Novel Thoughts blog

Prohibit Everything, Make Something

October 22, 2015 11:46 pm | 10 Comments


During the Prohibition the English writer G.K. Chesterton came and toured the United States, expecting to be in every way repulsed by the government suppression of alcohol. But what he found ended up delighting him—in a way. The efforts to quash drinking had driven many to the craft of homebrewing beer and setting up basement stills. As he wrote in Sidelights (available in Volume XXII of the Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton):

…with this widespread revival of the old human habit of home-brewing, much of that old human atmosphere that went with it has really reappeared… Prohibition has to that extent actually worked the good, in spite of so malignantly and murderously willing the evil. And the good is this: the restoration of legitimate praise and pride of the creative crafts of the home.

This being the case, it seems that some of our more ardent supporters might well favour a strong, simple and sweeping policy. Let Congress or Parliament pass a law not only prohibiting fermented liquor, but practically everything else. Let the Government forbid bread, beef, boots, hats and coats; let there be a law against anybody indulging in chalk, cheese, leather, linen, tools, toys, tales, pictures or newspapers. Then, it would seem by serious sociological analogy, all human families will begin vigorously to produce all these things for themselves; and the youth of the world will really return.

Chesterton was long a champion of DIY, emphasizing that doing things in the home helped realize the vocation of the family. My own family when I was growing up embraced this idea, and some of my happiest childhood memories are of days when my father made dozens of homemade bagels (first boiled, then baked), or of when my mother made taffy or egg noodles, or when my father brewed beer and took the time to also make a batch of root beer for the kids.

xmasbeerFor six or so years now, every autumn I brew a Christmas beer of some kind and draw a special label for it. This year it’s a porter, involving black treacle in the recipe, an item I special ordered ahead of time. It has a marvelously designed tin featuring Samson’s lion. Last year I brewed an English ale, and years before that included a vanilla bourbon porter, a Belgian-style “abbey” ale, and a stout. In general, people seem keener on the idea of receiving a bottle of beer than they do receiving a fruitcake.

I learned homebrewing from an eccentric fellow named Griz, an oversized Santa Claus lookalike who always dressed in overalls. Pontificating from his chair at the brewing supply store he ran, his advice always veered toward a loose approach to brewing rather than one involving precise measurement or exotic ingredients. To this day, I’ve never used a thermometer or hydrometer in brewing, and I blame him. You were never quite sure how much to trust him or his stories—for instance, Griz claimed to have imbibed a mystical substance in Amsterdam back in the 70s that led him to a park where he met a monk who brought him to an ancient abbey and taught him the secret of brewing. After imparting the knowledge of brewing, the monk asked Griz to join his order, which Griz considered for a bit, then decided that his sweetie back home wouldn’t cotton to her man becoming celibate. So he declined, but was willing to pass along his secrets to those who asked.

A quick break here for some of my own wisdom. Men wanting to homebrew: if you want your wife to uncomplainingly allow you to brew beer at home, you just need to do one thing. Clean up after yourself. It’s like magic—for some reason, the female mind works in such a way that a woman doesn’t enjoy cleaning up a big pile of pans, towels, sticky spills, and bottles. It’s mysterious, I know, but this is a riddle we cannot fathom as men. So just clean up after yourself. Women wanting to home-brew: Carry on.

Aside from beer, other homemade traditions have sprung up at home. Each year Halloween costumes are made from scratch. Most weekends involve homemade pizza. A couple of times a year we make pasta at home, a process which delights my kids, who love taking turns cranking the pasta machine. Our apple tree produces apples which are turned into pies and apple butter; the garden produces peppers for drying, squash for roasting, and tomatoes for sauce. One year we even made green tomato jam.

As G.K. Chesterton also once said, if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.

John Herreid

John Herreid

John Herreid is catalog manager at Ignatius Press. In addition to catalogs and ads, he has also worked on the cover design for many Ignatius Press books and DVDs. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and four children.

Tags: beer G.K. Chesterton hobbies homebrew making


  1. October 23, 2015 at 11:44 am

    I totally agree about that cleaning aspect. That’s exactly what I did at home. My new brew has Chesterton’s quote on it.

  2. John Herreid

    October 23, 2015 at 5:38 pm

    Nice! I make my own labels too. Just now finished brewing that porter with treacle that I mentioned in the post here. Now I need to come up with some label art!

  3. Kate Casper

    October 25, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    My husband says, “No woman ever shot a man while he was doing the dishes.” Probably said by Chesterton at one time, I don’t know, but it makes me laugh. Washing dishes is very impressive. I’ve enjoyed this blog about DIY. The exorbitant cost of many products has made more and more of us creative when it comes to decorating our homes (old crates make lovely end tables) and amplifying our phones when being used as an mp3 player – I learned that one from my daughter-in-law. Can you guess how it’s done? I’m off to make an apple pie – wish I could have some of that porter with it!

  4. October 25, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    When we moved to St. Louis in 1995, we rented a small house on the edge of a pumpkin farm. It was there that we first met “Farmer Clyde,” the crazy old coot who grew the pumpkins and immediately appointed himself our guardian angel. Two years later, we were evicted to make way for a state highway expansion, and Farmer Clyde helped us move our stuff to the next house we’d rented. Two years later, we were evicted again, to make way for a developer. At our next house, there were vines growing all along the chain link fence that enclosed the backyard, and by early summer we had confirmed that they were concord grapes. Being a farmer and knowing that we were New Orleanians, Farmer Clyde proposed that we make wine. The resolution passed unanimously.

    We collected the grapes in September, stomped them, let them sit for a week, and then pressed them with an ancient apple press that Clyde had found in a mudhole and extracted with his old Oliver tractor. Then we poured the juice and hot sugar water into a barrel, plugged it, and asked Clyde the question that had been haunting us: When will it be wine?

    Clyde’s not the most straightforward person in the world, and he succumbs occasionally to the rural temptation to bamboozle the city slicker, so we always interpret his responses carefully. But, when he allowed as how we might be able to “taste” it around Halloween, we protested vehemently: “That’s more than a month away.” He complimented us on our mathematical prowess. “But when will be able to drink it?” we demanded. “You could tap a bottle for Thanksgiving, but it won’t really be wine ’til Christmas.”

    Well, we tasted it at Halloween and it was terrific! No, Clyde said, it wasn’t wine yet. Hmm. Is he serious, or just tantalizing us? It was impossible to know for sure, so we let it sit. At Thanksgiving, it was far superior, and we realized that Clyde had been right: it wasn’t really wine yet at Halloween. Now it was wine! Right? No, he said, not yet.

    Clyde has a sadistic streak, and we were beginning to think it was showing, but we held off. Then, the week of Christmas, we tried it again and wondered how we could have been so stupid. That junk we’d tasted before was just hopped-up grape juice. Nothing like wine at all. This was wine! Wasn’t it?

    Clyde held a glass up to the light, admiring its color. He tilted the glass and watched the fluid coating the inside slowly recede to level. He smelled the bouquet, took a small sip, and licked his lips.

    Well? Well?!!! Well?!!!!!!

    At last, Clyde nodded. It was wine!

  5. John Herreid

    October 25, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    Comment of the year, Bob! Crazy old coots are often the best guys to know if you want to learn basic know-how.

    Kate: I love James’ quote. Might have to frame that one!

  6. Meryl Kaleida

    October 27, 2015 at 11:46 am

    Love this! This is precisely what my husband and I are trying to do! We have made a lot of mead, but not beer yet. Drew’s favorite thing to do is ferment sauerkraut, pickles, watermelon rinds, and peppers. It’s pretty fantastic. I do agree about that cleaning thing! We love our homemade pizza too!

  7. John Herreid

    October 27, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    I need to try making sauerkraut again. My first attempt ended very badly. As in, I made the whole house smell like death garnished with cabbage.

  8. […] G.K. Chesterton was instead greeted with a DIY culture that was handling the illegality of alcohol Macgyver-style. The art of modern home-brewing had been born. Chesterton gleefully […]

  9. October 28, 2015 at 8:09 am

    In Belarus (east of Poland, west of Russia) we have a tradition of home-made dried sausages and quark

  10. John Herreid

    October 28, 2015 at 11:00 am

    I had to look up quark to see what it was. Looks tasty! My in-laws make cured meats and sausages at home–all good stuff.

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