Touchable: Eliot Ness’s Slide from Booze Buster to Booze Hound

  Touchable: Eliot Ness’s Slide from Booze Buster to Booze Hound By Paul Durica –  from Mash Tun Journal # 7 The Republicans are coming to Cleveland, Ohio, population 390,000. In July 2016 the city plans to host the Republican National Convention even though it and the county are decidedly Democratic. In 2012 President Barack Obama won 69.4% of the vote in Cuyahoga County, and Cleveland is the city that gave American politics frequent presidential candidate and famous vegan Dennis Kucinich. Cleveland rose alongside manufacturing and declined with it, shedding people and wealth at a staggering rate in the second half of the twentieth century. It’s a dirty old town, racially divided, with mediocre sports teams, a river known for having caught fire, and the shallowest, brownest Great Lake. In other words, it’s not Dallas, but the Republicans hope that holding the convention there will result in winning Ohio and its eighteen electoral votes come the November election. The Democrats have never held their national convention in Cleveland. For the Republicans it’ll be the second time around.   In 1936 the Grand Old Party was in a similarly giddy mood. They’d leave Cleveland having nominated for president the governor of Kansas, Alf Landon, a candidate who’d manage in November to win all of eight electoral votes against the incumbent Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1936 it made sense to hold the convention in Cleveland. At the time the city was playing host to the Great Lakes Exposition, the equivalent of a World’s Fair. It boasted a population of over 900,000, making it the sixth largest city in the country, and had a popular Republican mayor, Harold Burton. The rising local star in the party was not Mayor Burton but his handpicked, thirty-two-year-old Director for Public Safety, a former prohibition agent and Chicago native, Eliot Ness. Co-written with sports writer Oscar Fraley, Ness’s The Untouchables (1957) has significantly shaped the way Americans imagine the prohibition era, whether or not they’ve read the book or seen the subsequent television and film adaptations. Ness and his team of incorruptible prohibition agents are the jazz age equivalent of the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday and, like them, more legend than fact. The success of the first television show, which ran from 1959-1963, ensured that Ness in the form of Robert Stack would appear on lunchboxes, board games, and comic books. Historians of the twenties, like Laurence Bergreen, have gone to great lengths to undo the legend, accusing Ness of exaggerating his role in bringing Al Capone to justice through daring raids on illegal breweries, but Fraley should be blamed for many of the book’s fictional elements. Preserved in the archives at the Western Reserve Historical Society are the single-spaced, typewritten pages in which Ness tells his story in his own words. The manuscript’s decidedly more modest than the book, television show, and movie that would grow out of it, and Fraley largely ignored it in favor of the stories told to him in person by Ness, late at night, at a hotel in New York. Ness was, Fraley would recall, drunk at the time.   Ness’s time as a prohibition agent is enough to merit an article in Mash Tun. There’s also the beer named for him, an amber lager, produced by the Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland. The latter is indicative of how the two cities most associated with Ness regard him. In the film version of The Untouchables (1989), Ness is an outsider who can’t fathom how deeply corrupt Chicago is. In truth, his family lived in the Roseland neighborhood in that city; his father, a Norwegian immigrant, owned a bakery in what had been railroad car magnate George Pullman’s factory town. Ness attended Fenger High School and the University of Chicago, where he studied criminology, and would get his position in the Prohibition Bureau through a familial connection. He was a Chicagoan, much more so than the Brooklyn-born Capone, but that city has many heroes and you won’t find a single beer or bridge or really anything named in Ness’s memory there. Ness came to Cleveland after the repeal of prohibition and a failed attempt at becoming a FBI agent. At the press conference where Mayor Burton announced his new Director for Public Safety, Ness claimed that “every crime has a cure” and set out to prove it. As Safety Director, a position that combined the powers of the police and fire commissioners, Ness modernized both agencies and took a direct role in dismantling organized crime in the city. He was particularly fixated with traffic safety, and automobile deaths did decline during his tenure. A capable administrator in his early thirties, Ness began to be talked about as a potential mayoral candidate, the future of the Republican Party in Cleveland. All the while, whether due to personal weakness, professional stress, private tumult, or for pure pleasure, Ness drank.   In March 1942, on the way home from a party, he’d strike a man with his car and flee the scene. Witnesses all knew who was responsible since the license plate read NESS-1. He’d resign as Safety Director shortly afterward and take a job in Washington, DC, where he oversaw a campaign to eradicate venereal disease among members of the armed forces. In 1947 he ran for Mayor of Cleveland as a Republican and, like Alf Landon before him, lost handily to a popular Democratic incumbent. After that followed a string of administrative jobs with various companies, one of which brought him to Coudersport, Pennsylvania, where he became well-known in the bars and where he died at the age of fifty-four a month before the publication of the book that made him famous.   A former prohibition agent with a beer named in his memory whose life was undone by drink—there’s a lesson there, I guess. The Ness found in that typewritten manuscript, the Ness who drank, is a far more human and interesting figure than the unerring, untainted one portrayed by…

In Conversation with Evin O’Riordan of London’s The Kernel Brewery

  In Conversation with Evin O’Riordan of London’s The Kernel Brewery By Jamie Trecker from Mash Tun Journal #5   Just across the Thames, in the borough of Southwark, sits Bermondsey, a working-class neighborhood with roots that date back to King Edward III. Bermondsey has been a place of firsts: this was the home of Britain’s first railway, and the arches that litter Spa Road stand as a testament to one of this nation’s greatest achievements. Wild man “Wee” Willie Harris hailed from the town, giving it a credit in the pre-history of rock and roll. And today, it is the incubator for a number of emerging London breweries, all of which are concentrated in the industrial parks and arches that litter the area. Brew By Numbers is here, Partizan is close by – and then, there’s the Kernel, the greatest of them all.   Why here? “We have a lot of arches,” says Evin O’Riordan, matter-of-factly. O’Riordan, the head brewer and founder of the Kernel, often comes off as deadpan, but that quiet demeanor masks the fierce intelligence and shrewd integrity that has helped put the Kernel atop of the so-called “New Wave” breweries in London. He is widely respected by his colleagues (Jasper Cuppaidge at the Camden calls him, admiringly: “artisan with a capital ‘A’”) and slavishly imitated by others. His no-frills packaging and unwillingness to hard-sell his beer may be mystifying to some, but he doesn’t care about what people think. What he cares about is beer, and making it better every time.   O’Riordan sat down for this unusual long-format interview with Mash Tun, conducted by Jamie Trecker. This interview has been edited for length and clarity but not for content. MT: Evin, thanks for talking to us. Frist off, you had a very unusual path to becoming a brewer, at least for us in the States. I understand you worked at a cheese shop, Neal’s Yard, and are basically entirely self-taught.   EOR: Yeah. I don’t know, I wonder does anybody start off being a brewer? I think we all start off as something much more amorphous than that. But, yeah, I turned to brewing about seven years ago now. You are correct that I was, I suppose, working for Neal’s Yard at the time, and they sent me to New York to help one of their customers open a cheese shop there. That’s pretty much where my eyes were open to the possibilities in beer that I had not seen before. MT: What was so different about New York? London, and England in general, obviously have a huge brewing tradition. EOR: It does have a huge brewing tradition and even then there were still plenty of amazing beers being made. I suppose it’s interesting if you compare New York to London. I wouldn’t be able to say the same thing now; there is no way I could have made it this far without being aware of the possibilities of beer, because of what’s happened here in London in the last few years–I think a lot of that potential and interest in beer was around then. There are different mentalities in the two countries, in terms of how they engage with things like beer and pubs, and the way people communicate their enthusiasm. I mean, it wasn’t only the beers in NY that amazed me, although they did. But what was perhaps even more engaging was peoples’ relationships with the beer. If you want to go for a drink with a friend here, you generally go to the closest pub, whatever’s handiest. Whereas the guys I met in NY took me out for a beer, and they’d say we’re going to this pub over there for these x, y and z reasons (because this brewer is going to be there, he is going to have this beer on, etc). There was much more care put into what was being drunk. One of the joys of drinking in England and Ireland (where I’m from) is they say that the camaraderie of drinking with friends comes first and the beer is secondary. Perhaps that should always be beer’s role: to kind of lubricate the social interaction. The focus in a beer bar I was exposed to in NY was very much the beer as the reason people were coming together, so the response to the beer was much more engaged and enthusiastic. The traditional English image was people who have a regular pint or a regular pub. They didn’t have the same ideas of challenging people, or having something different, or even having bartenders that would explain the differences between things. In New York, it just blew my mind that you could have all these different beers and somebody would explain them to you, and you could then even try a few things before you decided what you want. None of that was happening with drinking in England at that point in time. MT: So you came back from New York, but did you make a conscious decision that brewing was something that you wanted to get into? Is it that you wanted to bring some of this culture back to England, and maybe changing some of the things over here in doing that?   EOR: I think you are exactly right, but it sometimes is hard to look back. Things seem a bit more concrete once they’ve happened. I’m sure at the time it was an idea, perhaps a pretty vague one. And now that the brewery has been going for a few years, it kind of makes that initial decision seem much more important. If it never happened, then would I have done something else, I guess. There was a certain aspect of wanting to change English drinking culture, or at least incorporate aspects of the American drinking culture into it. This was very similar to something I already knew. What happened was that Whole Foods, your American grocery store, was setting up a cheese room…


November 2015
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