“Home brewing was the open secret in the midst of the ban on all alcohol”

In the thirteen years that Prohibition was in effect, a well-known but rarely talked about movement within beer culture took place. Home brewing was the open secret in the midst of the ban on all alcohol. As the first years of Prohibition enforcement took place there was an attempt across the nation, and in California, to stop the sales of malt extract, hop syrup, and isinglass gelatin. With a stove top, water, and readily available baker’s yeast, any simple home kitchen could produce home brewed beer. Prohibition Commissioner John F. Kramer attempt to restrict the sales of the basic ingredients in brewing in November of 1920, but this attempt was deflated when the Internal Revenue Service refused to issue orders to branch offices across the nation to enforce a ban on malt extract. By the following year, companies were so bold as to print advertisements for malt extracts and copper boilers, specifically stating that their product is to be used for homebrewing; their warehouses were fully stocked with ingredients, as well as cooking and bottling equipment.

The pace with which Californians took to homebrewing during Prohibition outpaced, and eventually exhausted attempts at enforcement of the Volstead Act. Arrests of homebrewers were few and ineffectual.

Eric Ortega, “The Golden State of Brewing; California’s Economic and Cultural Influence in the American Brewing Industry” (Master’s thesis, California State University, Fullerton, 2015), 32-33.