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Zoar maintained a brewery for much of the communal settlement's history

Dr. Douglas Palmer, professor of European History at Walsh University, spoke in Zoar about the history of brewing in the village.

Scott Daniels

More than 70 people in Zoar learned the history of alcohol consumption in America as Dr. Douglas Palmer, professor of European History at Walsh University, spoke for a little over an hour on Saturday, Aug. 5. The presentation was followed up with the chance to sample beers made by Lockport Brewery, a small craft brewer in Bolivar.
 
The Zoar separatists maintained a brewery for much of the communal settlement’s history, something Palmer explained was quite typical, not only in Ohio among German populations, but also across much of the world since ancient times.
 
Palmer began by addressing the current state of distilling and brewing in the United States. “Very large conglomerates own an overwhelming share of the market,” he said. “One-third of the beer sold worldwide is made by a single company.”
 
Palmer said even brand-named beers implied to be imported craft brews are often made by familiar domestic brewer Anheuser-Busch.
 
“But real craft brewing is in a golden age right now,” Palmer said. "A solid indicator of the health of any local economy is the number of craft brewers you find. Small breweries indicate a significant population of younger people with money to spend."
 
Citing the example of a single gathering of founding fathers where nearly 200 bottles of wine, liquor and beer served 54 people, Palmer said, “American colonists drank enormous amounts of beer, whiskey and hard cider.”
 
Palmer said that in Zoar the brewery produced around 400 barrels a year. “The German separatists brought their brewing skills with them, and it became a source of income for the settlement as the canal brought travelers to the village.”
 
He said each adult Zoarite was entitled to one serving of beer at lunch and another at dinner. “And it was reported to be a high-quality product.”
 
When asked how they justified consumption of alcohol among the villagers, given the Zoar separatists’ noted conservatism, Palmer said the notion of Christian abstention on moral grounds is a relatively recent development.
 
“It actually grew out of a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment later in the 19th century,” he said. “There were all these Germans with their beer, Irish with their whiskey and Italians with wine. It was as much anti-Roman Catholic as anti-alcohol. The Zoar settlers wouldn’t think twice about drinking beer.”
 
Palmer said such was the case since the beginning of civilization. “Brewing has been practiced since ancient Egypt and likely earlier.”
 
He said until human understanding of sanitation grew in the late 19th century, beer, cider and other alcoholic beverages were always safer than the local water supply because the alcohol killed bacteria. Beer and hard cider stored well for long sea voyages. Fresh water did not.
 
“American Prohibition was obviously disastrous to alcohol production in the U.S.,” Palmer said. “It also drove up taxes. Until Prohibition the federal government derived most of its income from taxes on alcohol. Personal income taxes rose immediately to make up the difference.”
 
Palmer’s presentation was delivered at the Zoar School House, where Lockport Brewery set up a tasting station upstairs for audience members afterward. Ashley Lumley, general manager of the new brewery, the first in Tuscarawas County in more than 65 years, said the eight-month-old business has found immediate success.
 
“We are adding production capacity now,” she said. “We’ve had a hard time keeping up with demand.”
 
The brewer serves its 11 different tap beers at the brewery itself and at weddings and catered events.
 

Published: August 11, 2017
New Article ID: 2017170809927