In 1920, “new” illegal booze hit the market as soon as the old stuff was prohibited. Before the gangsters got all their ducks in a row and started brewing regular old beer in the same breweries that had operated before, the market was flooded with terrible “bathtub” spirits.
In September, about eight months into prohibition, a “roving reporter” for the Tribune asked a few people on the street what they thought of the new stuff, which was obviously not that hard to get. Their responses are priceless.
“There’s a fight in every pint and a murder in a gallon. I used to drink the old stuff, but I’ll tell the world I leave the new alone.”
—J. W. Gibson, salesman
“I liked the old stuff better. It was much cheaper and you didn’t feel so bum the next a.m. The only difference I see is that they’ve raised the price of headaches.”
—J. W. Johnson, chief vault clerk
“You could take a half dozen shots of the old stuff and never feel it. If you take two drinks of the new booze, it’s good-bye, George.”
—Harry Brown, broker
“The effect is altogether different, judging by the stories I read in the papers. I would say the new booze excites a man to do things he never would have done under the influence of the old.”
—John Schmidt, investigator
“Because they can’t get it they want it all the more. The new stuff is causing more deaths every day. It knocks you off your feet, and after taking a half dozen shots you want to climb a tree.”
—M. Winsberg, saloon proprietor
It’s probably worth noting that only the investigator said he only knew about it from reading it in the papers, which comes off like saying, “Well, I haven’t tried it, but my friend has, and he told me….”
This article was uncovered by William Griffith while researching his new book for Globe Pequot Press, American Mafia: Chicago, due out later this year!
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