To Your Health —- Medicinal Beer in the Late 19th and Early 20th Century
During the 1800’s and early 1900’s some of the strangest and most bizarre cures and acts of quackery occurred, with peddlers selling miracle tonics and machines that could cure almost any ailment. However in 1896 the beer industry would come up with one of the most interesting quack medicine campaigns in history; medicinal beer.
In 1896 the Leibman Brewery of Brooklyn came up with a new type of beer called “Teutonic”. Unlike other beers, Teutonic was marketed as a health tonic and cure, able to cure insomnia, dyspepsia, and other digestive ailments. Incredibly, Teutonic was also marketed as an alternative to solid food for convalescents, and as a source of nourishment for nursing mothers. It was claimed that nursing mothers should drink the beer, passing the beneficial health effects to their babies.
So what was this new type of beer, often called “beer tonic”, and what made it so special? Teutonic was brewed from a concentrated extract of malt and hops. Essentially it was beer, but heavier, richer, and more alcoholic. As one today can probably guess, the purported health benefits of beer tonics were dubious at best. This did not stop the popularity of medicinal beers, as other big name brewers such as Pabst, Blatz, and Aheuser-Bush created their own beer tonics. While today drinking alcoholic beverages within moderation can have beneficial health effects, beer makers went wild claiming that their concoctions could cure almost any disease and common ailment.
By the 1920’s medicinal beer was considered bunk by most medical professionals and most educated people. It popularity declined until the passage of the Volstead Act and the 18th Amendment, which banned alcohol and kicked off a period known as prohibition. Suddenly the popularity of medicinal beers skyrocketed. A person would go to his or her doctor complaining of an ailment, and with a wink and a nod the doctor would proscribe some beer tonic. Prohibition would be the last hurrah of medicinal beer as real beer became legal once again with the repeal of the 18th amendment in 1933.