History Nebraska Blog

A Drink for New Year’s Eve

Douglas County sheriffs after a raid on an illegal still about 1922. NSHS RG3348.PH10-11 (above).

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.

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 . . . 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:

New Year’s Eve celebrations during the 1920s in Nebraska could not legally include alcohol. From the Kearney Daily Hub, December 30, 1924.

“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.

– Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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