Beer: Before and After (Prohibition, that is)

Tuesday (April 7) was National Beer Day–and not just for any old reason, I assure you. April 7, 1933, was the day the Cullen-Harrison Act went into effect. “What’s the Cullen-Harrison Act?” you might (rightly) ask. Enacted on March 21 and signed by FDR on March 22, this 1933 piece of Congressional legislation provided for the sale of beer (or wine!) with an alcohol content of 3.2%. Although it was no guarantee that beer or wine would suddenly be available on April 7 (individual states had to pass further laws granting the sale), it did signal the beginning of the end of Prohibition in the America (the 21st Amendment would be passed in December 1933).

Back in 2011, while going through some unprocessed materials, I found a single letter. At the time, it seemed mildly interesting, but other projects had priority. Before long, though, we were acquiring materials on the history of the cocktail and Prohibition, and the letter eventually popped back in my head. Written in 1909 by the president and secretary/treasurer of the Virginia Brewing Company, it was a plea not to pass legislation that would ban the manufacture of beer in Roanoke.

Virginia Brewing Company Letter, 1909

Although Virginia did pass Prohibition legislation a full three years before the Volstead Act and the 18th Amendment, banning sale and transport of alcohol in 1920, in 1909, the Scholz business, it seems, remained safe. The Virginia Prohibition Commission was formed in 1916 to enforce the Virginia Prohibition Act, giving the Virginia Brewing Company a 5-year reprieve. (Side note: The Library of Virginia has a great page with information about the Virginia Prohibition Commission and the records the library houses.)

The Virginia Brewing Company (for which there is a GREAT short history online that helped me out!), as the letter suggests, was well established in the Roanoke area. It began in 1889, started up by none other than the Louis A. Scholz on the letterhead. Louis (1863-1934) immigrated to the United States in 1882 from Germany. After starting out in Baltimore, he eventually settled in the Roanoke area and raised at least three children with his wife, Henrietta. In 1916, the brewery closed. Louis found work (the 1920 census lists him as the manager of a bottleworks) elsewhere, until Prohibition blew over. He planned to re-open the Virginia Brewing Company, but died before the new plant was complete. A new owner opened it in 1936, however, and it stayed open until 1958 under the original name, and as the Mountain Brewing Company from 1958-1959.

Louis’s brother Henry (abt. 1866-1924) came to the United States in 1890, specifically to help his brother start the business. He and his wife, Louisa, had at least two children. In 1920, according the census, Henry appears to have been owner of “moving picture co” in Roanoke. (He had actually co-owned the theater since 1913).  A little further digging revealed this to be the first American Theatre, located, at the time, on S. Jefferson Street. However, Henry had his hand in MANY businesses in the Roanoke area during his life there, including the raising of Roanoke baseball team to join the Virginia League, the movie theater, and one of the first newsstands in the city.

What was supposed to be a short paragraph on the two brothers and their brewery has taken me down a rabbit-hole of discovery. Between census records and Roanoke City history, I’ve found far more than I expected about this fascinating family, invested more time than planned (which is always the way), and I still held back some information!) While it may not be relevant to this particular letter and its request for support, it DOES remind me of the fun of my job (there’s still more to be found) and it reminds all of us that culinary, cocktail, and food history don’t exist in a vacuum. The Scholz brothers were more than just brewers in the picture of early 20th century Roanoke history, and our one short letter shouldn’t fool you. Prost! (That’s German for “Cheers!”)

2 thoughts on “Beer: Before and After (Prohibition, that is)

  1. Pingback: Beer Me! (After all, it’s National Beer Day!) | What's Cookin' @ Special Collections?!

  2. Pingback: “How Good Ale is Brewed” (and why we’re celebrating it!) – What's Cookin' @ Special Collections?!

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