A Drink for New Year’s Eve

Douglas County sheriffs after a raid on an illegal still around 1922. RG3348-10-11


New Year’s Eve in the 1920s saw Nebraskans unable to legally include alcohol in their celebrations. Voters in this state had already adopted a prohibitory amendment to the state constitution in 1916, which took effect in May 1917, two years before the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawed liquor nationwide. Many were philosophical about the more subdued New Year’s observances under prohibition. The Commoner (Lincoln) on January 1, 1922, said: “Formerly John Barleycorn reaped his social harvest on the first day of the year. . . . If the Eighteenth Amendment has lessened for some the attractions of New Year’s Day, it has for a still larger multitude decreased the unpleasant reflections that come with the closing days of the year and made it possible for more families to face the future without fear. It will be easier also to keep the new resolutions that this anniversary calls forth.”

As soon as legal drinking ended, however, enterprising bootleggers began selling substitute alcoholic beverages, some made from industrial alcohol and then bottled with fancy labels. A tongue-in-cheek recipe for such a beverage appeared in the Kearney Daily Hub on December 26, 1926. The Hub said: “Glen A. Brunson, prohibition administrator for Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota, today came to the rescue of persons who planned to give the new year a wet welcome Friday night [New Year’s Eve], but were embarrassed in their efforts to get ‘anything’ to drink. Mr. Brunson listed at his office . . . the ingredients for a new year drink that is guaranteed to be as ‘successful’ as most of the other stuff that will be peddled. His formula follows: “Mix 35 cents worth of denatured alcohol with a pint of varnish, three ounces of glue and a quart of rose water. Shake well and drink heartily. Mr. Brunson suggests that the label read ‘bottled in barn’ instead of the customary ‘bottled in bond.’ “The prohibition chief predicts that the mixture herein described will be selling at $15 to $20 a gallon New Year’s Eve. This will be a simple matter of salesmanship, he points out, after the concoction is put up in nice shiny bottles, with beautiful new counterfeit stamps and labels.”

National prohibition ended in December 1933, and in November 1934 Nebraskans voted to end the state’s constitutional prohibition, paving the way for legal drinking to once again be a part of New Year’s celebrations.

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