A Humble Birth, A Proper Upbringing
Malt liquor was a child of necessity. Despite the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the Depression was making things tough for brewers. Drinkers complained that beer lacked its old “kick.” And then World War II brought rationing. Not enough metal for bottle caps or cans, not enough malt to make beer. Some brewers even used sorghum and potatoes to fill out the mash.
For brewers of malt liquor, one of the costs of doing business is public outrage.
Prompted by these events, two Midwestern brewers had an idea. Some time around 1937, at the Grand Valley Brewing Co. in Ionia, MI, Clarence “Click” Koerber first brewed Clix Malt Liquor, using more sugar to raise the alcohol content of his lager. In 1942 at Gluek Brewing in Minneapolis, Alvin Gluek had the same goal but a different approach. He found a way to induce a second fermentation and thus produce more alcohol in the finished product. He named his malt liquor Sparkling Stite by Gluek, courting drinkers with champagne aspirations.
Another Midwestern brewery, Goetz Brewing, created a competing version and called it Country Club Malt Liquor, going after the growing post-war middle class, people with a new set of clubs and a little extra money. The “New Party Brew” was advertised in magazines with neatly dressed, smiling white people, enjoying themselves in a festive but polite manner, drinking out of frosty little glasses filled from 8-ounce cans.
In Minnesota, the diminutive Peoples Brewing served up Olde English 600, A Malt Liquor, with a jaunty little Englishman wearing a plumed hat atop a white wig. In this manner, malt liquor, all dressed up and on its best behavior, tried to make its way in the marketplace for 25 years but with little success. Then something happened to change the brew’s history, the first of its watershed moments.