Prohibition and Beer: Minnesota History Center and Enki Brewing

While sadly I could not make it to the Capital today to participate in History Matters Day this year, I did make a visit to the Minnesota Historical Society recently and wanted to discuss this history adventure. I actually have a masters degree in history, so needless to say, I am a bit of a history nerd. I am not sure what it was about history that drew me into it, but it probably had something to do with a love of stories. Back in my undergraduate days, I was a bit overwhelmed by how much history there is, never could make up my mind to limit myself to one certain region or period, and my studies crisscrossed the globe and the entirety of human existence. Later though, I began to appreciate all of the history, good and bad, that roils just under the surface of modern Minnesota. I love putting together a bunch of disparate threads to make up one whole story. How do little things from years back effect the present? How will minor changes today affect the future? I am fascinated both by things that stay the same and by radical changes that have made the modern world. I am intrigued, in particular, how our perceptions of the past, and its meanings, change historically as well.


State Capital from Minnesota History Center, nice view!

So, of course, I wanted to check out the “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” exhibit currently being shown at the Minnesota History Center. I love this place, and look back with fond nostalgia at the hours I spent in the library there, requesting old documents, the sweet perfume of aged paper making me feel like a true researcher as I flipped with care through these old, yellowed documents, looking for neglected primary sources for my thesis topic, or scanning through reams of microfiche, looking back over a century of news, discovering that the past and the present are more alike than we often know. The weird tale of the 18th Amendment, as presented in this fun, hands on exhibit, is a case in point.

While put together by Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center, the American Spirits exhibit was a topical for the Twin Cities, St. Paul in particular. While Prohibition, enacted between 1920 and 1933 to ban the production, sale, and transport of “intoxicating liquors,” it was Minnesota’s own Republican Congressman Andrew Voldstead who had his name attached to the National Prohibition Act which enacted the 18th Amendment. It was pretty interesting to see some of the letters he got from his “pleased” constituents. In addition to Volstead, St. Paul was a well known hot bed for bootleggers and other shady types to hide out from the law in other towns, thanks to an agreement dating back to the 1900s between St. Paul police and certain underworld bigwigs. It was a pretty weird, unlikely tale that brought this law onto the books, and then, 13 years later, repealed. It is interesting to think how quickly things can change; will one of the Minnesota’s vestiges of Prohibition stick around or will we be able to buy beer on Sundays this time next year?


Hey, it’s half the cast of Boardwalk Empire!

In spite of my love for a good craft brew or glass of wine, it is interesting how the exhibit pointed out in a fun little quiz that I, most likely, would be most likely be square in the “dry” camp when it came to prohibition, though unsurprisingly my sister weighed in at almost as dry as you can get! As one who supports such “progressive” ideas as universal suffrage, government services aiding the poor, and public schools, it would be likely I would be on board with Prohibition as well. It was interesting how groups as divergent as unions, the International Workers of the World and the KKK, in addition to suffragettes and Christian fundamentalists came out in support of the banning of liquor, all for very different meanings- and its not like it was a crazy notion; this was a country in which back in 1830 people drank an average 7 gallons of hard liquor a year, or four shots a day.  In the end, Prohibition did succeed in cutting the alcoholism rates in the US, though of course it also led to the poisonings of thousands as the government itself tainted industrial alcohol with poison in an misguided attempt to keep it out of the speakeasies; I think that’s all I’ll say, and leave some of the fun stuff to the exhibit!*


A growler, circa 1890s

What better thing after an afternoon of learning about prohibition and its ultimate end than to visit one of our metro’s many growing small craft breweries that have been popping up of late. Reviving some of the traditions of locally produced beverages damaged by the 20th century, microbreweries producing innovative and interesting varieties of craft beer can be found all over Minneapolis, St. Paul, and it’s surrounding communities.

I went out to a craft brewery called Enki Brewing out in the little community of Victoria on the edge of the western suburbs, not too far from where I grew up. Opened in 2012 and named after the Sumerian god of Running Waters, the brewery sits in a cool old building from 1914, a former creamery (though who knows, maybe they brewed up some stronger stuff during Prohibition, too?). Enki Brewing offers a tap room open from Thursday to Saturday 4 to 10, opening at 12 on Saturdays. I decided to order a flight which samples all six of the current beers on tap, and enjoyed each. It is a good enough size to share with a couple people as well.


Enki Brewing, and a growler of Tail Feather IPA

While I am not really a beer connoisseur, I try my best. My favorites have come to the IPAs, as I guess I love the fragrant, bitter flavor of hops. Enki’s newest brew, Tail Feather IPA, is in my uneducated opinion a very nice one, with a good hoppy kick that I would recommend for fellow IPA aficionados. For those less into the hop, the Cacao Porter was very nice as well, with a pronounced chocolaty kick. In the end, I decided to pick up a growler of the Tail Feather in order to support a local brew and commemorate my delving into Prohibition history with some good stuff!

 This is the exhibit’s last week, so get out to the MNHS and check it out! It’s open until 8:00 tomorrow night, so that would be as good a time as any to go, I think! I’d recommend taking the Metro Transit route 94 to avoid the hassle of parking. Minnesota History Center: 345 W. Kellogg Blvd.St. Paul, MN, admission $11, Tue 1-8 pm, Wed-Sat 10-5 pm, Sun 12-5 pm Enki Brewing Company: 7929 Victoria Drive, Victoria, Minnesota, Thu-Fri 4-10 pm, Sat 12-10 pm * Okay, okay, as a history major and librarian, I feel obligated to provide a short list of recommended reading; The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah BlumMinnesota 13: Stearn County’s Wet, Wild Prohibition Days by Elaine Davis; Twin Cities Prohibition by Elizabeth JohanneckJohn Dillinger Slept Here: A Crook’s Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul, 1920-1936 by Paul Maccabee; Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent.


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