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A Much-Abridged History of Denver, as it Relates to Drinking

In 1919, the states ratified the Eighteenth Amendment and Congress adopted the Volstead Act, which made Prohibition the law of the land. An historian charged with writing a history of Denver as it relates to drinking would be excused from thinking that the city’s residents were a sickly lot back then. Taking advantage of a loophole in the Volstead Act, Denver issued over 16,000 prescription forms that allowed physicians to prescribe up to four ounces of alcohol to any patient that had a “medicinal need” for the same.

Denver’s religious congregations jumped through another loophole and routinely claimed “sacramental” exemptions from the Volstead Act, which that allowed them to continue to use altar wine and other spirits, perhaps doing wonders for church attendance at the time. In anticipation of the broader effects of prohibition, in 1917 Denver had the foresight to issue permits to almost 60,000 of its citizens who claimed a personal consumption exemption from laws that were then in effect, allowing each of them to consume two pints of wine and the equivalent of a 24-pack of beer every month.

Colorado’s agricultural heritage contributed to the efforts to keep a steady flow of alcohol into Denver and throughout Colorado during Prohibition. Moonshiners and other illicit Colorado producers used the state’s sugar beet crop to distill grain alcohols under monikers such as “Sugar Moon” and “Leadville Moon”. By 1932, when Prohibition was repealed, enterprising citizens could find alcohol for sale in Denver on almost every street corner. The city’s denizens no doubt raised a hearty cheer on April 7, 1933, when Coors restarted beer shipments from its Golden, Colorado brewery.

Fast forward to the modern era. By last count, Colorado has more than 200 microbreweries and brewpubs that produce their own craft beers and ales. Many of those breweries produce fewer than 50,000 cases of beer per year (which is likely far less than the amount of beer spilled in a single week at any national brewery). Do Denver’s and Colorado’s attitudes toward Prohibition teach us anything about current drinking practices?

Residents of other cities and states certainly took advantage of the Volstead Act’s exemptions, but little data can be found that allows a comparison of Denver’s and other cities’ reliance on those exemptions. Denver had slightly more than 250,000 residents in 1920. As noted, in 1917, 60,0000 of those residents (i.e. almost one-fourth of the city) claimed a personal consumption exemption, allowing them to consume generous quantities of wine and beer every month. The city’s and state’s enterprising citizens also used locally-grown sugar beets to make their own potent potables. If nothing else, Denver’s Prohibition-era history reveals a creative mindset that will search out and find creative ways to quench a thirst. The city’s new microbreweries and brewpubs are just continuing this tradition with new formulas, flavors and tasting rooms that cater to an ever more selective clientele.

The Denver Microbrew Tour will give you a new perspective on the city’s thriving beer and brewing culture and history. Feel free to contact us if you’d like more information or if you want to schedule your own tour with us. Eighty years has passed since the repeal of Prohibition, and you can enjoy the city’s microbrew offerings without looking for a Volstead Act exemption to keep you above the law.


History of Denver: Spotlight on the City’s Marvelous Marats

In honor of Larimer Square’s Quinguagenary, we wanted to highlight two of the unusual folks that once called the area home, Count Henri Murat and his wife, Countess Katrina. They were wealthy immigrants who made an impact on the history of Denver. The Count’s family roots started in France and the Countess was born in Heidelsheim, which is located in Baden, Germany. She married twice and Henry was her second husband.

history of Denver

We can show you where the El Dorado Hotel’s patrons likely drank in Larimer Square.

A small snippet about their lives was previously published in the Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine (Vol. 51, p. 83). It paints the Count as a flamboyant figure who went through his family’s money like most craft brew fans go through a pint. When he and the Countess traveled to Denver in the 1850s, they helped establish the El Dorado Hotel and a small barber shop. Historians say that they were the first businesses of their kind to become established in the area of Larimer Square.

According to the Palmer Lake Historical Society’s records, many famous figures from American History called on the Murats over the course of their business’ lifespan. Among them were former U.S. Vice-President Schuyler Colfax and Horace Greeley. The intriguing couple also reputedly had very good relations with the city’s common folk.

The Countess, by all historical accounts, was a resilient woman with a deep love for American patriotism. She outlived the Count and later worked with a Sioux Indian (Wapolah) to create the area’s first, patriotic flag. The DAR historians claim that it was made from a French petticoat belonging to Mrs. Murat and muslin purchased in Denver.

Over the years, others have claimed that the flag was made from the woman’s underwear. Nonetheless, the flag and the woman who helped make it remain a vital part of Downtown Denver’s history. As for the Countess, she passed away in 1910. Both she and her husband were eventually buried in Riverside Cemetery, where they obviously remain.

To learn more about the people who helped make the history of Denver so unforgettable, please contact us for a Denver Microbrew Tour. We’ll show you were the El Dorado Hotel’s patrons likely drank in Larimer Square before heading back to their rooms for the night.