Jews make booze

Spirited process: The event is aimed at fathers of adult children. Photo by Melissa Gerr
Spirited process: The event is aimed at fathers of adult children.
Photo by Melissa Gerr

Fathers in greater Washington will have a chance to relax while also learning about the history of Jewish involvement in the American whiskey making process.

The Jewish Museum of Maryland will be hosting a lecture on Sunday by author Reid Mitenbuler, who wrote the recently released “Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey.” The event begins at 6 p.m. and includes a tasting of various bourbons.

Trillion Attwood, programs manager at the museum, said they were inspired by the exhibit “Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History” at the National Archives Museum.

“We wanted to do something interesting that would appeal to fathers of adult children,” said Attwood.

The day will begin at 2 p.m. with a free tour of the exhibit at the archives in Washington, D.C., followed by a lecture and tasting in Baltimore. Registered guests can take a bus between the two locations.

Attwood said the museum has experimented throughout the years with more interactive exhibits that have included pickle- and olive oil-making programs. In 2013, the museum celebrated Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent’s Bar Mitzvah to honor Jewish artists that have been involved in the comic book industry.

“Here obviously we’re going for a much more adult family audience,” she said. “It’s something fun but different.”

Museum Executive Director Marvin Pinkert will lead the tour at the National Archives, where he served as director for 11 years before coming to the Jewish Museum in 2012. He said it made sense to have a special event now with the “A-Mazing Mendes Cohen” exhibit having just ended and the next exhibit beginning next month.

Pinkert said Jewish-German immigrants were among the first to play a role in America’s alcohol industry before Prohibition went into effect in 1920.

“One-third of all revenue once came from alcohol before prohibition,” said Pinkert, adding that Jewish-Germans were heavily involved in the whiskey business whereas other immigrant groups had taken to the beer industry.

As tour guide, Pinkert will regale participants with stories of colorful characters of the time, including Izzy Einstein — a federal police officer who “used his unassuming looks” to crack down on alcohol possession during the early years of Prohibition.
In addition to the alcohol exhibit, Pinkert’s tour will include a bonus stop to view the Magna Carta, the transformative English political document whose 800th birthday was last week. The charter made official the concepts of government accountability and the protection of an individual’s rights.

“Since I played a role in getting the Magna Carta back on display, I thought it would be a nice addition,” he said.

Pinkert explained that the original document contained references that singled out Jews, who, he said, were essentially slaves to King John of England. In the original version clauses 10 and 11 forgive any debts owed to Jews. Those clauses were not included in the newer 1297 version, which is on display at the archives.

Even though the two exhibits are from different periods, Pinkert said, they are related in the sense that they both deal with issues of levying taxes.

“The whole purpose of Magna Carta from the king’s point of view was to raise taxes,” he said. “The reason for the government’s involvement in whiskey is for the purpose of taxes.”


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