What Some Cincinnati Brewers Made During Prohibition

As we all know the fun didn’t really just stop when the country went dry for Prohibition with the passing of the 18th Amendment in 1919.    Bootleggers like George Remus ran liquor across the country for private parties and speakeasies.    Companies supplied home brewers and home fermenters barley, hops, grape and yeast to make their own wine and beer at home.   My own Great Grandfather John Muchorowski brewed his own beer in Newport’s Knob Hill during Prohibition that he and his family probably carried to the various bars where their bands played and perhaps even in the undercroft of Corpus Christi Church in Newport after the Men’s Altar Society meetings and the large scale musicals they produced throughout the year.

Despite much lobbying by the German American community and the Brewers Unions, on Jan. 16, 1919, Nebraska became the 36th state to ratify the proposed 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibited “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.   It would go into effect in January of 1920.

But for those few breweries who decided to take the legal way to survive Prohibition, there were desperate attempts at making ‘medicinal’ malt tonics or near beer and soft drinks to utilize their equipment and make money.   The breweries that made legal products during Prohibition were  – Bruckmann Brewery in Cumminsville, Hudepohl and  Crown in Over-the-Rhine, and Wiedemann in Newport, Kentucky.   Others like Foss Schneider, Schaller, Christian Moerlein, Windisch-Mulhauser, and John Hauck shut their doors.

In 1900 the Buckeye Brewery was renamed the Hudepohl Brewing Company. Ludwig “Lewis”  Hudepohl, the founder, died in 1902 at the age of 59. He left the company to his wife, Mary Elizabeth Weyer Hudepohl, who was assisted in its operation by her son-in-law, William A. Pohl. At this time Hudepohl produced the brands Buckeye, Muenchener, Dortmunder, Hudepohl, and Golden Jubilee. When Prohibition came in 1919, the brewery shifted to the production of Buckeye brand near-beer (1/2 of 1% alcohol), Vichy water, and soft drinks. An interesting drink called “Dutch Cocktail” was formulated and sold, but sales were discouraging. The cocktail included a small amount of beer, and ginger ale. Production stopped in 1928 because many Cincinnatians made their own beer at home by this time, which was higher in the good stuff than near beer. 

Across the river, Wiedemann in Newport, Kentucky, produced a beverage calle Quizz, which enabled the business to stay open.   In 1933 when Prohibition ended, the company was again producing beer.   By 1938 they were producing 150,000 barrels and by the end of 1955 over 850,000 barrels.

In 1870 brothers Friedrich and Heinrich Schmidt sold their grocery store and bought Peter Herancourt’s ‘Box’ Brewery at Central Avenue and Kindel Street. The Schmidts brewed  ‘common beer’ and ale. Heinrich left the partnership in 1875, but rejoined his brother a year later as an equal partner. The company was called Schmidt and Brother.

Heinrich Schmidt died in 1891. Friedrich Schmidt then formed a stock company on April 1, 1891 under the name Schmidt Brothers Brewing Company. Then, when Friedrich died in 1898, his widow took over the leadership of the company. When she died in 1905, Gerhardt Schmidt and George Lampe bought the brewery. They called it the Crown Brewery. in 1906 Meyer Silverglade left the Ohio Brewery and became the vice-president and controlling stock holder of the Crown Brewery. George Lampe was president.

By 1915 the brewery produced ‘Happy Days’ beer.   When Prohibition came along they produced two near beers and a root beer. One of the near beers was called Crown Select, non-intoxicating beverage, and the other, Tang, advertised with “you’ll appreciate the “different” flavor when Tang passes your lips” With those brimming ad endorsements its no surprise that both products failed to gain traction, forcing Crown to close in 1925.   Like I have done, on Brewery District tours you can walk the narrow beer tunnel that connects the two Crown brewery buildings across McMicken from each other. This wonky underground arrangement was due to an Ohio law that taxed breweries higher that bottled in the same building as they brewed their beer.

During Prohibition, Bruckmann in Cumminsville on the canal, brewed a near beer called Aristocrat Cereal Beverage and Malt Tonic, a beverage for invalids, as well as a root beer.    The Malt Tonic was prescribed by doctors and local hospitals were a major purchaser.    It’s bottle even had a cute smiling nurse logo on its label. Bruckmann’s near beers seem to be the only ones that gained any market during Prohibition. The Aristocrat, with a label of a smart looking Jazz Age couple riding their horses, was said to taste just like the Brucks pre Prohibition beers, and I suspect, may have snuck in a bit more than the 1/2 % alcohol. Because of the volume of these products, Bruckmann added capacity to their brewery complex during Prohibition, and because they were continually operating, they were the only brewery in Cincinnati, ready to change over almost overnight to producing regular beer.    When regular beer returned on April 8, 1933, crowds lined up outside the brewery demanding beer.   And Bruckmann were the first to supply the local bars, the first being the Wheel Café in downtown Cincinnati.    The Bruckmann brewery closed in 1946, but their brewery site, with the original 1856 home built by founder John Caspar Bruckmann, is the only completely intact pre Prohibition brewery site in Greater Cincinnati.

When Did America’s Favorite Squash Overtake Apple in the Fall Market?

When I was growing up, cooler Fall weather meant the beginning of  apple cider season.   It meant going to an apple orchard, one that used to exist only miles from my house, to pick apples to make apple pies,  baked apples, and apple crumb (for which my grandmother was a master of).  It meant all the bakeries made apple cider cake doughnuts and my fave, apple fritters.   Sure there was cinnamon and cinnamon sticks in everything, but pumpkin pie spice was something you put in pumpkin pie, which was made for Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas events.    It certainly wasn’t something that was in everything from moon pies to craft beer starting in August!

That’s because it was Starbucks who ruined my apple pie fall frivolity.     In 2003 the evil mermaid from Seattle released her pumpkin spice latte on the world, which we now refer to as the PSL, and put pumpkin spice on the retail map.     I have specifically, Peter Dukes at Starbucks, to blame, who invented the drink. And after that, everything changed for my beloved apple.   It became second chair fiddle to the PSL and pumpkin spice everything took over.    Initially Starbucks product teams worried that the spices would dominate the drink and take away from the coffee flavor.  Thus they removed ginger and allspice from the sacred spice ratio.  And there wasn’t even pumpkin flavor in the first PSL.  Actual pumpkin wasn’t added until the drink’s 2015 revamp.  But consumers didn’t seem to mind.  In fact, do Starbucks consumers of their flavored lattes even care that there is coffee in there somewhere?     With super sugary flavors like caramel machiatto and mocha whatever, who can taste the over roasted coffee of Starbuck anyway.     And maybe that’s the strategy of their product teams – add over sugary flavors to cover up the strongly charred, over-priced corporate coffee.

Peter Dukes the inventor of the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte

While the spices that make up the PSL – nutmeg, allspice, cloves cinnamon and ginger – have been around for thousands of years, the mixing of them together as ‘pumpkin spice,’ didn’t happen til mid 20th century.   The earliest known mention of pumpkin spice is in a 1936 recipe for Pumpkin Spice Cake in the Washington Post.    And these spices were paired in recipes that contained pumpkin – remember the taste of pumpkin?    Well you really don’t have to any more.   When companies like McCormick began selling Pumpkin Pie Spice in the 1950s, the American Spice Rack changed forever.   Now you could spice anything like a pumpkin pie without every having to use that messy pumpkin puree in a can or cooking it down from the squash itself.  

And even the pumpkin pie spice ratio has changed since the 1960s, perhaps dumbed down or muted to a new taste.   There is definitely less cloves in pumpkin pies these days, a sad state my dad, a pumpkin pie snob and aficionado is all too quick to admit when tasting pumpkin pies other than Frisch’s.   Dad claims Frisch’s has also changed their recipe, affecting its once forerunning taste.   He laments that most pumpkin pies taste predominantly of cinnamon and not a well ratioed blend of the five spices that made my Grandpa’s bakery pie the best he’s ever tasted.

Pumpkin Pie spice, while a stolen spice blend, is truly an American thing.   Asians and Europeans have pumpkin squashes.   But instead of making them into confections, the Germans pickle them to serve alongside fatty meat dishes like goetta or other fatty grain sausages for help with digestion.   The Asians tend to use them as a starch in curries.       Even the English have no idea what an American pumpkin pie is.  I remember a contestant on the Great British Baking Show once was making an “American pumpkin pie,”   and put in a bunch of spices and ingredients that any Yankee would know do not go together.

The European Cookies that inspired pumpkin pie spice.

But the truth is, it’s a stolen spice blend.   It should really be called the Gingerbread Spice blend, or the GSL, because the same blend has been used for centuries in Germany and central Europe in their variety of Christmas cookies like gingerbread and spekulatius.    Whomever the American cook was who appropriated the European blend to make pumpkin confections was brilliant.   Their ingenuity created an entire fall category.

But back to the apple.   Consumer research companies claim that the popularity of pumpkin spice is dwindling and that it might not be the predominant fall flavor trend that much longer.    The prevalence and new introduction of pumpkin pie spice products each year seems to disagree.   But maybe that’s all a sign that it has jumped the shark and companies are riding its coattails to the bitter end.    That’s all great news for the apple.   Maybe that coffee company from Seattle will introduce an Apple Pie Spice Latte – an ASL that will bring it and all its delicious apple confections to the forefront.   Let’s just hope they don’t divorce it from the fruit that gave it its platform.

The World’s ONLY Tintenfischesaftlaugenbrezel is in Covington

Tuba Baking’s Cuttlefish Ink Swabian Pretzel

It’s an understatement to say that authentic German restaurants are disappearing in our region and the country.    The situation is dire and is its own pandemic.   So  when a young chef interested in his own Swabisch family history opens a new place and offers authentic and modernized south German-Swabian cuisine – it’s time to take notice. And with October being German Heritage Month – it’s also time to celebrate with our local Germanic cuisine.

Drew Rath  opened Tuba Baking in Covington only a few years ago, which specializes in lye dipped Swabian style pretzels and pastries.   They cater mostly to restaurants and breweries.   But they also offer authentic Swabian cuisine for carryout including a variety of vegetarian ‘lazy spaetzel’ (that’s the longer kind), maultaschen (Swabian ravioli), and a whole lot of great dishes.   They now have a cult following, including native Swabians who came to the area to work for German owned companies.

But the coolest dish I’ve tried there, this past weekend, was their Tintenfischesaftlaugenbretzel.   Say that ten times fast.   It’s their seasonal cuttlefish ink lye-dipped pretzel and they call it “Die Kraken.”      Aside from being a cool jet black, it’s also delicious.   It has to be the most creative and badass pretzel I’ve experienced.   The idea started when Drew wanted to create a black pretzel for Halloween.  He tried a number of things that didn’t work, like black sesame, until he found black cuttlefish ink.     He says when it first comes out of the oven it’s a deep green color, but turns to jet black as it cools.  It even works well in his sourdough items.     He has found an ethical source of the ink from an international supplier.

The ink adds this sort of subtle but deep umami flavor to an already awesome Swabian pretzel with a crunchy outside and soft chewy inside.  It’s taste stands alone, but it’s also great dipped in any of their several house made mustards or beer cheese.  Drew thinks he’s the only one in the world making a cuttlefish ink Swabian pretzel, which is cool to say you’ve had the “world’s only” anything.   And the deep black color makes it a perfect addition to any Halloween party.

Who REALLY Invented the Threeway?

A 1927 Image of the Empress Burlesque Theatre showing Weinand’s Chili on the north side opposite Empress Chili

I think it’s time to finally come clean about the three-way. Cincinnati credits the invention of Cincinnati Chili and the Threeway version of it to the Macedonian-immigrant brothers John and Tom Kiradjieff, who opened Empress Chili on Vine Street on October 22, 1922.     The Greek chili sauce or ‘saltsa kima’, whose variants top hot dogs across America is not native to Cincinnati, but we embraced it and were the first to use it to top spaghetti and then add shredded sharp cheddar cheese.   Variants of this “Greek sauce” are served on Detroit Coneys and all around the country.

But Empress wasn’t the first chili parlor in Cincinnati.    And, they might not have been the first chili parlor to serve the Mediterranean version of chili con carne, as it was known before it was designated as Cincinnati chili.    However, they were the ones who certainly developed it and became ground zero for other Greek and Macedonian immigrants who sought to start a better life in America and used the chili parlor business model to get it.      

At the time, chili parlors served what they called Mexican chili or chili con carne.    Chili was the menu item short order diners and small lunch shops used to sell their day old roast beef and leftover meat – similar to how Wendy’s makes their chili with unused burger patties.     Empress claimed to be the first parlor that ground fresh meat for their chili instead of using leftovers like the others.   And, they integrated Mediterranean spice blend called the Baharat along with chili powder, making the unique blend we now call Cincinnati Chili.

When I interviewed Tom Kiradjieff’s son, Joe, at the Western Hills Empress in 2014– he told me that it wasn’t until the early 1930s, nearly a decade after the opening of Empress Chili, that the Cincinnati Threeway was born.    Joe said up until that time chili was served as chili spaghetti without the heaping mound of sharp cheddar cheese we’re used to.   It was a customer who asked if they would add shredded cheddar cheese to the chili spaghetti.   The Kiradjieff’s obliged and it became so popular they added cheese to their chili dogs and those became the Cincinnati Cheese Coney.    But what would give a customer such an idea?

A 1931 ad for Wienand’s Chili claiming invention of what we now call the Threeway

A 1927 photo and an ad in the Cincinnati Post give us that answer.     The 1927 photo of the Empress Burlesque shows us the money shot of the original Empress Chili Parlor on the south end storefront of the theatre.    One can see the lettering on the window saying Empress Chili Parlor – Chili Con Carne.   It shows us that a bowl of chili and a chili dog was only 5 cents.     But it also reveals that it wasn’t the only, nor the first chili parlor at the Empress.   Next door to the north at 820   Vine Street is a lit sign that reveals  Weinand’s Chili – Quick Lunch.   I had never heard of this chili parlor.

Another ad for Weinand’s Chili which shows it as Genuine Mexican Chili.

Weinand’s was founded by Thomas Weinand at that location in 1918 and was there before the Kiradjieff brothers opened Empress.  They moved to a new location on Walnut Street in 1933.    But as the name implies the Weinand’s were of German, not Greek or Macedonian ancestry.    And, the ads in the Cincinnati post billed it as authentic Mexican chili, which is the culture with which American chili as we know it began. Just up the street on Vine Street, another man of German descent, Peter Meyer, opened the Little Mexico Chili Parlor in 1934, that served Cincinnati Style Chili and mini cheese coneys until it closed in 1983. And the Manoff family, who owned Hamburger Heaven and the recipe that would become Gold Star Chili, sold their Cincinnati style Chili and chili spaghetti (a 2 way) with a Mexican man and Mexican hat logo in the 1940s and 50s. Was Mexican chili the early name of Cincinnati style chili?

Packaging and a coupon for Manoff’s Chili – 1950s.

A very curious ad in 1931 in the Cincinnati Post from Weinand’s said they were the originators of the now famous dish of chili, spaghetti and cheese.   It was not at that time called a threeway.   But this shows that in chili parlors of the 1930s a dish of Mexican chili on top of spaghetti with cheese was already known.     Customers probably saw the cheese topped chili mac or chili spaghetti at Weinand’s  next door and asked the Kiradjieff’s to make a similar dish with their Mediterranean inspired chili.   This is the dish that became the infamous Cincinnati Threeway.

The Kiradjieff brothers were smart marketeers.    For one, by calling their ‘saltsa kima’ chili and chili con carne, they were allowing their customers to understand that it was American chili, with which they could easily identify.    Then by listening to their customers’ requests to add cheddar cheese to it, they were understanding what the American palette would accept.

So, the original Cincinnati Threeway was actually called Mexican chili con carne, but not Cincinnati Chili.

Hoochie Coos and Coneys: What Chili Lovers Saw at the Empress Burlesque

Cincinnati Chili was born in October of 1922 as a small parlor at the Empress Burlesque Theater in downtown Cincinnati at Vine and West 9th Street.   It is now the auxiliary building to the Main Public Library.    The building itself was originally a Presbyterian and then a Congregational Church.    The Empress Burlesque Theatre opened the day after Christmas in 1909 featuring vaudeville, burlesque, and by 1912, silent films.    The sign outside was incorrectly spelled “Burlesk”, while most of the ads in the Cincinnati newspapers spelled it correctly as Burlesque.    Perhaps the two extra letters were too expensive, or the sign was manufactured too short to include all the letters.

By the time John and Tommy Kiradjieff opened their small five stool chili parlor, there was a midnight show every Saturday and oddly enough a daily matinee for ladies.      Daily shows started at 2:15 and 5:15 PM.  After a show, customers could get a strong Turkish coffee, and a chili mac (a 2 way) or a coney dog.   There was also a well stocked humidor of Ibold cigars.    Cheese coneys and three ways wouldn’t be invented until after the Stock Market Crash of 1929.     However, there’s some evidence that hot sauce (probably locally made Frank’s  Red Hot Sauce) and oyster crackers were part of the first Cincinnati Chili experience.      The tradition of a Peppermint Patty as a Cincinnati chili dessert was not instituted until more Greeks immigrated and got into the candy industry.

In the Roaring Twenties, strippers like the “one and only Peaches, Queen of the Shimmy Dancers” performed.   It was then billed as Cincinnati’s only real burlesque theater.    I don’t know if that was a signal that it was the only theatre where dancers went all nude.    But the Mutual Burlesque Association, which sponsored the shows at the Empress, was the first to allow their performers to expose their breasts, mimicking the Ziegfield Follies.   The Mutual Burlesque Association, was founded in 1922 – the same year as Empress Chili opened – and owned by Isadore Herk.     Comedians like Bud Abbot and Lou Costello, and strippers like Gypsy Rose Lee and Mae West were part of the shows produced by the MBA.   Herk learned early that audiences still wanted rough shows.   So all his shows were heavy with lots of bumps, stripteases, naughty blackouts and stag jokes.

The other circuits or “wheels” as they were called, were American and Paramount, both of which lined up secondly to the prowess of MBA. 

The Cincinnati Enquirer took the opportunity for some good puns in their promotions of the Empress.   One headline read, “Bare Facts (At the Empress) Boasts a Well-Rounded Cast.”   And although they were billed as ‘wholesome working class show,” the feature was always the lead stripper.   In Bare Facts for example, the Enquirer said, “The feature of the show is Dolores, a dancer, and to say that she proved far better than her advance notices would be putting it mildly.”

Other leading ladies were the Countess Helene in “The Girls From Bagdad,” Margie Dale in “Monte Carlo Girls,” Esta Alja in “Belles La Paree,”  Ruth Wilson in “Hollywood Follies,” and Fanny McEvoy in “Kuddlin Kuties.”

A one-time, super-risque black and white revue called Darktown Follies showed in 1936 where ‘colored folk strut their stuff, accompanied by a black and tan chorus.”

At its peak, the MBA had 50 self contained shows that toured all its affiliated theatres from Labor Day to March.    A  Burlesque company contained more staff than most Broadway musicals at the time.   A typical company included  a striptease star, a prima donna, a soubrette, a talking woman, a boy and girl dance team, two comics, a straight man, a singing juvenile, twelve or fourteen chorus girls, a musical conductor, three stage hands, and an assortment of cats, dogs, monkeys etc.    That doesn’t even include costume, makeup and set staff.

They Empress fell into financial trouble as the Depression swiped away leisure spending for Americans.   The Mutual Burlesque Association collapsed in 1931 and after that shows were mostly locally produced.      That year, the Empress advertised reduced fares  for a show with the Broadway Star Sam Raynor in a review  titled Too Hot For Paris.   It was ‘burlesquefied with girls, comedy, and spice.”

A sneaky last ditch effort to gain customers was a lecture in 1936 at the Empress about nudist colonies by international lecturer, Whalen Valliers, who used lived models and pictures.   If it was considered educational or artistic, nudity was not a violation of local morality laws.    Not surprisingly the lecture was extended several weeks. 

The Empress even tried Amateur Nights, where locals could get on stage and show their burlesque skills.   But the Depression finally took its toll and the Empress closed after the completion of its 1936-37 season.   It was bought and remodeled and reopened later in 1937 as the Gayety Theatre, with a “Peek-a-boo” starring the ‘specialty’ dancer Zorita.  By that time the Kiradjieff’s had moved their Empress Chili Parlor to an old Victorian Italianate building across from the old Greyhound Bus Station on Fifth Street, where the Chiquita Building stands today.   But there were no peak-a-boos or hoochie-coos on Fifth Street.