill and ceremony and aimed towards developing characteristics like posture and bearing. It’s hard to imagine parade marching as the next CrossFit, but such was the antebellum Army. Due to the Turner’s passion for youth and school physical education, the dominant physical fitness culture by the outbreak of the Civil War was the Turner style of gymnastics. The Turners are credited with inventing or popularizing the parallel bars, rings, and bowling. They also enjoyed mass outdoor calisthenics and call-and-response singing. Though the Turners weren’t the only group, or even the only group of Germans, to enlist in large numbers, they had an outsized influence on Army culture. Perhaps the longest enduring legacy of the Turners was introducing the Army to mandatory outdoor calisthenics.

The Turner influence began before the official start of the war. Of the new Union volunteers, a force of about 6,000 Turners joined the Army. The Turners, who had fought for democracy and a unified Germany, were strongly pro-Union in the North. They had acted as protective forces during the know-nothing era, and many had fought in the 1848 revolution, making them experienced veterans compared to most. Even before the war was official, Turners acted as bodyguards for the Lincoln inauguration and stopped the arsenal at St. Louis from being overtaken by Confederate troops in 1861. Thus, the lager drinkers kept Missouri in the union and preserved freedom of movement on the Mississippi, the loss of which could have significantly altered the conduct of the war. Companies of Turners from Washington, Georgetown, and Baltimore were the first Union volunteer companies set up. Turners made up about 3 percent of the Union Army, but that accounted for about two-thirds of the Turner population in the United States. With their fitness, shooting ability, combat experience, and demonstrated loyalty to the Union, they made appealing choices for leadership.

They also drank copious amounts of lager. If beer was so bad, how were the Army’s fittest soldiers beer drinkers. The Turners, as well as other immigrant populations , advocated that lager be excluded from the liquor ban. The Civil War camps were officially dry, but taverns and sutlers selling illegal whiskey thrived. At best, soldiers spent all their wages on the inflated prices, and, at worst, “dog robber” sutlers sold them dangerous moonshine in peach tins. Soldiers were going broke and blind, stumbling out into town to get a beer but finding the whiskey and painted ladies instead. It made the camps unpopular with the surrounding communities. The army found salvation in an 1858 court case in Brooklyn, in which a man being tried for violating the city’s public intoxication law was found innocent based on the testimony of a doctor who explained that lager beer was not intoxicating. Similar cases began springing up all over the country, where communities were determining that lager, at 3 percent alcohol, didn’t violate prohibition laws.

While this compromise might sound odd in today’s military, the idea that if you gave soldiers beer they wouldn’t want whiskey was an effective one. Especially around Washington, D.C., where Union troops were predominately German, the influential Turners had advocated hard for lager beer. Ale, though not specifically outlawed like whiskey, didn’t travel well and left lager as the beer of choice. Around Washington, beer became an issue item, purchased with “sutler’s tokens” that were good for a cup. With a huge shortage of U.S. currency during this time, beer tokens had a trading value of their own.

Men from all units flocked to fill their tins with lager beer, expanding the taste for the beverage outside of traditionally German communities. By the end of the war, thousands of soldiers came home with a taste for lager, which was now accepted as a health beverage. In fact, The Sanitary Commission declared that lager reduced instances of camp diarrhea and prescribed it for convalescing soldiers.

As an example of how Civil War soldiers expanded to the market for lager, let’s look at Washington, DC. In 1860, there were seven breweries in the nation’s capital, but by the end of the war there were 13. With the advent of rail travel, beer was now being sent to soldiers on campaign as well. Victims of their own success, the thriving breweries were an attractive target for a new luxury tax. President Abraham Lincoln levied a dollar-a-barrel tax in 1862. Anxious to affirm their loyalty on the heels of the know-nothing era, the breweries complied with the tax. However, they realized that once the new tax took hold, it would never go away. A few of the brewers met in New York City that winter, where they were able to persuade congress to lower the tax to 60 cents a barrel. This grouping, which called itself the United States Brewer’s Association, was the first of an enduring American institution: the political trade lobby.

The taste for lager beer had greatly expanded after the Civil War, leading the new brewer’s association to have great influence. The breweries that survived the war brewed the “non-intoxicating lager,” effectively pushing out other forms of beer. Though breweries were still largely family-owned, they developed corporate scale. Thanks to the influence of the Turners and other Germans, lager beer had a wholesome reputation...

Full lenghty article with pics can be found here - https://warontherocks.com/2018/12/how-the-army-made-lager-americas-beer/

CHEERS!
USS ALASKA
 
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USS ALASKA

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